Labour, Leisure and Life

Labour Day – what a dull, prosaic name for a holiday, all of which really should be ‘holy days’, dedicated to feasts of the transcendent, Christ, Our Lady, the saints and the truths of our Faith. This current ‘feast’, if you will, dedicated to the drudgery of work – or escape therefrom – has its origins in a strike in 1872 by the Toronto Typographical Union for a 58-hour workweek, which seems rather quaint to us – both the typography and the demand for no more than 58 hours of it. George Brown, politician and editor of the Globe and Mail, called their action a ‘conspiracy’.

But the tide towards a more leisured life – in the good and true sense of that term – was moving. the social doctrine of the Church, enunciated in the crystal clear Thomistic Latinate reasoning of Pope Leo XIII two decades hence in his Rerum Novarum, would have their effect.

On July 23rd, 1894, a day commemorating labour and its rights was officially set aside in September under Prime Minister John Thompson,

Eventually, our customs, and our laws, would more or less decide upon dividing up the days into a tri-partite 8 hours of work, 8 hours of leisure of one’s proclivity, and 8 hours of sleep. Quite Benedictine, we might surmise, if some significant chunk of the 8 hours of leisure we give back to God to prayer. Ora et labora.

But as we drift away from our Catholic foundation – and our monastic ideals of doing all ad gloriam Dei, we move back towards slavery and drudgery, or, what may be worse, unemployment, indolence, enervation and despair. If Man’s lot is but to eat, drink, have desultory sex – procreation now being frowned upon – and die, then what’s the point of it all? Why not go gently by merciful euthanasia into that dark goodnight, once the salad days of youth are over, or even before?

As I’ve written before in light of the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker on May 1st, in which light we should see this day, all of Man’s life is a ‘work’, as Pope Saint John Paul II wrote, whose primary purpose is to perfect us, the worker. Hence, all that we do, in rest, leisure, or what we now call ‘work’, should be fulfilling, first, of ourselves, and also of others – and not just fulfilling, but also full of joy.

Peruse the two articles in Crisis this morning, which remind us, in a Chestertonian mode, of the need always to give thanks, for the gift of life and all that God has given us do in the span we are given – for the chasm of eternity is before us at each moment. Hence, as well we should appreciate all that is beautiful and apparently ‘use-less’, those odd and wonderful things – such as tight-rope walkers, juggling, music, wandering around, good conversation, and, most of all, praising God for Who He is – which make life worth living.

And that same life is in the end a preparation for heaven, where, as Leo XIII reminds us, we will truly begin to live. So rejoice, and give thanks to God for all things. For the only thing that can lead us away from that lofty goal is sin, the work of the Devil, and who, after all, needs that, or him?