Labour, Leisure and Life

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Labour Day – which, we might all admit, is a rather prosaic name for the last holiday of summer – why not, ‘blow out day’, or ‘the end of leisure, and back to work day’ (at least for teachers and students), or ‘summer’s almost over’ day…Ah, well, love’s labour, or the love of labour, is not lost.

In the end, all holidays should be as the etymology of the term implies, ‘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 work – or escape therefrom – has its origins in a strike in 1872 by the Toronto Typographical Union, in their demand for a 58-hour workweek (!), which seems rather quaint to us – both the typography and the request 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 on its way. The social doctrine of the Church, enunciated in the crystal clear Thomistic reasoning of Pope Leo XIII two decades hence in his Rerum Novarum (1891) would eventually have their effect. Three years after that, 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 24 day 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 things ad gloriam Dei – we regress more and more back towards slavery and drudgery, or, what may be worse, unemployment, indolence, enervation and despair. Peruse Sean Fitzpatrick’s reflection this morning, and how difficult it is for employer’s to find employees, enervated as we are by endless lockdowns and the fiat money thrown at people . If Man’s lot is but to eat, drink, and be merry, now understood as pot smoking, inebriation and the diminishing returns of desultory sex – procreation now being frowned upon – before we die, or, more likely, put to death by some efficient physician, 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 as the two bookends of ‘summer’, all of Man’s life is a ‘work’, as Pope Saint John Paul II wrote, whose primary purpose is to ennoble and 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.

On that note, I would recommend to readers to read at some point – and why not start today? – John Paul II’s Laborem Excercens, on the value of human labour, as well as Josef Pieper’s masterpiece Leisure the Basis of Culture, on how to best use our ‘rest’ as true ‘re-creation’, offering the philosophical basis for how we should use the time we are given. For ‘leisure’ is not laziness, but doing all we do for God, in a transcendent mode, whether that be physical work, rest or, most of all, prayer.

In a Chestertonian mode, we should always be giving 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 – friendship, food, good conversation, the laughter of children, old people, walks in the woods, music, even tight-rope walkers – and, most of all, our Faith, praising God for Who He is, all of 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?