I feel that whenever this public holiday comes, only issues peripheral to the nature and purpose of human labor are tackled. This is the usual day when the government announces whether the minimum wages ought to be raised or not, etc. For sure, these issues have to be given attention, but we should not stop there.
One of the great challenges today is to upgrade the common and defective attitude we have toward work. For many, work is just a means to earn a living, and it often sits on the basis of inadequate if not wrong assumptions.
Like, work is tacitly considered as a punishment or a disvalue that we simply have to bear since it is unavoidable. Or, that work is an unwelcome, if not inhuman, imposition brought about by our wounded human condition.
That is, given a chance, work would and should be avoided. Many have in their mind the notion that the ideal situation here on earth is to achieve a kind of Nirvana, where we would be liberated from any kind of suffering, work and effort.
Often ignored is the core significance of work as a way to express our true dignity as human beings, as persons who have to think and use and develop their freedom and other God-given gifts through work, or as children of God who are supposed to love God and others through work.
Indeed, work is an essential and inalienable element in our nature. We are meant and empowered to work, we are wired for it, and thus if we for some reason cannot or do not work, we would be considered, quite rightly, as handicapped.
The difficulty in the effort to convey the full significance of work in our life arises from a certain mentality that is simply dominated by sense of practicality that touches hardly anything else.
That mentality tends to miss linking work to our nature and dignity. It tends to miss linking our work with our duty toward God, others and selves. It places work in the shallow waters, hesitant to go any deeper, and confines us to a narrow view of work.
The common expression, “trabajo lamang,” (it’s just work) is indicative of how work is simply held as an external appendage to our human condition. It restricts the meaning of work to its practicality and convenience.
We tend to work simply to meet our economic needs, or at best to develop our talents and other gifts and endowments. Along the way and more as a side-effect, our work is deemed only as contributory to our human maturity and to the economic and social development of society. And the whole understanding of work stops there.
We fail to realize that work in fact affirms our human dignity. We fail to realize that it expresses the more fundamental truth that we are children of God who with our work actively participate in the life and providence of God over the whole creation.
We fail to realize that work has cosmic dimensions, way beyond the earthly and temporal scope. We fail to realize that work can in fact be a form of prayer and worship, and not just a human activity.
So we should never be afraid or ashamed to work. On the contrary, we have to look eagerly for it. That is where we will find our true joy and fulfillment. That is where we will attain our true maturity and perfection.
Since we are made in the image and likeness of God, we are meant to live with God and share with him all the responsibilities God has over the entire creation. This is the ultimate context in which we have to situate our work here on earth, whatever it may be. We should avoid working without God and his designs in our mind.
Failing to connect our work to its religious significance, to fathom its spiritual aspects and supernatural consequences, compromises our life gravely and even fatally. We would open ourselves to all sorts of dangers—from the extreme of pride and arrogance to the other extreme of anguish, envy and hatred.
I think this is where much of our problem regarding work arises. We constrict it and deprive it of its ultimate dimensions. We think work can be done without God, without any spiritual and supernatural effects. “Trabajo lamang.”