This is (for me, anyway) one of the most poignant of Shakespeare’s plays. The men wooing (pursuing) the women are filled with some of (again, to me) the most affected and atrocious “love language” imaginable. They are effectively the equivalent of what in America we might refer to as “singles bars talk,” and what in Britain would be known as “chatting one up.” And to some extent the women go along with the game, until the climax, when there must be a separation. Finally, the men express themselves in authentic, heart-felt, and beautiful words that are the ultimate contrast from the verbiage of the first four acts. It’s deeply moving to me.
This weekend in America we mark “Labor Day,” and we celebrate the dignity of work and workers. How many people realize that the Catholic Church was in the vanguard of this respect? Back in 1893, Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum advocated for a just wage and the rights of workers to form unions. In our country at that time, people were shot and killed for their attempts to organize, and other leaders (Eugene Debs or Clarence Darrow) went to jail for supporting them. You only have to read John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath or follow the history of Cesar Chavez’s efforts in California during the 1970s to see how radical the Church was—and how right.
Love’s labor must not and cannot ever be lost. We labor because we love, after all: for the sake of our families, or for the sake of the work itself (especially that of the creative work of the arts). Ars gratia artis (Art for its own sake)? No—art (creation, and work) for our sake. It is through two things, Pope St John Paul II assured us, that we are capable of transcending ourselves (that is, going beyond “us” to something other and special): through love, and through work (see his important if heavy-going encyclical Laborem Exercens). Whoever loved a spouse and produced a child knows all about this sense of “self-transcendence”; whoever created a work of anything valuable knows the same joy. This is the meaning of the 2nd of the classical levels of love—eros. It is not the sexual instinct but the creative drive that is described by this word. Can I produce something that will make our world happier, or easier, or more wholesome, or more beautiful? This is eros, and it is this more than anything else that we mark and celebrate the weekend of Labor Day.
This long weekend we might have a final cookout; we might settle down to another football game (whether high school or college or professional); we might give thanks for a day marking the end of summer. But whatever we do, let’s let our efforts be true labors for love—for Love. Let’s quote St Paul: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).