Labor Day 2021 ~ Remembering the gift of work


LABOR DAY 2021

This Labor Day, I’d like to reflect on the meaning of human work from a spiritual perspective.

Way back in the beginning of the bible you may remember that as God cast out Adam and Eve from the Paradise of the Garden of Eden, he told them . . .

the ground is cursed because of you.

All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it

It grows thorns and thistles for you,

though you will eat of its grains,

By the sweat of your brow

until you return to the ground

from which you were made.

For you were made from dust,

and to dust you will return.”

Then Israel spent 400 years in hard toil in the flesh pots of Egypt in slavery to the Egyptians until the day came when God had Moses deliver them..

Then came Jesus who was raised in a home at Nazareth at the side of his father Joseph, a carpenter, a skilled tradesman, and Jesus learned that trade and stayed in that home until his adulthood.

St. Paul was also a tradesman, a tentmaker, and prided himself on making his own way as he travelled all over the coasts the Mediterranean.

Fast-forward now to American industry in the late Nineteenth Century. The steel, meet packing, electrical, auto and food industries just gearing up. American workers were, however, not being treated justly or fairly. Events connected with the Industrial Revolution profoundly changed centuries-old societal structures, raising serious problems of justice and posing the first great social question — the labor question — prompted by the conflict between capital and labor. In this context, the Church felt the need to become involved and intervene in a new way . . . .

The Catholic Church’s American bishops had been on their side since so many of them immigrated to the U. S. decades before. Enter Pope Leo XIII and his encyclical Rerum Novarum—(Concerning New Things) –the very first of many Catholic social encyclicals on May 15, 1891.

(An encyclical is an apostolic letter or document.)]

Rerum Novarum lists errors that give rise to social ills, excludes socialism as a remedy and expounds with precision and in contemporary terms “the Catholic doctrine on work, the right to property, the principle of collaboration instead of class struggle as the fundamental means for social change, the rights of the weak, the dignity of the poor and the obligations of the rich, the perfecting of justice through charity, on the right to form professional associations”.

Rerum Novarum lists errors that give rise to social ills, excludes socialism as a remedy and expounds with precision and in contemporary terms “the Catholic doctrine on work, the right to property, the principle of collaboration instead of class struggle as the fundamental means for social change, the rights of the weak, the dignity of the poor and the obligations of the rich, the perfecting of justice through charity, on the right to form professional associations”.

Following the Stock Market crash in 1929, Pope Pius XI again addressed the issue. At the beginning of the 1930s, following the grave economic crisis of 1929, Pope Pius XI published the Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, commemorating the fortieth anniversary ofRerum Novarum. The Pope reread the past in the light of the economic and social situation in which the expansion of the influence of financial groups, both nationally and internationally, was added to the effects of industrialization. It was the post-war period, during which totalitarian regimes were being imposed in Europe even as the class struggle was becoming more bitter. The Encyclical warns about the failure to respect the freedom to form associations and stresses the principles of solidarity and cooperation in order to overcome social contradictions. The relationships between capital and labor must be characterized by cooperation.

Quadroragesimo Anno confirms the principle that salaries should be proportional not only to the needs of the worker but also to those of the worker’s family. The State, in its relations with the private sector, should apply the principle of subsidiarity, a principle that will become a permanent element of the Church’s social doctrine.

The Magisterium recognizes the fundamental role played by labor unions, whose existence is connected with the right to form associations or unions to defend the vital interests of workers employed in the various professions. Unions “grew up from the struggle of the workers — workers in general but especially the industrial workers — to protect their just rights vis-à-vis the entrepreneurs and the owners of the means of production”.[667] Such organizations, while pursuing their specific purpose with regard to the common good, are a positive influence for social order and solidarity, and are therefore an indispensable element of social life.

The Church’s social doctrine recognizes the legitimacy of striking “when it cannot be avoided, or at least when it is necessary to obtain a proportionate benefit”,[663] when every other method for the resolution of disputes has been ineffectual.

That relationship between the Church and labor has been ongoing in America today. Richard Trunka the head of the AFL/CIO until his untimely death just recently was a devout Catholic.

As we pause this weekend for the last holiday of the summer, may we reflect on the gift of work.

But we do so, conscious of all those suffering the loss of not only their jobs, their paychecks, but also their homes and almost everything dear to them as the result of this pandemic.

We pray in solidarity with them and reach out to them with love and with whatever support we can offer as we consider our own gift of work. And so, I invite you to pray with me . . . .

Good and gracious God,

you told us from the very beginning that we would earn our bread by the sweat of our brow.

We are interdependent in our  laboring, Lord.

We depend on the migrant workers who pick our lettuce and our strawberries,

the nurses’ aids who take our blood pressure,

the teachers who form our children’s minds.

We thank you, Lord, for the gifts and talents you have given us

that allow us to earn a living and contribute something positive to our world.

We pray, dear Lord, for those who are without work.

Sustain them — us — in your love.

Help us to realize that we have worth as human beings,

job or no job.

But that’s hard to get, Lord.

 Our society preaches to us that our worth comes from success,

of being better than the Jones’.

But our worth comes because You made us.  We are Your children, no matter what,

job or no job.

You love us and you call us to love and support each other.

We pray, Lord, for those who do the dirty work in our lives, Lord,

those who break their backs for us, those who are cheated out of even a minimum wage,

those who don’t have access to health care,

those who cannot afford to send their kids to college.

Help us to bind together, Lord, as a community, as a nation

because we depend on one another — the garbage men,

the police, the folks who stock our grocery stores,

the UPS driver, the airline pilot, the 7/11 clerk, the ticket-taker on the turnpike, 

the plumbers, the accountants, the bank tellers, the landscapers, the lifeguards,

those who clean our houses, the cooks, the waiters, the steel workers, the carpenters,

the scientists, , our doctors and nurses and yes, we, the writers.

Help us to realize this weekend how dependent we are on one another, Lord.

We are ONE!  We are family!  We need each other.

May we give thanks for each other this Labor Day weekend, Lord.

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Help us to celebrate and give thanks for each other and appreciate the value, the dignity, the contribution

that each one makes to keep  our country, our cities, our lives going.

And in tough times, help us remember the words of Jesus. . . .

Come to me all you who labor

and are heavily burdened

and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you . . .

for my yoke is easy and my burden light.”

(Matthew 11:28)

And, finally, this prayer of Cardinal Newman:

O Lord, support us all the day long

until the shadows  lengthen and the evening comes,

and the busy world is hushed,

and the fever of life is over,

and our work is done.

Then, Lord, in thy mercy,

grant us a safe lodging,

a holy rest, and peace at the last.

AMEN!

Finally, may I suggest this weekend that you might think about the people who’s work makes your life go better.

The next time you talk with them, tell them you appreciate them!

Two words have great power:  THANK YOU!

If only we would use them often, we would ease each other’s burden and energize each other.

and we would make trying times just a little bit easier for us all.

We call that: Love!

And before you go, here’s a spirited version of the great Celtic hymn “Lord of all Hopefulness” about the blessing of our work. Click here.Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.

  Enjoy.  Have a great weekend!

With Love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

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