This Labor Day weekend brings about the last official holiday of summer. May everyone have a relaxing weekend and safe travels as we move into the new academic year. For many church communities, this time of year also signals the beginning or the return of many of our programs and services for our own members as well as in outreach to others. Truth be told, it is also a time when many people return to the regular practice of attendance at church on Sunday, for some reason thinking it’s OK to take the summer “off!” So, let’s look forward to all that the new year brings us, asking God’s blessing and guidance.
In the meantime, it would be good to pause in appreciation for what Labor Day is all about. It is an opportunity to look at our issues in the field of work. We appreciate the jobs that we have. For some of us, they are a way of making a living. For some, they are a part of the definition of who we are. Hopefully, most of us in the “vineyard” can see the good in what we do, the contribution we are able to make to serve others, contribute to society, make a difference and, yes, meet the basic needs of ourselves and our families.
Labor Day reminds us of the growth of our nation through the Industrial Age and the waves of immigration. So many people, including the vast majority of our ancestors, came to our nation looking for work. They were willing to do almost anything required for a decent pay to improve their lot and pass on a quality of life to future generations. There is a certain sentimental quality to Labor Day because of these factors.
But we are also reminded of the problems we face in this arena today. So many people are unemployed and underemployed. Our factories sit empty, buildings deteriorating. Work has been shipped elsewhere. We are willing to purchase goods made elsewhere because they are less expensive. The gap continues to grow between the rich and the poor because our laws, taxations and corporate structures favor those who have power and money.
The Church has a long track record of standing up for the worker. The Catholic Church even has a “patron saint” in St. Joseph the Worker, whose identity as a carpenter was passed on to Jesus, his adopted son. Church teachings and great servant leaders of faith have helped those in the labor field obtain better working conditions, just wages, the right to organize (or not), and adequate benefit packages including health care and retirement. Today much of what was obtained through the years is enshrined in laws, but not without great struggles which we should never forget or take for granted.
The gospels and all of the sacred scriptures include much encouragement to strive for justice. Jesus’ love for the poor motivates Him. His parables often addressed finances, economics, and working conditions, even as He looked forward to a Kingdom not “of this world.” He condemned riches and those who would hoard money. For Him, a spiritual life does not preclude working to improve life in this world. In particular, He saw the lot of those who traditionally need and deserve the care of others – the poor, the widows, and outcasts – as the responsibility of all of us.
This community springs to life on Labor Day weekend. We celebrate the waning hours of summer. We enjoy some time of relaxation before school really gets in gear. We honor the history of this area with its industrial development and upward mobility.
Should we not also recognize the importance of the deep roots of faith that provide the foundation for much of what we have become. Governments are locked in stalemates and facing budget crises. They are not going to “save us” from our current problems. Rather, when we work together toward the “common good,” that is, what is needed by each and all of us, we will find our way toward a more just society. That common good includes a sustaining job in decent working conditions for a just wage.
The wisdom of believers is too often overlooked today, dismissed as if we have nothing intelligent to contribute to the conversation. But from the time we left the Garden of Eden, which is basically when our story began, we have been hard at work finding solutions for the betterment of all. A lot of people who have done a lot of good work are part of this Communion of Saints, workers in the vineyard.
The Rev. Jeffery J. Noble is pastor of Church of Notre Dame, Hermitage.