One of the first recorded labor parades in Michigan took place on July 4, 1865, when more than four thousand union members – on their way to a picnic – marched down Woodward Avenue and well before nation’s first documented Labor Day Parade on September 5, 1882. Twelve years would pass before President Grover Cleveland signed the bill which established Labor Day – the first Monday in September - as a federal holiday. The holiday has its roots in the Industrial Revolution when American workers worked 12-hour days, seven-days a week, primarily in factories. During these years, riots and strikes brought to light the poor working conditions and unjust practices facing the American worker, so much so that by the time Congress legalized the holiday, workers’ rights were in the public view.
Today, while there are periodic strikes where grievances are aired, the celebration of all workers on the first Monday in September is a highlight of everyone’s fall, from the factory worker to the schoolteacher.
Fall officially begins on September 23, so it is still summer, by calendar and by weather! However, Labor Day traditionally marks the unofficial end of the summer! Perhaps there was a final trip up north this weekend or maybe some high school or college football. It’s time to say good bye to the lazy, hazy days of summer. As Shakespeare wrote: “Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”
At SCA we look forward to this mini vacation, the long weekend attached to the Labor Day holiday, having started back to school on August 7 for the faculty and August 14 for the students. This is where we find ourselves today. The first Monday in September and an opportunity to celebrate people in all walks of life. Today we honor and celebrate the many forms of human work and what we would call the “fruits of their labor.” There are strong commentaries written on the dignity of human work, from Papal Encyclicals to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
In his Encyclical Letter, Laudato Sì, presented in Rome on May 24, 2015, on the Feast of Pentecost, Pope Francis wrote: “Work should be the setting for this rich personal growth, where many aspects of life enter into play: creativity, planning for the future, developing our talents, living out our values, relating to others, giving glory to God…We were created with a vocation to work…Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development, and personal fulfillment.” (Laudato Sì, para. 127-128).
Pope Francis reminds us that work is more than just “doing; it is, above all, a mission. We collaborate with the creative work of God, when, through our work, we cultivate and preserve creation; we participate, in the Spirit of Jesus, in his redemptive mission, when by our activity we give sustenance to our families and respond to the needs of our neighbor.” We follow in the footsteps of Jesus, a humble carpenter. In this way, we are the hands of Christ, continuing to create and to do good.
It is equally important to realize that life is not just about work. “There are other human needs that we need to cultivate and consider, such as family, friends, and rest.” It is important to remember that work must serve the human person.
While today, Monday, we celebrate Labor Day, it is important, each week, to keep holy the Sabbath. There are few things we need to do more than pray, relax, and recreate with God, family, and friends.
Pope Francis on the dignity of work
As we wrap up our Labor Day celebrations let us take an opportunity to thank God for the gift of work which anoints us with dignity, and to ask for God’s assistance in providing our state, our nation, and the world with work for all that is decent and fair. Let us remember the power of prayer over our work. Whether you are in a job you love, are facing difficulties in the workplace, or are experiencing job loss, God has a plan and purpose for this time in your life. Let us pray for those who work in jobs that ignore their dignity and those who have lost their jobs and are seeking work now.
St. Mother Teresa said: “There is always the danger that we may just do the work for the sake of the work. This is where the respect, love, and devotion come in – that we do it to God and Christ, and that’s why we try to do it as beautifully as possible.”
https://www.usccb.org/prayers/prayer-labor-day https://buildfaith.org/prayers-for-labor-day/ Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/prayer/a-prayer-for-labor-day-and-all-other-days.html