September 5, 2021
Twenty-Third Sunday In Ordinary Time
On this three day weekend Americans celebrate the unofficial end of summer with cookouts, a final day at the pool or the last summer getaway. Starting on Tuesday, it is back to whatever our normal is at the present time; be it school, work, home or church. However, before that day our country set aside one day to recognize the value of the worker and the right of a person to work.
The first Labor Day was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882 in New York City when over 10,000 workers took an unpaid day off and marched from City Hall to Union Square. The next decade was marked by massive unrest. In the late 1800’s the average American worked twelve hour days and seven days a week just to eke out a basic living. Children, as young as five years old, toiled in mills, factories and mines for pittance. In response to such horrid work conditions employees began to organize strikes and rallies to renegotiate hours, pay and work conditions. Many of these events turned violent as employers attempted to break the newly founded unions.
In June of 1894, in an attempt to repair ties with the American worker, Congress passed an act and President Grover Cleveland signed into a law, making the first Monday in September an official, legal holiday which became known as Labor Day.
The Roman Catholic Church has long been a supporter of the worker and their right to work as manifested in Pope Leo XII’s encyclical letter “Rerum Novarum” in 1891, “Quadragesimo Anno” by Pope Pius XI in 1931 and “Gaudium Et Spes” in 1965. In “Laborem Exercens” (Meaning “Of Human Work”) St. John Paul II wrote, “Man must work, both because the Creator has commanded it and because of his own humanity, which requires work in order to be maintained and developed. Man must work out of regard for others, especially his own family, but also for the society he belongs to, the country of which he is a child, and the whole human family of which he is a member.” (St. John Paul II On Human Work (Laborem Exercens no. 16).
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in the “A Catholic Framework for Economic Life” no. 5, states, “All people have the right to economic initiative, to productive work, to just wages and benefits, to decent working conditions.”
And the foundation of all these writings are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It is not a suggestion, but a commandment. It is also a blueprint for how we treat our co-workers, those who serve us, those who labor on our behalf and those who work for the benefit of others.
May Monday be a day of prayer, thanksgiving and gratitude for all who labor.
– Patrick J. Perkins