Twilight Twitches

fetscherDear Family,
Tomorrow is Labor Day. The celebration finds its origins in the late 19th century as a way of acknowledging the role of labor and labor unions in our society. The Labor Movement and its leaders were powerful forces throughout the 20th century. (I still remember John L. Lewis’s eyebrows.)

From a gospel perspective, Labor Day can become a moment when we look at the state of working people today. The word ‘labor’ really means ‘heavy lifting.’

There are a lot of people who labor now in very difficult circumstances, and many are becoming victims of the pandemic because they risked themselves for others (us.)

Today’s reality shows us, in the very bright colors of COVID-19, that people we now call “essential workers” have always been there. Now we call them essential because we notice them more urgently. We live at the edge of the realization that so often we take for granted the ones we call “essential.”

Franciscan Media tell us:
To foster deep devotion to Saint Joseph among Catholics, and in response to the “May Day” celebrations for workers sponsored by Com-munists, Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker in 1955.

This feast extends the long relationship between Joseph and the cause of workers in both Catholic faith and devotion. Beginning in the Book of Genesis, the dignity of human work has long been celebrated as a participation in the creative work of God. By work, humankind both fulfills the command found in Genesis to care for the earth (Gn 2:15) and to be productive in their labors. Saint Joseph, the carpenter and foster father of Jesus, is but one example of the holiness of human labor.

I was in ninth grade at Holy Family in North Miami, and I remember that first celebration of the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker. It began the special month of May when we would build our May Shrines. What better way to start May and shrine building than with the help of St. Joseph? Like him, now we were carpenters ready for the job.

Of course, in the South in the 50’s nobody was talking about unions. Union was a bad word. But I remember feeling pretty good about my father who at one point, ‘labored’ at three jobs to support his family. He worked maintaining boats at Rodi Boatyard in Lauderdale, he took a night shift at Virginia Steel, and on weekends we helped him wash trucks. (John Rodi also had a boatyard in Chicago. I wonder if he got away without unions there.)

Unionism certainly had its problems. There were strikes and disorders that would make the news. Those things happened ‘up north.’ As kids, we weren’t sure who were the good guys and who were the bad guys.

Today, however, is there any fundamental change in the basic concept that people deserve living wages? We ask ourselves today, how much is “essential” worth? ...I suspect a lot more than it was six or seven months ago.

I’ve always thought it ironic that Labor Day is a national holiday day when we don’t work. Labor Day is not about the toil to be accomplished, but about the dignity owed to those who do the toiling.

Whatever the wage scale, the gospel underlines the dignity of work, the work of mothers and fathers, tentmakers and carpenters, and yes, the work of the retired who can hone their skills at looking around and seeing how the job of being Jesus for others still fulfills us.

In Him,
sign frjim

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