Which Labor Day Are You Celebrating?

by | Sep 3, 2021 | Formation, Reflections | 1 comment

Huh? What do you mean by “Which Labor Day are you celebrating?” We all know the date – the first Monday in September. Let me ask the question another way. What is your chief association with Labor Day?

Is Labor Day

  • The last hurrah of summer?
  • The weekend to catch supposedly fantastic sales?
  • A recognition of the dignity of work?

For many Americans, particularly children and young adults, it represents the end of the summer and the start of the back-to-school season.

Labor Day is still celebrated in cities and towns across the United States with parades, picnics, barbecues, fireworks displays and other public gatherings.

In the late 1800s, at the height of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in order to eke out a basic living.

Samuel Gompers (1850–1924) was the first and longest-serving president (38 years) of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) He wrote

Among all the festive days of the year, of all the days commemorative of great epochs in the world’s history, of all the days celebrated for one cause or another, there is not one which stands so conspicuously for social advancement of the common people as the first Monday in September of each recurring year—Labor Day.

Labor Day is all of the above!

What is your labor about?

Let me approach it from yet another angle.

A traveler spotted three men laying bricks. He asked the first man what he was doing.  “I’m laying bricks”. The second man said he was “putting up a wall”. The third man “building a cathedral”.

They were all doing the same thing. But the first man had a job. The second man had a career. The third man had a calling.

Do you look at what you do every day as a calling? It doesn’t necessarily have to be the job of your dreams, but can you see the big picture in your daily actions? Do you realize what a difference you are making?

We may be laying bricks every day, but if we can envision the cathedral and move through our days with intention and passion, we are living our best life.

An even larger perspective

We all do different things. But there is an even bigger perspective on our “best life”. The three men in the story were building things. I suggest their vision could also be seen as “building community”. There are a couple of ways to look at that.

Isn’t building community a secular way of saying building the kingdom of God where we don’t just talk about being God’s sons and daughters. We also live (work at) realizing we are literally sisters and brothers. This is what gives ultimate meaning to our labors!

Returning to the story of the three brick layers… some of us only see the ministry as putting one brick on top. We focus on the details of this or that ministry of healing. Others see a bigger picture of helping others wake up to an awareness of being brothers and sisters (evangelization?)

In my opinion, Pope Francis is helping us unpack the vision of God’s Kingdom and our role. He writes of the “Joy of the Gospel” which celebrates that we are brothers and sisters “Fratelli Tutti” shaping that kingdom on earth “Laudato si” in everything we do.

Pope Francis invites us all to, “…dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home…”3

When we pray “thy kingdom come” do we realize our labors contribute to building God’s kingdom even here, even now?

1 Comment

  1. Ross

    Thanks, John, for such good thought for this week-end, which tells us that there’s more to the week-end than just “parades, picnics, barbecues, fireworks displays and other public gatherings,” (including major league baseball rivalries—Giants and Dodgers, Ace and Blue Jays, for SF Bay Area).

    I pray that all those who labor and are burdened go to Jesus and catch his meekness, lowliness and zeal. And that they, along with him, embody God’s kingdom and justice, and the different roles workers play in making such vision truer every day.