I think that at some point in our country's history the true meaning of Labor Day has been lost. Today it seems like it is celebrated as something between a last blast of summer and special two for one sales on shoes.
I recently read Bishop Stephen Blaire's thought provoking and challenging statement on Labor Day. His whole statement can be found on the USCCB website. One quote in particular from his statement that I can relate with is: "Our faith offers a clear moral criterion: put poor and vulnerable people first." A few years ago I served in a mission assignment in Western Arkansas. Upon arriving in the mission, I took a job working in the local poultry plant. I did that not because I was in need of an extra income but in order for me to meet the people in the area by working shoulder to shoulder with them. My understanding of scripture and Catholic Social Teaching leads me to believe that as religious we are called to be with the people and together we can work for the building of the Kingdom. Jesus didn't wait for the fisherman to look for him in the synagogue but rather he found them where they worked and taught them there. More insight from my experience in the poultry plant can be found in the Glenmary Challenge article titled Glenmary Brothers Lives of Service.
After working in the poultry plant for a few years, I had the opportunity to obtain video from inside the plant. I edited the video and posted it on YouTube in order to share images of the harsh working conditions and to connect it with Catholic Social Teaching on labor. I hope you find it insightful. Many people have commented about the video and I find it surprising how many negative comments are posted on the YouTube site, they seem to lack in understanding and compassion. The working conditions are tough although the video may not always show that - smiling faces do not necessarily mean happy workers but they are the natural result of having a video camera pointed at your face. Feel free to add your own comments too, as a rule I have left all of them public, good and bad, only erasing the ones which use profanity.
Eleven years ago U.S. Catholic Bishops of the South signed the pastoral letter Voices and Choices which was a message concerning justice in the workplace. "For more than 100 years, the leaders in the Church have been concerned about the ways we all live our faith in our work, about the conditions workers face, and the meaning of work in the light of the Gospel. Work is important because it is an exercise of the divine dignity and divine giftedness of every human being; a vocation. Having "voices and choices" enables the that dignity to be recognized and exercised in our 'extended' neighborhood. As teachers in the Church, we bishops continue to add our voices to the struggle for worker justice." Maybe this labor day is a good opportunity to reexamine this document and some of the many other Church teachings concerning the dignity of human life and how it relates to work.
This labor day weekend my prayers are for the many people unemployed at this time, those who are struggling to make ends meet by having to work two or three different jobs and for those who are forced to work in difficult and dangerous conditions.