By Fr. Rich, O.P.P
As with most holidays, Labor Day was born in unrest, violence, and bloodshed. It came about in the late 1800s, after Congress passed legislation and President Grover Cleveland made it a federal holiday. As Memorial Day has become the traditional start of the summer season, Labor Day marks its official close. Holidays are a way to honor moments that have helped to make us who we are in this country. They are an opportunity for us to honor the lives, and frequently, the deaths of men, women, and children who have been foundational to our history. These people and events that are remembered become the mortar and brick upon which our country has been built. It is unfortunate that, frequently they lose their original meaning and become simply a “day off,” or an occasion to “party.” It is not unusual for people to be unaware of the roots and meaning of the holiday they are enjoying. And I must confess that I am often among the guilty.
The Church also has days that celebrate its history, honoring men, women, and children with an opportunity for us to contemplate their lives, and frequently, their deaths. Through their commitment to following the path of Jesus Christ, they have become the mortar and brick upon which our Church has been built. Far from worshipping our saints, it is more a case of seeing them as examples of a life grounded in Jesus Christ and striving to follow that example. And, as with secular holidays, we have become complacent about their significance.
This complacency is insidious. Whether the result of repeated exposure, trivialized promotion, or ignorance, we have lost the awareness and value of many of the important moments in our secular history as well as our sacred. In doing so we have also lost much of who we are.
I would suggest that perhaps it is time to intentionally awaken our past, to recapture our roots and, with that energy, engage our present. The idea that someone else will solve the challenges of our day is false. If change is to come, it must come from each of us. Research a question or an issue that touches you, and seek information that can inform and support you as you decide how to respond. Be they issues of climate change, social media, faith and religion, areas of political concerns — seek information; seek answers. Make choices to be involved.
Labor Day came about after years of violence, protests, and political and economic change. What was created resonates today in some areas as better conditions, better wages, and justice. The challenges continue; there is still much work to be done by those who are willing to engage and make the effort. Change needs to continue, also. Those challenges and the work will be met and accomplished by those who are not complacent, but by those who commit.
The Church faces challenges today as a result of the crisis and scandals that continue to unfold. Change has occurred, awareness continues to be demanded, and vigilance is required. The men and women and children that we honor as saints are the models that help us to maintain that vigilance and expend the effort involved in prayer, ministry, and engagement in the Church’s administration and efforts. They help us to see what it looks like to be committed and prayerful. We can see what a life that prioritizes following Christ looks like, and we can choose to model our lives thusly.
This Labor Day — wake up!