Enjoy this last full week before Labor Day. The first Monday of September, in our national calendar, marks the unofficial end of summer, with a flurry of picnics, reunions and other celebrations. The main purpose of Labor Day, since its inception in 1887, however, is to honor, applaud and encourage American workers. While Labor Day was originally intended to recognize union laborers, we realize today that we are all workers and we all have cause to recognize and draw satisfaction from what we do. While most adults and many youth work for pay, some adults volunteer or are retired, but still work.
That’s because work is part of what it means to be human. Occasionally we hear someone complain that work is a punishment for sin, but remember how before the fall, God settled Adam in the garden of Eden “to cultivate and care for it. (Gen.2.15)" Adam was given work to do.
In Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, our Holy Father reminds us that “We are created with a vocation to work… part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment. (n. 128)”
Locally, the iconic social activist, Hattie Harris, who died in August 1998 at the age of 101, told the public not long before she died: “Be ashamed to die until you have done something life- giving for the human community.”
From the Philippines comes a story of an initiative that came out of a threat and utilized the very source of that threat in surprising new ways. This story of creativity was featured in a publication of the non-profit, Unbound.
In an area near Manila, the waterways fished by local men became overwhelmed by water hyacinths, fast growing pest which clog waterways, kill fish and deprive native aquatic plants of sunlight. Fishermen had lost the key source of income to support their families. Charito, wife of a local fisherman, contacted Unbound with a potentially life-giving question “Was there any way to generate income from these water hyacinths/pests?” In fact, the Philippine government was offering training in how to turn the plant stalks into large sheets that could be used as a leather substitute. Currently, about 50 couples work together in harvesting and processing the water hyacinths, creating backpacks, shoes, wallets, purses and other products. A bonus added to their efforts is that, with less hyacinths in the lake, fish have come back and fishermen are at work again, doing what they do best. Everyone who can, works. It all started with formulating the right question, knowing someone to ask and then following up.
While all stories of communities facing hardship don’t always end with such apparent ease and success, the following prayer is nonetheless worth repetition, as God accompanies us through the labors of the day: "Prosper the work of our hands, O Lord. Prosper the work of our hands. (Psalm 90.17)”
~Sister Joan Sobala