Labor Day Reflection – Ora et Labora (Prayer & Work)

03 Sep
Image: Ade de Bethune: "Ora et Labora," the Holy Family at Work

Image: Ade de Bethune: “Ora et Labora,” the Holy Family at Work

According to Wikipedia, Labor Day is a United States federal holiday that “celebrates the economic and social contributions of workers.”  The purpose of the Labor Day holiday was not just to give workers an extra day off from the burdens of work but to celebrate the contributions workers have made to the prosperity and well-being of our country.

Pope Leo XIII issued Rerum Novarum, a papal encyclical, that addressed the conditions of the working class.  “The Pope taught that the role of the State is to promote social justice through the protection of rights, while the Church must speak out on social issues in order to teach correct social principles and ensure class harmony. He restated the Church’s long-standing teaching regarding the crucial importance of private property rights, but recognized, in one of the best-known passages of the encyclical, that the free operation of market forces must be tempered by moral considerations” (Wikipedia;

Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice” (Rerum Novarum, § 45).

Leo XIII outlined certain duties of workers and employers that provide the framework for building social harmony.

Duties of employers include (from Rerum Novarum, §19):

  • to pay fair wages
  • to provide time off for religious practice and family life
  • to provide work suited to each person’s strength, gender, and age
  • to respect the dignity of workers and not regard them as slaves

Duties of workers include (from Rerum Novarum, §19):

  • “fully and faithfully” to perform their agreed-upon tasks
  • individually, to refrain from vandalism or personal attacks
  • collectively, to refrain from rioting and violence

As Catholics we have a responsibility for sharing the gifts God has given us with those less fortunate.  The Diocesan Department of Evangelization and Catechesis has created, and continually updates, a Charitable & Non-Profit Directory of Organizations that you can use as a resource when it comes to creating service opportunities for your parish group.

Charitable & Non-Profit Organization Directory

Christ the Worker: A Labor Day Prayer by Father James Martin, SJ

Almighty God, let me never forget that your Son worked.

Jesus worked as a carpenter for many more years than he was engaged in his public ministry as a preacher and healer. He is explicitly called “the carpenter” in the Gospel of Mark, and may have worked for twenty years in that labor. At the time, this would have meant not only woodworking, but also working with stone or other materials, constructing not only doors and tables but also walls and houses.

Loving God, I know that Jesus must have worked hard, perhaps traveling around the countryside in search of a job. Mary worked hard, too. She would have had to do the backbreaking chores of a woman in Nazareth. So did her husband, who taught Jesus his craft. The Holy Family worked, and hard.God, I know it’s not surprising that Jesus would have had such compassion on those who work but do not seem to be able to get ahead. In Nazareth, he would have seen farmers eking out a living and being subject to the vagaries of nature, to droughts and blights. On the Sea of Galilee, Jesus would have seen fishermen working hard and encountering frustration over being unable to catch enough to support their families.

Jesus felt compassion for the laboring man and woman not only because he was divine and had divine compassion, but because he was human–and understood the human experience of work.

God, I believe that Jesus was your Son. He preached your Kingdom, healed the sick and raised the dead. And I know that he was no less the Son of God when he was sawing a log, sanding a plank or hammering a nail.

Loving God, on Labor Day and all days, help me respect the dignity of all work, and fill me with compassion for all those who work but still struggle. Open my heart in charity for those who want to work but cannot find a job. And help me remember that when I meet any struggling working person, or anyone seeking labor, I am meeting your Son in Nazareth: Christ the Worker.

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Posted by on September 3, 2012 in Prayer, Social Justice


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