Psalm 5: Bless Our Work

Monday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

Monday, September 7, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 5. It seems to me a good prayer for Labor Day which we celebrate today in the United States.

Psalm 5 is the prayer of an upright person seeking God’s justice and protection in order to live in God’s favor.

Then all who trust in you will be glad
and forever shout for joy.
You will protect them and those will rejoice in you
who love your name.
For you, LORD, bless the just ones;
surrounding them with favor like a shield.

The U.S labor movement grew out of similar desires for protection and justice. The inequities and hardships experienced by laborers at the turn of the 19th century led to protests and changes. These are recognized and celebrated on Labor Day.

Catholic social teaching, beginning with Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum (“On the Condition of Labor”), has a long history of support for labor and unions.

“The most lasting effect of Rerum Novarum to Catholic social teaching was its approval of labor unions. Pope Leo observed that employers would not necessarily act in the best interests of their employees. Therefore, workers “must form associations among themselves and unite their forces so as to shake off courageously the yoke of so unrighteous and intolerable an oppression.” His hope was that social harmony would emerge as the three – employers, workers, and government – worked together: “Capital cannot do without labor, nor labor without capital. Mutual agreement results in pleasantness and good order; perpetual conflict necessarily produces confusion and outrage.” (Website: Diocese of Harrisburg)

Today, as we pray Psalm 5:

  • Let’s remember that all labor is a gift of participation in God’s continual act of Creation
  • Let’s be conscious of all those throughout the world whose labor is exploited. 
  • Let’s pray for all those unable to work for any reason, especially due to the effects of COVID 19.
  • Let’s give thanks for the labor of all our brothers and sisters which contribute to our wellbeing and happiness.
  • Let’s take time today to recognize the joy and blessings of our own labors throughout our lives.
  • And let’s ask ourselves these most important questions:

Why do I work?
What do I hope for as the fruit of my labors?

Our answers will tell us much about who we really are.

Poetry: What Work Is– Philip Levine

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is—if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours of wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to   
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,   
just because you don’t know what work is.

Music: Bread and Roses – Joan Baez

( Bread and Roses” is a political slogan well as the name of an associated poem and song. It originated from a speech given by American women’s suffrage activist Helen Todd; a line in that speech about “bread for all, and roses too” inspired the title of the poem Bread and Roses by James Oppenheim. The poem was first published in December 1911, with the attribution line “‘Bread for all, and Roses, too’—a slogan of the women in the West.” The poem has been translated into other languages and has been set to music by at least three composers.
The phrase is commonly associated with the successful textile strike in Massachusetts between January and March 1912, now often referred to as the “Bread and Roses strike”. The slogan pairing bread and roses, appealing for both fair wages and dignified conditions, found resonance as transcending “the sometimes tedious struggles for marginal economic advances” in the “light of labor struggles as based on striving for dignity and respect”, as Robert J. S. Ross wrote in 2013.)

As we go marching, marching
In the beauty of the day
A million darkened kitchens
A thousand mill lofts grey
Are touched with all the radiance
That a sudden sun discloses
For the people hear us singing
Bread and roses, bread and roses

As we go marching, marching
We battle too for men
For they are women’s children
And we mother them again
Our lives shall not be sweetened
From birth until life closes
Hearts starve as well as bodies
Give us bread, but give us roses

As we go marching, marching
We bring the greater days
For the rising of the women
Means the rising of the race
No more the drudge and idler
Ten that toil where one reposes
But the sharing of life’s glories
Bread and roses, bread and roses

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