When I think of labor I remember the times when we all worked as a family. On a crisp fall Saturday, every member of the family pitched in to rake leaves, edge walks, mow grass and sweep up. There was a rhythm in the day, orchestrated by nature. When the sun stood straight up in the sky, we knew it was dinnertime. As the sun dipped behind the trees, we knew it was time to finish our last chore, put away our garden tools and wash up for supper. The experience of good labor brought us together as a family, uniting us in a common goal of caring for our little corner of Sister Mother Earth.
At the end of the day we were tired but it was what I called a “happy tired.” The only “wage” we received for our work was food to eat, a comfortable camaraderie of equals at the dinner table and a good night’s sleep.
This was, and still is, “good labor.”
In the early days of the Franciscan Order, St. Francis and his brothers labored as equals; as responsible members of a communal family. No one was left out because of their ability and everyone either worked or begged for the needs of the community. The early Franciscans, men and women, emulated the poor Christ, working with their hands, serving the lepers, the poor and the outcasts, not out of a notion of charity to those less fortunate (which implies superiority) but by working alongside their fellow humans, reminding them of their worth and dignity before God and welcoming them into their community. To all whose lives had been built on the entrapments of lineage, money, property, power and caste/class systems, the early Franciscans witnessed the Gospel alternative in their daily interactions and labor.
What is different today? So many of us think happiness is gained with each new toy, each promotion, each step up on an imaginary ladder of success, yet once achieved there is within us the gnawing need for more. Parents work long, stress filled hours to give their children every opportunity to succeed (or everything they want), and children left alone with their tech gizmos miss out on family togetherness, and risk growing up into grasping consumers instead of generous citizens. All of us can do charitable acts for the poor, but at a distance, rarely inviting the poor to share in our lives.
It is time for a “good labor,” for all of us to take a courageous step toward changing our way of living and working, so that we can rediscover our best selves and welcome all into our human family.
Sr. Sharon of Jesus, osc