Labor has several definitions, but essentially as a verb means to “labor, toil, strive or exert oneself.” To perform most often manual labor requires using physical strength and dexterity to perform tasks, such as farming, assembling, picking crops, or performing any number of tasks that involve work. Last Monday we celebrated Labor Day, a day set aside to honor, respect and remember those who work for a living and hope for a just day’s wage for a just day’s work.
My maternal grandfather was a farmer with his wife and children, farming about 30 acres in what was then rural Missouri. He grew hay, feed corn, soybeans and peppers as one of his cash crops and a garden to help feed the family. On the side he worked as a carpenter for friends and neighbors who needed help with projects around their properties to earn other wages. He woke up with the sun and worked a full day, slopping the hogs, hoeing the row crops, repairing machinery, taking care of the chickens, raising his family and practicing his Catholic faith. He was a farmer before he married my grandmother in 1916 and settled on this small piece of property, raising a family and providing for their needs. I’m not sure how he did it in those early years, making it through the depression and WW II until they sold most of the land and retired in 1964-65, farming for over fifty years. Today he couldn’t survive as a farmer growing the same crops on such a small scale unless he literally had a second job. In today’s economy, he couldn’t raise nine children, provide clothes and even remotely consider a college education for them. It was a different time.
In today’s economy, a recent study, quoted in the Washington Post, examined whether a minimum wage earner could afford an average two-bedroom apartment in their state of residence. Shockingly in all 50 states, the answer was no. Somehow we have a long way to go that “every worker has a right to a just wage” according to the criteria of justice outlined by St. John XXIII, years ago in his encyclical, “Pacem in Terris.” May we take the measures possible to ensure that families can live, thrive and not simply survive.
Blessings, Father Larry Hendel, Pastor