We spent Labor Day today where we’ve spent every Labor Day for the past 20 years — at St. Mary of Sorrows Church (better known as “Little St. Mary’s”) in Fairfax Station, Virginia. Built in 1860 by and for the Irish immigrants who worked the nearby rail line, It is a little white country church, on the National Historic Register. Clara Barton nursed the sick and wounded there during the Civil War when it became a makeshift hospital. They have hosted a picnic every Labor Day for over 130 years.
The day begins with an outdoor Mass and the “Blessing of Tools.” It is a great tradition. Many years ago, local farmers would bring various tractors and pieces of equipment to be blessed. There was a plethora of tool belts and hammers. As the changes to the region came and farms were replaced with homes, the three long tables that hold the tools are now full of backpacks and laptops, with an occasional Scott Air Pack thrown in. Indeed, the change in tools track the changes in the workplace we all inhabit.
The Mass and its readings celebrate work and dignity. Today’s Responsorial Psalm was Psalm 90, “Lord, bless the work of our hands.” This annual ritual is a comfort as we return to work tomorrow and ponder the beginning of the work year. We are reminded of the prayer of St. Joseph, “Ora et Labora,”, i.e., “Pray and work.” We remember that the point of work is not only to keep us busy but also — for the believers among us — to praise God and to to find dignity in all we do.
It’s a good lesson this and every Labor Day.
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