Labor Day Then and Now

In the midst of today’s devastating worldwide pandemic, if it was reported that the majority of Americans in the United States worked 12-hour days, 7-days a week, would you believe it? Of course not! But during the smallpox pandemic from 1877 to 1977, when 500 million lost their lives and the mortality death rate was as high as 35%, that’s exactly what happened. It was not until 1980 that the World Health Organization declared smallpox to be eradicated. 
Source: Google COVID-19 Alert

As of this writing, there are 6.13 million cases and 186,000 deaths due to COVID-19 in the U.S. with a mortality death rate of 3%. As of June, 30 million lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and related shutdowns, and some think the real numbers are as high as 40 million.
Source: Wall Street Journal

What is startling about these numbers is the resolve of the working class in the last century. Labor Day was created by the labor movement in the late 19th century and became a federal holiday in 1894 to celebrate workers and their achievements. American workers dedicated 12 hours a day, seven days a week to their jobs just to make a living. Even children as young as 5 or 6 worked in mills and factories to help make ends meet. 

Labor Day Parade, New York City, 5 September 1882

Like the protests of today, workers protested, sometimes with violence. On September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers made their way to New York City to march from City Hall to Union Square — the first American Labor Day Parade. Eventually labor unions were formed to protect workers from unsafe conditions and their influence caused employers to raise pay and reduce working hours.

Today we still celebrate the American worker on the first Monday in September, thanks to the workers who stood up for fair pay for a decent day’s work, and President Grover Cleveland who signed into law Labor Day as a legal holiday.

As you celebrate this weekend with backyard BBQ’s and picnics, face masks and social distancing, think of the men, women and children whose labor inspired this holiday.

Do You Really Know St. Patrick?

Ah, you say in your best Irish accent, “the lad is the patron saint of Ireland who drove those slimy snakes off the Cliffs of Blarney into the Irish Sea while wearing a shamrock on his Irish flat cap.”

St. Patrick, bishop

Uh no. Actually, born Maewyn Succat to Roman British parents, he was captured by Irish pirates at the age of 16 and forced to work as a shepherd in Ireland. At 22, he converted to Christianity and escaped back to Britain. He was captured again by the French where he learned to become a cleric and missionary for, of all places, Ireland. Choosing the name Patricius, he had a vision that caused him to return to Ireland and eventually become their patron saint and bishop.

I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: “The Voice of the Irish”. As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.”

However, the journey from shepherd slave to Christian Bishop was not easy. He was often forced to leave to preach and live on small offshore islands where over time he gained enough followers to ensure his safety back on the mainland. He eventually converted the sons of Kings and witnessed the building of over 300 churches.

Ah yes, the snakes. There are early written records of a legend similar to the Biblical account in Exodus where Moses and Aaron face off with the Pharaoh’s sorcerers, staffs in hand. The staffs turn into snakes, and Aaron’s snake-staff consumes the Pharaoh’s snake staff to win the day. However, Patrick lived in the 5th century and the absence of snakes in Ireland has be recorded from as early as the 3rd century.

So what about the shamrock? It’s not impossible that St. Patrick actually used the 3-leaved Shamrock to introduce his converts to the concept of the Trinity. The Irish already had triple deities and held the number three with high regard, so Patrick’s use of the shamrock may have helped him win favor with the Irish.

All this said, in 1737, “The Wearing of the Green” was being played at the St. Patrick’s Day parade, a full century before the huge influx of Irish immigrants to New England after the great famine in mid-19th century Eire. St. Patrick’s Day was indeed destined to become an American tradition. We wouldn’t want it any other way.

The Simple Polish Nun

The story of a young Polish woman, Faustyna Kowalska, whose visions of Jesus Christ inspired devotion to the Divine Mercy is compelling, especially for those of us who have felt “led” to perform an act of mercy for someone else. Now, her story has been brought to the big screen in a very limited engagement in theaters in the U.S.

At just seven years old, Faustina felt a calling to the religious life. At 19, she had a vision of the suffering Jesus. Without even asking her parents’ permission, she responded by boarding a train for Warsaw with only the clothes on her back in order to join a convent. After multiple refusals, one mother superior finally gave her a chance if she was willing to work as a housemaid and pay her own way.

Movie portrayal of St. Faustina

Faustina eventually met the priest who was to become her confessor and encouraged her to write down in her diary her mystical experiences with the Christ Jesus. She wrote that Jesus appeared to her wearing a white garment with red and pale rays emanating from His heart, then ask her to paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature “Jesus, I trust in You.” He promised that those who venerate the image will not perish. It was done, even thought she did not know how to paint.

How the image came to be painted, and how its image has changed the lives of those who venerate it up to this day is revealed in the movie Love and Mercy, now at local theaters for a very limited time. Access The Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska book.

The Christmas season is an excellent time to learn and reflect on our own relationship with the Christ Jesus story. See the movie trailer and make up your own mind about whether you feel “led” to know more. Just click the Watch Trailer button in the Love and Mercy link above.

Blessings on this Christmas Season from all of us at the Stewardship Foundation.