Monday, May 1, 2017

St. Joseph the Worker, Pray for Us

Today is May Day and in the Catholic calendar the memorial of St. Joseph the Worker.
On this day, I remember with gratitude my former pastor, Fr. Donald McDonnell of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in San Francisco and the life and work of Cesar Chavez (1927-1993), who Fr. McDonnell helped inspire Chavez to found the United Farm Worker's union.

Fr. Donald McDonnell
It was Fr. McDonnell , while pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in San Jose, who introduced Chavez to Catholic social teaching and who encouraged him to get involved in labor organizing.  Fr. McDonnell, as one of the "Mission Band" of priests who ministered during the 1950's to the largely Hispanic and Filipino migrant workers in California's Central Valley, had been exposed to the low wages, back-breaking labor and dehumanizing working conditions that were the day-to-day experience of farm workers.

Cesar Chavez

Chavez went on (with fellow labor organizer Dolores Huerta) to found the United Farm Workers union, which eventually, after years of struggle with growers that involved non-violent civil disobedience, fasts and hunger strikes and national boycotts of agricultural products such as grapes and lettuce, was able to organize and represent agricultural workers.

The feast today of St. Joseph the Worker is a needed reminder of both the dignity of work and the human dignity and rights of workers.

As Pope St. John Paul II, stated forcefully in 1984 :
"The needs of the poor take priority over the desires of the rich; the rights of workers over the maximization of profits; the preservation of the environment over uncontrolled industrial expansion;
and production to meet social needs over production for military purposes."

Catholic social teaching, which Fr. McDonnell introduced a young Cesar Chavez to over sixty years ago, upholds the right of workers to organize, to be represented by trade unions, to safe and decent working conditions and to a fair and living wage.  The US Catholic bishops, in their 1983 pastoral letter, "Economic Justice for All" articulated ten principles related to economic justice and the rights of workers.  They are as valid and imperative today as they were almost thirty-five years ago.

On this day on which we commemorate workers and St. Joseph the Worker, may we find inspiration and hope in the United Farmworker's Prayer which Chavez wrote:

Show me the sufferings of the most miserable, so I may know my people's plight.
Free me to pray for others, for you are present in every person.
Help me to take responsibility for my own life, so that I can be free at last.
Grant me courage to serve others, for in service there is true life.
Give me honesty and patience, so that I can work with other workers.
Bring forth song and celebration, so that the Spirit will be alive among us.
Let us remember those who have died for justice, for they have given us life.
Help us love even those who hate us, so we can change the world.

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