St. Francis

The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel

The modern age began, let’s say, in 1500. That date is precise enough to include two pioneers of modernity. Christopher Columbus made his trans-Atlantic journey and was discovered by Native-Americans in 1492. Martin Luther (1483-1546) took a 16 ounce hammer to the door of All Saints Church on the hollowed eve of that church’s feast, October 31, 1517. The modern age is characterized by global travel and commerce (Columbus) and by the primacy of the individual over authoritarian institutions (Luther).
Other features of what we call modern life were introduced over 300 years before 1517, explains Adolf Holl in one of the three or four best biographies of St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), The Last Christian (Doubleday, 1980).
The book begins with reference to two clocks. Monasteries and large churches long maintained rope-pulled bells to mark the liturgical hours: Lauds at dawn, Vespers in the evening and Compline at bedtime. But the bell clock was solar-timed; which meant early Lauds in summer, later in winter. Tournai in Belgium obtained a degree of autonomy from feudal counts and lords in 1188. That year its merchants built the first belfry or bell tower designed for town business, standard time year round. It was subsequently elevated and still operates. A Tournai wall clock sells today for about $60. In 1309 Milan in Italy installed a fully-mechanical clock set to secular time. From then until now we use a machine to arrive at business on time. A replica Milan tabletop clock now sells for anywhere from $14 to $80.
“For one last time, before the forces of progress thundered off on their triumphant path, one man looked into the motivating thrust behind the whole thing and decisively rejected it,” writes Holl. When time took over the public square, St. Francis stopped time.
And what was that motivating thrust?
St. Francis’ confrontation with his apparel merchant father is well-known. In its dramatic moment, St. Francis took off all his clothes in a public setting and threw them along with his money pouch at his father. Until now Pietro Bernardone was my father, St. Francis yelled. From now on only Our Father who is in heaven is my father. There was never reconciliation. Thinking over what led to his shocking behavior, St. Francis keyed into one word that was common to each conflict with his father: money. St. Francis committed himself to ending all association with money. “It became the enemy he would fight inexorably for the rest of his days,” says Holl. St. Francis was keenly interested in climbing the social ladder…climbing its rungs downward. At every moment that he thought he had compromised, that he wasn’t radical enough, he took one more step down.
For you see, St. Francis’ place and time revealed another feature of what we call modern life. His setting was “the cradle of modern capitalism.” His rejection of money explains why he was not attracted to the medieval monasteries, of which there were many. It was within the monasteries, Holl continues, that the basic values of capitalism developed—“purposeful rationality, discipline, abnegation, enterprise and inventiveness.” The monasteries were the first factories. His rejection of money explains why his followers (the Franciscans) are not monks. They are iterant preachers, called friars.
Although he rejected all previews of modernity, St. Francis did not run away. He was not a hermit. He preached outdoors, mostly by gestures. “He needed spectators and he got them,” says Holl. A new movie will bring Jerry Rubin (1938-1994), the premier 1960s yippie, back to public attention. St. Francis and Rubin are different, but they share a fondness for small counter-capitalism gestures. On one of his romps, Rubin obtained a pass for the viewers’ gallery above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. He pulled hundreds of dollar bills out of his pocket and let them fly. Predictably, the floor traders, the foot soldiers of capitalism, scrambled to collect the money. The exchange was forced to briefly halt trading.

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A few years ago one of my students asserted that “St. Francis was a failure.” He hardly reformed the church, she said. It is more corrupt than ever. His religious order has many buildings and has its share of scandal. Nor did St. Francis do anything to stop the evils of the modern age from gaining dominance.
I’m not sure she was correct. I’ve conversed with many young adults who find their high-powered career unsatisfying, who are discontent with the status quo. I regularly meet young adults who, at least in a portion of their life, engage in counter-capitalism. For example, they participate in the slow food movement, the slow fashion movement, the green movement and more. Whenever appropriate I suggest a good biography of St. Francis to these idealists.
Those young adults who know something about St. Francis–whose feast day is Sunday, October 4, 2020–universally relate to the stories about birds and other animals. These young adults also like his association with the environmental movement. However, his need for institutions is a prohibitive block that stops young adults from fully embracing St. Francis’ approach to a meaningful life. How could he retain affection for institutions while seeing so much corruption in the church and while enduring so much disappointment within his fledgling religious order? In caring about institutions, St. Francis was not like Jerry Rubin. To be continued…
Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a print newsletter about faith and work.

Fr. Jack O’Malley, legendary labor priest, dies at 83

Pittsburgh’s Father Jack O’Malley, one of the great labor priests and a founder of the Catholic Labor Network, has passed away. Please remember him and his family in your prayers. True to form, in his final days he was trying to organize the nurses at his hospital! The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted:

The Rev. John “Jack” O’Malley was known to never back down from what he believed in.

The Roman Catholic priest’s friends and colleagues would describe him as someone who never strayed from his moral values and wasn’t afraid to call out injustice. Throughout his life as a pastor, Father O’Malley often would picket with labor unions, even getting arrested several times while protesting.

Father O’Malley, 83, who died on Friday at a residence in the West End, would refer to these acts of civil disobedience as “divine obedience,” his friends said, recalling one of many arrests during the Grape Boycott in the Strip District in the 1970s protesting workers’ low wages….

Even during a recent hospitalization at UPMC Mercy while dealing with Parkinson’s disease, Father O’Malley tried to organize hospital workers to form a union. The Rev. John Oesterle, a chaplain at UPMC Mercy, said he was visiting Father O’Malley just two weeks ago when Father Oesterle  recalled Father O’Malley asking a nurse who was assisting him if she was in a union…

 

 

CLICK HERE for the complete obituary.

New law would call for workplace accommodations for pregnant employees

Pro-Worker, Pro-Life, Pro-Family

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is back, and it looks like it will be coming to a floor vote in Congress. This long-overdue bill would direct employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers, much as they would for a worker with a disability – say, shifting them to an assignment with reduced heavy lifting during pregnancy, if available.

Longtime readers will recall our story on a New York Times investigation of working conditions for women warehouse workers at New Breed Logistics (that’s right, the company founded by Postmaster General Frank DeJoy) and its successor firm, XPO. Multiple women there experienced miscarriages attributed to their work duties. In a particularly notorious incident, a pregnant warehouse worker who asked for light duty was told by a supervisor that she should get an abortion if she couldn’t handle the lifting!

Dozens of states have already passed laws protecting pregnant workers’ rights, often representing a rare opportunity for bipartisan action. In a Christian political economy, the marketplace should accommodate the needs of families. The Catholic Labor Network has endorsed this legislation and urges members to contact their legislators in support.

A Deepened Solidarity: Labor Day 2020 Homily by Bishop John Stowe

The beautiful account of creation found on the first pages of Scripture demonstrates God’s work and artistry. It reveals God’s generosity: God gives humanity dominion over all He has made.  By giving us fertility and the command to multiply, God invites us to work as co-creators.  Just as in the Eucharistic liturgy we offer up “what earth has given and human hands have made”; there is a partnership into which we have been invited by the All Powerful and All-Loving creator.  When the work of our hands and minds, when our skills and training engage our intelligence and our sense of wonder and curiosity, when we truly partner with God to share in the ongoing work of creation-we can celebrate work, celebrate accomplishments, celebrate advances in technology and the increase of production of the fruits of the earth.  We can see how work is indeed dignified, humanizing, and how it is a major factor in our sense of satisfaction with our lives. Read more

God Takes Delight

The Working Catholic: God’s Pleasure
by Bill Droel

Ben Cross died last week. He was an actor best known for his portrayal of Harold Abrahams, an Olympic runner, in Chariots of Fire (Warner Brothers, 1924). Abrahams is a Jewish student at University of Cambridge. He has to deal with anti-Semitism on his way to the 1924 games in Paris. The film, based on a true story, won four Academy Awards including best picture.
The plot around Abrahams has a parallel story line. Ian Charleson, who died in 1990, plays Eric Liddell, another young runner. Liddell is supposed to go to China to engage in Christian missionary activity. His sister, touching a part of his conscience, says that training for the Olympics distracts him from God’s calling. Liddell is torn but makes peace with his plan. In the film’s famous line, he says: “I believe God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
The Lord takes delight in endeavors well done. Once upon a time a prominent church hereabout commissioned an artist to paint the figure of God the Father. The artist was so thrilled by the greatness of her subject that she vowed to do the painting on her knees. Well, this went on for a few days until God appeared to her and thundered: “You are not supposed to paint me on your knees. You are supposed to paint me well.”
The notion persists that for work to be holy it either must occur under church auspice or it must get an additional coating of piety or sacredness.

What is the proper definition of holy work? It is the thing one does to live and/or the thing one lives to do. Volunteering and homemaking can be good work presuming the worker receives sufficient financial resources from elsewhere. If the good work is the way one supports oneself and a family, the pay must be just. Without a family wage, the endeavor is objectively damaged. The paternalism of the employer and the desperation or generous heart of the employee is irrelevant in calculating a family wage.
Good work is how a person fulfills his or her human nature. Each of us has a God-given nature that came with a work impulse already installed. Good work is how a person participates in the on-going creation and redemption of society.
Good work is a primary way that a person exercises the virtue of solidarity by cooperating with fellow workers for improvements in the product, the service, the delivery or even the culture of the industry or sector. This impulse to associate for improvement is another built-in feature of human nature.
All types of jobs qualify as good work, excluding only those that violate God’s plan: a predatory lender, a trafficker of teenage girls, or a gang leader. Good work is any endeavor that upon a worker’s contemplation she or he sees God’s perfection reflected. This does not mean that the medical procedure has to always be a total success. The class on obtuse angles or the one on dangling participles can flop. The anticipated lauds for the play or the concert do not occur. The courtroom defense does not impress the jury. The day or the week or the month of child rearing can be total frustration. At a certain time, however, a worker can look back upon an endeavor and know that given the challenges of the job she or he did their best.

Unfortunately, Christians do not—for whatever reason—get the message that their work matters to God; that work in itself contributes to the spiritual life. Yet all Christians, as St. John Paul II (1920-2005) said, are called to a spirituality of work.
Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957), playwright, essayist and creator of the fictional detective Lord Peter Wimsey, says that Christians will have only a pro forma adherence to the faith as long as they do not hear or feel that Christianity has anything to do with the meaning of work—on the job, around the home and in the community. An intelligent carpenter, she says, hears that religion means “not to be drunk and disorderly in leisure hours and to come to church on Sundays. What the church should be telling him [or her] is this: The very first demand that religion makes…is that he [or she] should make good tables.”
To be clear: God wants catechists and preachers in the mission field and around the parish. God wants those teachers and preachers to be compassionate. But a tender heart and willingness to volunteer are not sufficient. God feels pleasure when preachers, catechists and all workers do it well. For example, God expects preachers and catechists to critically study Scripture. God expects them to stay current, using magazines like Commonweal, America or Christianity Today, just as God expects doctors to read medical journals carefully, engineers to keep up with safety manuals and to read about new materials or chemical compounds.

God made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure, said Olympian Eric Liddell. The Lord takes delight in all endeavors well done.

Droel edits a free newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

Thoughts on the Postal Crisis from a Letter Carrier

As a former Letter Carrier for the US Postal Service, I have been paying particular attention to recent events in the news – especially the shocking decision by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to slow down mail delivery in order to save the postal service money.

As a carrier, I would arrive at the post office at 6am each weekday and Saturday and find several feet of mail on my “case,” a sorting cabinet. The mail had arrived overnight from sorting facilities and was destined for homes and businesses on my delivery route. The cardinal rule of operations was that no first class mail that arrived on my case in the morning could be left behind. On an especially busy day, we might leave bulk mail advertisements for delivery the next day, but all first class letters had to be sorted, packed in the mailbag and delivered to the addressee. If that required overtime for the carrier some days, that was a necessary cost of providing quality service. Fast and secure delivery of the mail is why the US Postal Service is the most popular agency of the US Government.

For this reason, I was suprised to hear that DeJoy had given orders to remove high-speed sorting machines in the sorting facilities and to delay first class mail delivery if necessary to curtail overtime. As you probably have, I have seen delivery of my own mail delayed by these practices in recent weeks.

These measures have now at least temporarily been put on hold. For this we can largely thank the vigorous organizing activity by unions representing postal workers such as the American Postal Workers’ Union (APWU), the National Postal Mail Handlers Union (NPMHU), and my old union, the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC). They have spoken out to inform the public what is happening and and fighting to preserve delivery standards for the mail. This is a reminder of the role of unions in Catholic Social Teaching: not simply to win better wages and benefits for their members but to promote the common good.

It’s not for nothing that Pope Leo XIII, in the foundational document of Catholic Social Teaching – his Encyclical Rerum Novarum – compared unions to the medieval guilds and said such associations “were the means of affording not only many advantages to the workmen, but in no small degree of promoting the advancement of art [49].” Most workers are committed to their craft and their contribution to society, and want to do a good job, even when their supervisors may be more focused on short-term profit margins.

Recent decades have witnessed an alarming decline in union membership. This trend does not only threaten the livelihood of workers but the quality of our public services and private products alike. Unions, in the postal service and elsewhere, make a vital contribution to the common good.

In Praise of Collective Bargaining

A Guest Column for Labor Day from CLN Spiritual Moderator Fr. Sinclair Oubre, JCL

For a number of years, cries have arisen for greater equity. As we celebrate Labor Day, one of these cries of inequity surrounds pay.

“Are men and women, who do the same work, and work the same number of hours receiving the same pay?”

There are many anecdotal stories of women moving into work positions, and later finding out that their male predecessor was paid significantly more than they were. There are also stories where women supervisors have learned that their male underlings were receiving larger compensations.

Now, the general practice is to complain to the supervisor about this injustice, and if that does not get satisfaction, either litigate or file a complaint with a governmental agency like the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.

An individual employee’s action may bring equity for her, but unless her case evolves to a class action, her sisters in the same company, who may be in the same situation will not benefit from her victory.

I am a member of the Seafarers International Union, and if one is an Able Bodied Seafarer, whether one is a man or woman, an African American, Hispanic, Arab, or Caucasian, we all will make the same wages for the same work.

What makes the executives at US-flagged shipping companies different from the executives that I described above? Are they more moral? Are they more altruistic or magnanimous? Not really. The difference is the collective bargaining agreement between the company and the mariners’ union that sets wages, work hours, overtime, and benefits for all workers covered under that classification.

With a collective bargaining agreement, the supervisor cannot play employees off by telling one that she or he makes more than another employee, and that is why they have to work harder, or longer, or be held to a higher standard.

Since compensation packages are considered confidential private information, the employee really does not know if he or she does make more, and whether it is 10¢ or $10.

As a Catholic priest, we have such a wonderful treasure, Catholic Social Teachings. These teachings are 129 years old, and reflect on the moral values in the work world. Part of the CST covers collective bargaining.

In 1891, Pope Leo XIII first raised the issue of a just employment bargaining between the worker and the employer in the encyclical Rerum Novarum:

“45. Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice.”

In 2005, Pope Benedict continued the CST tradition that had been promoted by his predecessors when he expressed concern over attacks on collective bargaining in his encyclical Caritas in Varitate:

“25. Through the combination of social and economic change, trade union organizations experience greater difficulty in carrying out their task of representing the interests of workers, partly because Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labour unions. Hence traditional networks of solidarity have more and more obstacles to overcome.”

In 1986, the United States Catholic Bishops picked up this theme of collective bargaining and applied it to their own religious institutions in their pastoral letter Economic Justice for all:

“All church institutions must also fully recognize the rights of employees to organize and bargain collectively with the institution through whatever association or organization they freely choose. In the light of new creative models of collaboration between labor and management described earlier in this letter, we challenge our church institutions to adopt new fruitful modes of cooperation.”

On this Labor Day, I wish to thank all our unions for providing collective bargaining agreements for their members. The agreements guarantee equity in pay and benefits. If we had more collective bargaining agreements, we would have greater economic equity in the workplace.

Gaudium et Spes Labor Report 2020: 600+ Catholic Institutions with Unions

If you add up all the Churches, schools, hospitals, universities, cemeteries, publications and other institutions, the Catholic Church employs more than one million American workers! That’s a lot of opportunities to evangelize the world by treating our employees in accordance with Catholic Social Teaching — or to scandalize the faithful by failing to do so.

Just in time for Labor Day, the Catholic Labor Network likes to celebrate those institutions that have demonstrated their CST commitment by bargaining with the union chosen by their employees. In our 2020 Gaudium et Spes Labor Report you will find more than 600 such Catholic institutions sorted by sector, state and Diocese. Check out yours and see what you find!

Gaudium et Spes Labor Report 2020: Catholic Institutions with Employee Unions

CLN Hosts First Annual Online Labor Day Mass: Sept 7, 2pm ET

                    Bishop John Stowe, OFM

When Kentucky legislators proposed anti-union “right to work” legislation in 2017, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington Diocese spoke out boldly in defense of Catholic Social Teaching on unions and worker justice. Please join us Monday September 7 at 2pm ET for the Catholic Labor Network’s first annual livestreamed Labor Day Mass, celebrated by Bishop Stowe!

CLICK TO REGISTER

Tuesday, August 11: Day of Prayer and Fasting for Workers Impacted by the Pandemic

Today some thirty million American workers displaced from their jobs by the pandemic have lost their lifelines, because the supplemental unemployment benefits provided by the CARES Act have expired and most have lost their employer-paid health care. Millions of other workers in hospitals and nursing homes, supermarkets and meatpacking plants, buses and metro trains – to name a few – continue to work while exposed to infection, but OSHA has failed to issue a workplace standard protecting them. The U.S. Senate has before it legislative proposals that would help both groups, but has refused to act, citing fears that the unemployment benefits will discourage workers from returning to low-wage jobs.

This is a matter of life and death for tens of millions of workers, and we who worship a God who cares for “the least of these brothers and sisters” cannot stand by.

Next Tuesday, Aug. 11, will see a national day of action calling on legislators to act on these critical needs. The Catholic Labor Network invites our members to join in this effort with a day of prayer and fasting. The fast, a spiritual discipline from our tradition, will never be more appropriate than in a time when millions face hunger due to extended pandemic unemployment – these men and women are abstaining from work to protect us all from a deadly coronavirus. Let us too come together in a day of prayer, a prayer calling on legislators to remember their obligations to our nation’s working people in need and act quickly to provide economic security for the displaced and workplace safety for those exposed on the job.

We also invite you to join us for a 30-minute Virtual Prayer Service at 3pm ET. We will come together to pray for the welfare of these workers and for wisdom and compassion from our elected representatives.

CLICK TO REGISTER for the virtual prayer service.