Labor Day long ago joined most of our other civic holidays in losing whatever original public significance it may have had in order to become just a "holiday weekend." (My guess is that, having always been set on a Monday, it may actually have helped pave the way there!) Even as a kid growing up, before the American labor movement had entered its now evident decline, it was obvious to anyone that Labor Day was more about the end of summer vacation, the last day for women to wear their white shoes and men their straw hats, and the return to school and normal activities, than any civic celebration of American workers (and the affluence their astounding productivity had helped produce).
Even so, as a somewhat artificial date, not connected to any true turning point of the annual solar cycle, Labor Day does not necessarily suggest an end to summer and its sufferings. When I was in grad school, Labor Day weekend was distinctly dreaded, because the University library would be closed for 3 days for its annual sprucing up before the start of school. In those days when so few other places were air-conditioned, that meant not only no place for grad students to read and study (and socialize) but also no place to get cool and to breathe some pollen-free air.
And so it was, with a storehouse of such recollections, that I travelled to our national capital of heat and humidity, Washington, DC, this Labor Day weekend for the joyful occasion of a Paulist Final Profession and Diaconate Ordination. As it turned out, the weather has been beautiful beyond any expectation - a nice natural complement to the joyous celebrations I have happily been a part of these past few days.
Saturday morning's ordination of 4 deacons from 3 religious communities at the Basilica of the National Shrine was (as it should be) a joyful expression of what Vatican II called "the hierarchical constitution of the Church" and a solemn celebration of our confident hope in the continuance of the Church's mission in this country. Saturday evening's Mass of Thanksgiving at Holy Martyrs of Vietnam Parish in Arlington, VA, further reinforced that sense of hope for the present and future of the Church in America, as a good representation of Paulists joined the resident Dominicans in concelebrating a Mass in their nice new church, accompanied by beautiful music from the parish's youthful choir and instrumental ensemble, followed by a delicious Vietnamese feast in the parish hall.
Labor Day may be a totally artificial seasonal marker, but it works. Once Labor Day is over and done with, no matter how hot it may sadly still be, everyone will be ready for the full schedule of normal parish activities, responding anew to the challenge of making Christ's presence and action in our world both visible and credible.