While the people of the United States wrap up their summer with the celebration of Labor Day, the sisters at the Mount have their own ritual for the end of the summer.
It is called the “Blessing of Ministries” and it dates back to the days when many of the sisters taught in schools that had nine-month teaching contracts. Each summer the sisters who had been teaching in many towns around the region would return to Atchison for the summer.
There they would assist with such necessary work as helping raise food in the large garden, canning produce for the winter, attending summer college classes, or helping with the cleaning and dishwashing that came with the increased population.
When August came, they received their new assignments or prepared to return to their previous work. Each sister received an individual blessing from the prioress as she set forth.
Today, most sisters do not have this same opportunity to take an extended leave from their work, but the custom continues of having August be the time at which we celebrate our service to the world and to each other. Evening prayers on that day are focused on the sacredness of work, the prioress gives a short reflection, and then each sister comes forward to receive a blessing.
The prioress makes a cross on the sister’s forehead and offers a blessing such as “May God bless you in your work ... (with some individual comment about that particular sister’s service).” For those who are no longer employed because of age or infirmity, there is a special acknowledgement of their most important work, the ministry of prayer that supports everything the community does.
In “Regula Benedicti,” St. Benedict writes, “First of all, every time you begin a good work, you must pray to him most earnestly to bring it to perfection.”
It’s easy to take the blessing of our daily work for granted, at least until we don’t have it. Anyone who has experienced a period of unemployment or disability comes to know how important work is, not only to feed our families and keep a roof over our heads, but for the dignity it gives us.
We see how important work is to our identity in the fact that one of the first questions people ask when getting acquainted is “What do you do?” or “Where do you work?”
Jesus may have pointed to the lilies of the field as something that neither toils nor spins, but we aren’t lilies and I doubt that he wanted human beings to just stand around looking beautiful. He was calling us to set aside undue worry about acquiring riches and to trust in God. But he still sent the disciples out, and went to work each day himself, praying, preaching, and healing those in need.
Having daily labor and doing it for the glory of God is indeed a blessing. Even on the days when it is tedious, boring, or difficult, we are blessed. On the days when clients or customers are unreasonable, or co-workers are annoying, or nothing seems to be going right, we are blessed.
I once knew a person whose mother sent the children out the door each morning by tracing a cross on their foreheads and blessing them. This little gesture can’t help but make the day a little brighter or at least remind one of how every moment and every activity is sacred.
Labor Day is a good time to have our own personal or family blessing. And be sure to include a prayer for those who cannot enjoy the fruit of labor because of lack of education, mental or physical infirmity, the demons of addiction, or lack of opportunity.