Tell me: if being Mom, or Dad, or Husband or Wife, were your job, would you be able to get it done in forty hours a week?
I know the answer to that question, but it comes to my mind anyway with Labor Day, our national holiday to celebrate work and workers, oddly timed as vacations end. All the way back to Pope Leo XIII, and more recently including Pope Saint John Paul II in his encyclical Laborem Exercens, the Church has taught the value of human labor as the fruit and expression of human dignity. We resemble God Himself, who labored in Creation, then rested. And it was good! This helps us to remember that the goodness of human labor is pre-political, whatever the political origins, explanation, or exploitation of the holiday we celebrate.
This week was great; everybody was back from vacation. The preceding weeks, one or more of the parish staff took time away. Dao and Delfina each took two weeks; Jackie one week, and Corky a smidge more. You are reminded how much somebody does when he is away!
Any other time of the year, if someone is away, the rest of the office takes up the slack as best they can. But with more than one person gone, we could not fake it. We had to tell folks to try again when they returned. For two days there, with everybody gone, we had to close up shop! Of course Father Gallaugher and I were here, and Norma too, but we were doing our own things. It would have filled our days three times over simply to field the calls for the rest of the staff.
There is no surplus in our staff, and no overlap. We cooperate a lot, and everybody will leap to help out or cover for someone else. But it just gets to the point where you have to acknowledge, the one and only person who takes care of that is away this week and you’ll need to come back when she is here!
Last evening, after my late afternoon appointment was over and I was once again in my office, I heard that distinctive sound across the hall that indicates Delfina is still hard at it. When I asked her if she was ever going to go home, she said of course she was, as soon as she finished the bundle of checks she was going to leave for me to sign. It is hardly uncommon to be here past her quitting time.
Even when everybody is here, there is just more than can be accomplished in the limits of a workday. The work they do, and the questions they answer, the situations they address are so varied and personal, there is simply no way to respond except for one human person to spend time, effort, and attention, right there in the moment. And then the mundane work, the processes and forms, the straightforward but necessary stuff – that very often gets done after hours, or even at home.
So, our parish staff’s motto may as well be the Italian maxim: Siamo pochi ma bravi, which comes off more or less as: We are few but mighty.
Encourage one another with these words when you face a task that work alone will not accomplish, nor time. Whether you are mom and dad, husband and wife, or parish staff, it’s a labor of love, and it’s never truly done: not in forty hours, not ever. Happy Labor Day!