Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

Prayer and the work of Christians

September 9, 2012

I begin this column with a sense of profound gratitude to all those who have written or called or let me know they are praying for me as I enter into a lengthy chemotherapy treatment to destroy cancer in my body. My own prayers are full of distractions these days, and it is a great comfort to know that I can count on so many to keep my needs before the Lord. Because I am Archbishop of Chicago, the needs of this local church are more important than my own, and I hope that every prayer keeps that in perspective: We should pray for what is best for this archdiocese and its mission.

Prayer of intercession is a form of work; it is done with the intention to produce a certain result, depending, of course, on God’s will for us. Last weekend our country celebrated Labor Day, a holiday begun to honor workers who produce the goods needed for others in our society and to remind everyone of the struggle to create a just economy, one in which work would be available for all and wages would be sufficient to raise a family in dignity. Biblical justice is not a matter of equality but of right relationships, and a just economy respects the proper relationships between capital and labor and all other sectors of our society.

Each year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Domestic Justice issues a Labor Day Statement. Piggybacking on that statement, the rest of this column will consist of considerations from it. The entire statement is available on the USCCB website at

The statement situates the moral imperatives we face when looking at work and workers today: “This Labor Day, our country continues to struggle with a broken economy that is not producing enough decent jobs. Millions of Americans suffer from unemployment, underemployment or are living in poverty as their basic needs too often go unmet. This represents a serious economic and moral failure for our nation. As people of faith, we are called to stand with those left behind, offer our solidarity, and join forces with ‘the least of these’ to help meet their basic needs. We seek national economic renewal that places working people and their families at the center of economic life.”

The statement then breaks down and focuses the elements of our social situation into three sections: the broken economy leaves too many without decent work; a call for economic renewal and support for workers; and, building a more just economy.

As a statement of principles, the document reads the economic news in the light of the demands of economic justice and the vision of a just and charitable society. This leaves a lot of room for prudential judgments on the part of workers, owners, employers, unions and ordinary citizens. For those looking for quick and definitive answers to complicated problems, such a statement always falls short. For those looking for a moral guide to effective action, it will be helpful.

Among several quotes from papal documents cited in the statement, let me include the first, a quote from Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical letter, Charity in truth: “In many cases, poverty results from a violation of the dignity of human work, either because work opportunities are limited…or because a low value is put on work and the rights that flow from it, especially the right to a just wage and to the personal security of the worker and his or her family.”

Just as prayer is more efficacious when we pray together, so efforts to protect workers are more effective when they are gathered into morally responsible labor unions and other associations. Neither society in general nor workers in particular should be reduced to collections of individuals without relationships to one another for the sake of the common good. This Labor Day, a key to the public conversation should be consideration of what is truly the common good rather than assuming that the common good is just the sum total of individual interests. The basic unit of any just society is the family. Work and public policies that strengthen family life and relationships are morally upright; what weakens the family is sinful.

God bless you. May our prayers for each other do their work for all of us.