This Labor Day, Focus on Work and Family

Catherine OrrOn April 7, 2015, my husband and I were blessed with our first child, a healthy baby boy named James. As a four month old, he brings so much joy into our lives that it is hard to imagine life before him.

Becoming a mother has been a life-changing experience. Other working moms told me going back to work would be difficult, but I never imagined how hard it truly would be. I had my first reality check of what it means to be a working mom when I returned to the Diocese of Green Bay after two months of maternity leave.

I sobbed as I pulled into the parking lot at work, which surprised me for two reasons: I sincerely love my job, and I knew that James was in good hands. He was at home, safe and sound, with his doting grandparents watching over him. Despite all of these reasons that should have put my mind at ease, I longed for days of snuggling on the couch, watching my son peacefully sleep in my arms. I longed for the sheer joy that could only come from that time together.

The transition back to work, however, gave me the opportunity to reflect on what it means to work, and more importantly, what it means to have dignity-filled work. As Archbishop Wenski mentions in his Labor Day address, “Dignity-filled work and the fruits of that labor nourish families, communities, and the common good.”

Regardless of whether or not a mother stays at home or works outside of home, these mothers are laboring to raise and provide for their families. These efforts are the foundation of society because it is within our homes–the domestic church–that each person learns what faith, love, and sacrifice mean. And, it is also within the home, that each individual learns about what is best for the entire family, the common good, and society as a whole.

Sadly, we know that there are many cultural, economic, and structural challenges facing families today. Imagine that…

  • I dropped out of school to find work, so I could provide for my baby;
  • I have no support from family or friends;
  • I do not work a job that supports a living wage;
  • I have a child with a degenerative illness;
  • My hours are cut and so is my health insurance;
  • I cannot afford my child’s health care and day care;
  • I lose my job.

Now, imagine how lonely and terrified I would be.

As a church, are we not called to care for our brothers and sisters in Christ because we are part of one human family? The ability to work a dignity-filled job is crucial for individuals and families to fully develop and participate in God’s creation. Bishop David Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay invited every person to journey with him into the new evangelization so that each person can deepen his or her prayer life. Through prayer, each person will strengthen his or her personal relationship with Christ and become a better disciple in order to make disciples of others.

Because of our personal relationship with Christ, we must “…recommit ourselves around the world in the human family, and build systems and structures that nurture family formation and stability in our own homes and neighborhoods” (Archbishop Wenski, Labor Day Statement).

Knowing that work should allow an individual to develop and flourish as a person, it should also serve as a means for families to prosper. Therefore, as Labor Day draws near, let us pray that all families have dignified-work so that their family can prosper.


Catherine Orr is the Director of Living Justice in the Diocese of Green Bay and the co-chair of the Roundtable Association of Catholic Diocesan Social Action Directors.

For Father’s Day, Support Economic Opportunities for Families

ray-bosharaIn light of Father’s Day, I’ve been thinking about some of the good values my father instilled in me: to work hard, earn your way in the world, and save your money.

Beginning at age 12, not working and not saving were not options in my family, so I began washing dishes and managing the french-fry machine at the family restaurant in Akron, Ohio, started by my grandparents.  When I was (effectively) fired for lack of interest and competency at age 14, I was required to find other work and was urged by my parents to start thinking seriously about college, since I didn’t appear to be good at anything else.  So I pumped gas, worked at the car wash, sold shoes, and continued jobs like these over summer breaks while studying accounting in college.  College led to a good first job and then—after public accounting didn’t work out for me, either—divinity school and, eventually, to more fulfilling work, marriage and three children of my own.

I took for granted growing up, and once I started working, what a rapidly increasing number of families today cannot: a stable family; hard work that leads to economic success and upward mobility; a debt-free college degree that leads to a good job; the ability to buy my first home; and earning enough to save for my own children’s education as well as my retirement.  I came from a middle-class family, don’t think I worked harder (though I started earlier!) than those around me, and attended a public university (THE Ohio State University), so achieving a middle-class life as an adult didn’t seem remarkable in any way.  Same for all of my friends.

Studies abound that this assumption of rising living standards no longer holds true.  In my day job, where I study family economics, I came across a recent article in the Washington Monthly by Phil Longman who observes that, throughout our history, inequality between generations was large and usually increasing because each new generation did far better financially than their parents did. Today, inequality between generations is still increasing, but for the opposite reason: even though more productive and better educated, most of today’s workers are “falling farther and farther behind their parents’ generation in most measures of economic well-being.”

The numbers bear this out. According to Pew, the typical worker had wage growth of 22 percent between 1979 and 1999, but just 2 percent—from 1999 to 2009.  A recent Federal Reserve survey finds that roughly half of all American families could not cover a $400 expense—they simply don’t have it, or would need to sell something or borrow to cover it.  And, in Our Kids, Harvard’s Robert Putnam (of Bowling Alone fame) worries that America is rapidly dividing along class lines: the one-third of “rich” kids who are being raised by college-educated, married parents, and the two-thirds of “poor” kids being raised by non-college-educated, non-married parents.

What, then, can we do? The Church seeks to help families thrive by placing the human person at the center of our economic policies and decisions. We promote life and dignity in our families, communities, nation and world when we change policies that perpetuate poverty and inequality. In fact, if we do nothing, inequality will get worse: Economic, demographic and political forces have aligned to deepen already stark disparities in wages, income, and wealth.

Although not explicitly a policy focus for the U.S. Catholic bishops, I believe that one way to begin to address these issues is to urge Congress to pass the one with the most promise over time: setting up a life-long, progressively funded savings account at birth for every child in America, which can be used for college, buying a home, or retirement.  By doing so, we can help ensure that inequality of outcomes in one generation does not become inequality of opportunity in the next.

Ray Boshara serves as an advisor to the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development of the U.S. Conference Catholic Bishops, as well as a member of the Peace and Justice Commission of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

Join the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development in advocating for policies help poor and middle class families to access decent paying jobs, affordable housing, and economic opportunities. Policy advocacy is critical precisely because it is policy that sets the framework for addressing hunger, poverty, unemployment, and other important issues that make a difference to families everywhere.    Take action now.

“All in one place together”: Pentecost and Immigrant Lives

“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.” On Pentecost the Holy Spirit showed up in power to publicly launch the church as a people of solidarity. After Jesus’ death disciples were fishing, hiding, and choosing another apostle (by casting lots) to replace Judas after his tragic suicide. Meanwhile, the risen Jesus appeared when least expected; then they watched him ascend into glory…and waited.

2013-08-27 20.53.57As we live Pentecost in the present, sisters and brothers at the border, in barrios, businesses, and backyards across the United States find themselves in a holding pattern, waiting for immigration reform and even DACA/DAPA relief to be released from the grip of the powerful. These disciples too wait, actively.

In the Diocese of Orange, Catholic immigrants, recent and not-so-recent, both citizens and undocumented from parishes throughout the county and across ethnic communities have been working together to change the narrative in Orange County. Neighbor to Murrieta, we’re no stranger to strong anti-immigrant sentiment, even within the Catholic community. How easy it is to forget our own history of discrimination by groups like the Klan against Catholics and immigrants. We have to face our own sinfulness, our own forgetfulness of the ways that we fail to welcome others – even at times actively thwarting their God-given dignity.

So, like others across the country, we meet with and alongside our immigrant sisters and brothers to listen, to advocate together, to learn how to share the spaces in which we live. This has taken some beautiful shapes: Dreamers transforming hearts through sharing their stories; Parishes tailoring outreach events to their particular contexts; Partnering with neighboring dioceses to host an annual Immigration Summit; Speaking truth to power in legislative visits; 2,000 people prayerfully processing from a local parish to Rep. Ed Royce’s district office in Brea, CA; 3,000 faithful gathering together for prayer and action with bishops, priests, and religious at Christ Cathedral; Parish leaders holding community forums to educate on the CA AB-60 Driver’s License law; 30 buses from Orange County caravanning to Southern California Regional Mass for All Immigrants in Los Angeles; and Trained leaders at Parish Hubs in every deanery in the diocese working closely with Catholic Charities to organize for expanded capacity for DACA/DAPA processing in Orange County.

As Pope Francis encourages us, we can’t fear “getting our hands dirty.” This activity has taken enormous effort on the part of many parish volunteers, the staff of Catholic Charities, diocesan pastoral center staff, and the leadership of our clergy. Our Bishop Kevin Vann has led the way, meeting with legislators, leading prayer services, and exhorting us to focus on the impact of our actions and policies on people versus an ideological focus on “issues.”

That such efforts are not without criticism is a sign that the reign of God is among us challenging the status quo. Even the sneering accusation of public drunkenness hurled at Peter bears witness in its own way to the cross (Acts 2:13f). It recognizes that the diverse group of “outsiders” suddenly coming together in solidarity poses a direct challenge to the logic of the principalities and powers, which today entraps us in regimes of “whiteness,” of political “respectability,” of liberalism’s exclusion of religious claims and of the political witness that is the church.

What a gift, then to see whites rich and poor from Catholic parishes and other ecumenical partners, Orange County Chinese Catholic Association, Korean and Vietnamese Catholic Centers, alongside our leaders of Hispanic movements and communities such as Renovación Carismática Católica, Jóvenes Para Cristo, Neocatechumenal Way, young and old—to be all in one place together!

Living Pentecost in the present, we discover that in faithful waiting, whether by working to provide for our loved ones (here or elsewhere), by keeping our families together in the face of deportation threats, by educating people in our parish, or by appointing a twelfth apostle—we Gentiles have already received the radical hospitality of the God of Israel, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Greg profile picGreg Walgenbach is the Director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange in California (Orange County).

#Synod14 also talked family economics

Now that was something!

Dylan Corbett

Dylan Corbett

For the last couple weeks, the Church has been digesting the Synod on the Family, a meeting in Rome of bishops and families from around the world with the Holy Father.

Never has more ink—digital or actual—been spilled on such a meeting. Every word, press release and sound bite has been scrutinized, dissected and interpreted.

And yet, if you weren’t paying close attention, you may have missed some of the substance that didn’t generate as much media attention.

The Synod had some pretty incisive things to say about the relationship between the family and the economy. In fact, it offered a powerful critique of the world economy.

It wasn’t all good. The Synod Fathers had some pretty harsh words for the “economic systems”, “unemployment”, “culture of prosperity” and “disinterest” on the part of government that today “weakens the dignity of people”. This is what they said in their final report:

There is also a general feeling of powerlessness in the face of socio-cultural realities which oftentimes end in crushing families. Such is the case in increasing instances of poverty and unemployment in the workplace, which at times is a real nightmare… Families often feel abandoned by the disinterest and lack of attention by institutions. The State has the responsibility to pass laws and create work to ensure the future of young people and help them realize their plan of forming a family.

That’s tough stuff. But that’s where the Church has to dwell, because that place of family pain is where God dwells. Evangelization must take people where they’re at. As the Synod Fathers said:

… evangelization needs to clearly denounce cultural, social, political and economic factors, such as the excessive importance given to market logic which prevents authentic family life and leads to discrimination, poverty, exclusion, and violence.

In a complex world where relationships and institutions are increasingly fragile, pain and hope are felt and lived by those at the bottom. For many, the family is the last buffer in a world dominated by “the logic of the market”, where communities are fast evaporating, job security and pensions seem anachronistic, and loneliness and insecurity are more pervasive. Make no mistake, families are being put through the sieve. If that’s the case, perhaps the Church and the State need to think seriously about exercising a preferential option for the family.

As Cardinal Erdő of Hungary said during the days of the Synod, “the family is almost the last welcoming human reality in a world determined near exclusively by finance and technology. A new culture of the family can be the starting point for a renewed human civilization”.

Dylan Corbett is manager for mission & identity outreach at the USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.