LAFLIN — On a Monday morning, a federal holiday, one might not expect people to be in church.
But they were. In droves. Nearly 250 worshippers stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the Oblates of St. Joseph Chapel.
It was Labor Day, and the worship honored St. Joseph, namesake of the Oblates order on his feast day. As well, those at Mass prayed for those who work, those who seek work and those whose work is learning – children and teachers – in the new school year.
The main celebrant for the Mass was Bishop Emeritus James Timlin. The now-88-year-old former bishop retired from his work as head of the Diocese of Scranton 11 years ago, but still rolls up his ecclesiastical sleeves to shepherd the flock.
Timlin wore vestments woven with gold threads and embroidered with the image of St. Joseph and his son, Jesus, on both front and back. Eight members of Knights of Columbus Assembly 948, complete with tuxedos, capes, swords and their signature plumed hats, led the entrance procession, along with half a dozen priests in white vestments.
Worshippers in the pews ranged from youngsters brought to the service by their parents to those long-retired, sporting gray hair or bald pates.
In the readings offered at the Mass, the Scripture message was clear: Work is honorable. It was part of the creation of Adam and Eve. After the Fall, God called on humans to work and take care of the land. St. Paul told the Colossians, “Whatever you do, do it from the heart.” St. Joseph was a carpenter, working with his hands and teaching his son the dignity of using those skills.
Timlin spoke to the people about the history of Labor Day itself. About how it was an idea in an encyclical by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 calling for workers to be paid a living wage, how workers should be respected for what they do, how workers should be allowed to unionize.
The day became a national holiday in 1894, when President Grover Cleveland pushed a bill through Congress. Timlin did not mention that this was a way for the president to appease workers after a railroad strike in which several workers were killed. What mattered was that a holiday got to the calendar to honor laborers.
The former bishop told about both of his grandfathers who worked in the local mines and about the coal strikes in 1902 that paralyzed New York. That conflict brought national figures to Scranton, including President Teddy Roosevelt, to work at settling the strike and bringing benefits to the men who spent their days underground to bring out that coal.
He then talked about the difficulties facing the Catholic Church today and charged the people to do their own work, to bring more people into the church by using love as a tool.
And, the bishop emeritus also reminded the congregation about another message from Genesis.
“Work is important. It is vital. But it isn’t all there is. Please remember that, ‘On the seventh day, God rested.’ It is important for all of us to take a break from our labors,” he said.
For those in the chapel, the Labor Day Mass is a way to take a break. It is also a tradition.
“I like to come every year,” said Betty Jane Marsh, of Avoca. She was there to listen to the music from the choir at St. Mary’s Parish in Avoca.
Marsh said she “discovered” the Oblates one Sunday when she was late to Mass in her own parish in Pittston, the former Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, but could be on time for the Oblates of St. Joseph’s service. The Labor Day Mass was another that she attended, and the September Monday service became something she made it a point to attend.
Marsh waited in line with the rest of the congregation after the final blessing to receive yet one more traditional blessing. To conclude the service, Timlin blessed bread rolls, the result of men’s and women’s work, to distribute to the people as they left the chapel.