Labor Day: Making our work a prayer Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

Seeing with Jesus' Eyes, a column by Fr. Donald Lange

In the 15th century in a village near Nuremberg, Germany, Albrecht Durer and his brother Albert dreamed of attending art school.

But Albrecht Sr., their father who supported 18 children, understandably couldn’t afford to send them. So the two brothers made an agreement. Albrecht would attend art school while Albert worked in the mines to pay his expenses. When Albrecht graduated, he would use his artistic talents to pay for Albert’s tuition and other expenses.

Brother’s sacrifice

After four years, Albrecht Jr. finally graduated. His family and friends gathered to share a dinner of thanksgiving. Albrecht began the celebration by proposing a toast to his brother who sacrificed by paying his expenses for art school.

“Brother,” he said with deep emotion, “Your sacrifices helped me to achieve my dream. Now it’s my turn to help you follow your dream. I’ve already earned enough money from my drawings to pay the first year of your tuition at art school. You can enroll whenever you wish. I’ll pay for all your expenses until you graduate. “

With tears streaming down his face, Albert cried, “No, no, brother, it’s too late! I cannot accept your generous offer. You see, the work in the mines was so hard that I broke every finger in my hands at least once! Then arthritis crippled my hands so badly that I can’t even lift this glass to return your toast, let alone hold a pen or brush to do delicate art work. So, brother, it is too late for me.”

According to tradition, out of gratitude for his brother’s sacrificial love, Albrecht painstakingly drew his brother’s abused hands with palms together and thin fingers pointing skyward. He called this drawing “Hands,” but people renamed it “Praying Hands.” It has become world famous.

Work can be a prayer

This prayerful, inspiring drawing reminds us that we pray with our hands raised to Heaven as a sign of humility and dependence upon God. As I reflected upon “Praying Hands,” I realized that we also pray with our hands in other ways.

In today’s technological society, we still work with our hands, using the computer, kneading dough, and more. The work we do with our hands can be a prayer when we make it an offering of love to God and neighbor.

Albert’s crippled hands remind me that when I was a boy, there were more men with missing fingers and hands than today. They remind me, too, that when I was a high school sophomore, on my first day on summer construction, I swung a sledge hammer all day and developed so many blood blisters that I couldn’t hold a bat at baseball practice.

Father’s paint-stained hands

“Praying Hands” also reminds me of my Dad’s hands. His paint-stained hands were holy because Dad used them to provide for the family.

Once at a parish “help-out,” I noticed that a man who received Communion also had paint imbedded in the cracks of his hands. After Mass I told him that his hands reminded me of Dad’s hands.

I told him that, like St. Joseph, they showed that he did an honest days’ work. (Of course, one can also do honest work with clean hands.)

Doing quality work

We can offer our work to God in prayer in the morning offering, by doing quality work, by helping others, and in other ways.

Doing one’s best at work helps to build character. Feeling work is worthwhile, receiving just compensation, and making work a prayer helps us to do quality work.

We can also pray for our employers and co-workers. We can pray for the unemployed, help them find work or, if feasible, we can hire them for some work.

The spirituality of work

Labor Day is a national holiday when we honor workers’ dignity and the quality of their work. It offers us opportunities to reflect upon the spirituality of our work.

Most active adults spend the majority of their waking hours during the week working, commuting to work, preparing for work, or resting from work. Others work in their homes. Many retired persons, including priests, also work in various ways.

Let’s pray that Labor Day inspires us to praise and thank God through our work and Christ-like relationships with co-workers, employers, or employees. May we and all workers enjoy a renewing Labor Day that helps us to make each day of work a holy day and a prayer. Amen!


Fr. Don Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.