Labor Day

Today’s readings: Genesis 1:25-2:3; Psalm 90; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12; Matthew 25:14-30

As we celebrate Labor Day today, we all want to hear the words that the Master spoke in today’s Gospel parable: “Well done, good and faithful servant, come share your master’s joy.”  That is, in fact, the goal of all our lives as we journey from this exile to the heaven of our inheritance, and day by day become transformed into saints.  The way that we do that, the Church teaches us, is in our work.  We are taught that work is a sharing in the activity of our Creator God, who gives us the raw materials and the talents required to build up the kingdom of God here on earth.

The Church’s liturgy for the feast of Christ the King gives us the goal of our co-creation with God.  Together with him, we are to build a “kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace.”  And so, unlike the man who received one talent, we cannot go hiding our talents away hoping that our Lord will ignore our fear and poor self-image. We have to be willing to invest our talents in the work of creation, doubling what we have been given, and bringing it back to the Lord.

The bishops of the United States publish a Labor Day statement each year, and this year, they bring out special concerns for workers.  They write:  “Labor Day this year comes at a time when we face a number of challenging problems, many of which cause us to reflect and ponder on what the future will bring. As complex and challenging as the current economic situation is and the new elements that challenge us all, Americans are still fundamentally an optimistic people. We have an abiding faith in the values that have shaped our nation and an ongoing commitment to work together to address the problems and build on the strengths of who we are.”

This Labor Day certainly finds workers here in the United States and also around the world in a difficult place.  Unemployment is at the highest rate it has been in years, whole industries are failing and traditional ways of doing business are no longer working.  The bishops recognize this and call us to continue to be optimistic people, relying on the many talents we have as a society, and the grace of God.  Indeed on this Labor Day, we should be pausing to reflect on the opportunities God has given us, and our response to those opportunities.  Have we built on what we have been given, or have we buried it away, hoping it will still be there at the end of it all?

The bishops quote Pope Benedict’s new encyclical, Caritas en Veritate to speak of the common good, which is the point of all our labor:  “As we seek to rebuild our economy, produce a better health care system, and improve the immigration system, we are presented with unique opportunities to advance the common good.  Pope Benedict’s new encyclical insists that the ethical dimensions of economic life begin with protecting the life and dignity of all, respect for work and the rights of workers, and a genuine commitment to the common good. As the Holy Father points out: ‘it is a good that is sought not for its own sake, but for the people who belong to the social community and who can only really and effectively pursue their good within it. To desire the common good and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity’ (emphasis in the original, #7).”

Every one of us is called upon to use our personal gifts for our good and the good of all people.  The Church teaches that our work is to be an active participation in God’s ongoing work of creation. Our work must build up the world in beauty and splendor, carefully using but protecting the rich gifts of the earth, caring for and loving the poor as God himself loves them, and making the world a better place than we found it. That is the nature of the talents with which we have been entrusted, and we must busy ourselves making good use of them, because we don’t know when our Lord will return in glory to gather everything and everyone back to himself.

Today we are commanded to “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth.” We take up that call anew on this Labor Day, praising God for the goodness of creation and the blessing of our talents, and resolving to use all of that for his greater honor and glory. The Prayer after Communion sums up what we ask for on this day: “By doing the work you have entrusted to us, may we sustain our life on earth and build up your kingdom in faith.” Amen!