Labor Day

Readings: Genesis 1:26-2:3 | Psalm 90 | 1 Thessalonians 4:1b-2, 9-12 | Matthew 6:31-34

One of the things that I remember vividly about my childhood is how hard my parents worked. My Dad worked more than one job at a time for several years. And in his main job, he was with the company for well over forty years, finally retiring from the company he worked for since his late teens. My mother, too, worked outside the home, and still does on a part-time basis. They encouraged me to work as well, and the experience of the work I did in my late teens is something that I carried with me throughout my pre-seminary work years, and continue, really, to benefit from to this very day. And that’s how work is supposed to be: participation in God’s creation, enhancing our human dignity, bringing forth our gifts, and helping us to be better people. Work should also help us to sustain our lives and our families, and to provide for their needs, including health care and retirement. The Church has consistently and loudly taught these truths about work ever since Pope Leo XIII’s ground-breaking encyclical Rerum Novarum, published in 1891.

As we observe Labor Day this year, though, I think we still have work to do on those principles. Far too many people don’t have the resources that work provides. The bishops of our nation publish a yearly Labor Day statement, and this year they write about the fact that so often labor is viewed as a commodity, a thing to be bought and sold, rather than as a participation in the ongoing creative work of God and an expression of the dignity of the human person, which is rightly work’s purpose.

“When workers and labor are properly honored,” they write, “the social bonds of society are strengthened.  Work is not just about individual growth and development.  When work finds its proper role in the life of society, Pope Francis explains, it is the great teacher of cooperation and solidarity.   Daily work is a form of ‘civil love’ that ‘makes the world live and carry on.’”

The bishops note that technology, while a wonderful development to help in human progress, can also be misused as a means to devalue human labor: “Today, we are in the midst of a technological revolution, which has coincided with severe economic disparity and threatens to continue or accelerate due to many factors such as the growing presence of automation technology in the workplace.  Once again, we see in many places the consequences of widespread failures to pay a just wage and to honor the dignity of work for each person.  The root of the problem, which remains prominent, comes from an errant understanding that “human work is solely an instrument of production” such that business leaders ‘following the principle of maximum profit, tr[y] to establish the lowest possible wages for the work done by the employees.’”

They also note the declining availability of time for rest: “When workers do not have adequate time to rest, families suffer.  Also lost is the necessary time for spiritual growth and building a relationship with God.  Pope Francis has said it is ‘inhuman’ that parents must spend so much time working that they cannot play with their children.  Surely many wish for more time, but their working conditions do not allow it.  As St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, ‘Even as God rests in Himself alone and is happy in the enjoyment of Himself, so our own sole happiness lies in the enjoyment of God.  Thus, also, He makes us find rest in Himself, both from His works and our own.  It is not, then, unreasonable to say that God rested in giving rest to us.’   A culture that obsesses less over endless activity and consumption may, over time, become a culture that values rest for the sake of God and family.”

Finally, the bishops call us to rediscover the sacredness of work, which is rooted in the knowledge that as we work, we help God to continue to build up the world in his image.  “This notion that work is sacred is essential, not only to understanding our work, but also to coming to know God himself; nowhere do we see this more powerfully than in the Eucharist.  The Holy Father calls us to drink more deeply of this idea:  “Work is a friend of prayer; work is present every day in the Eucharist, whose gifts are the fruit of man’s land and work.  A world that no longer knows the values, and the value, of work does not understand the Eucharist either, the true and human prayer of workers . . .’”

And so on this Labor Day it is especially appropriate that we reflect on the Genesis story of the creation of the world, showing the work of our Creator God and the blessedness of the sabbath rest on the seventh day.  We are reminded too that if we seek God and his righteousness first and foremost, everything else worthwhile will be taken care of besides.

Labor Day is in fact a wonderful time to step back and look at the meaning of work.  Labor Day reminds us that we don’t have permission to write off human labor as some kind of necessary evil or a commodity to be bought and sold.   We are reminded that the economy exists for the good of people, not the other way around.   We must truly venerate all labor, that of our own efforts as well as that of others.  We must vigorously defend the rights and dignity of workers, particularly of the poor and marginalized.  And we must always offer all of this back to our God who created us to be co-creators with him.  May we pray with the Psalmist this day and every day, “Lord give success to the work of our hands!”

Labor Day

Today’s readings: Genesis 1:26-2:3; Psalm 90; Matthew 25:14-30

One of the things that I remember vividly about my childhood is how hard my parents worked. My Dad worked more than one job at a time for several years. And in his main job, he was with the company for well over forty years, finally retiring from the company he worked for since his late teens. My mother, too, worked outside the home, and still does on a part-time basis. They encouraged me to work as well, and the experience of the work I did in my late teens is something that I carried with me throughout my pre-seminary work years, and continue, really, to benefit from to this very day. And that’s how work is supposed to be: participation in God’s creation, enhancing our human dignity, bringing forth our gifts, and helping us to be better people. Work should also help us to sustain our lives and our families, and to provide for their needs, including health care and retirement. The Church has consistently and loudly taught these truths about work ever since Pope Leo XIII’s ground-breaking encyclical Rerum Novarum, published in 1891.

As we observe Labor Day this year, though, I think we still have work to do on those principles. Far too many people don’t have the resources that work provides. The bishops of our nation publish a yearly Labor Day statement, and this year they write about the disarray in the world of work and the crisis that presents to the family:

“We behold signs that have become too familiar in the years following the Great Recession: stagnant wages, industry leaving towns and cities behind, and the sharp decline in the rate of private-sector organized labor…  Millions of families still find themselves living in poverty, unable to work their way out.  Poverty rates among children are alarmingly high, with almost 40 percent of American children spending at least one year in poverty before they turn eighteen.  Although this reality is felt nation-wide, this year new research has emerged showing the acute pain of middle and rural America in the wake of the departure of industry.  Once the center of labor and the promise of family-sustaining wages, research shows these communities collapsing today, substance abuse on the rise, and an increase in the number of broken families. ”

In his address to Congress last year, Pope Francis noted the crisis that is presented to the family in these days: “How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! . . . In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.” (Address to Congress, September 24, 2015)

The bishops’ statement is relatively optimistic, citing efforts of solidarity and care for the most vulnerable of society as the bedrock of stabilizing the economy and strengthening the family. They write:

“As the fruits of solidarity and our care for one another increase, as we begin to make real impacts toward policies that help individuals begin stable families and live in accord with their dignity, the tired paradigm that fuels our national politics will be challenged.  As Pope Francis has written ‘[e]very economic and political theory or action must set about providing each inhabitant of the planet with the minimum wherewithal to live in dignity and freedom, with the possibility of supporting a family, educating children, praising God and developing one’s own human potential.’ (Pope Francis, Letter to H.E. Mr David Cameron, British Prime Minister, on the Occasion of the G8 Meeting [17-18 June 2013])  With time, we will begin to restore a sense of hope and lasting change that places our economic and political systems at the service of the human person once more.”

Labor Day is in fact a wonderful time to step back and look at the meaning of work. Labor Day reminds us that we don’t have permission to write off human labor as some kind of necessary evil or a commodity to be bought and sold.   We are reminded that the economy exists for the good of people, not the other way around.  We must truly venerate all labor, that of our own efforts as well as that of others. We must vigorously defend the rights and dignity of workers, particularly of the poor and marginalized. And we must always offer all of this back to our God who created us to be co-creators with him. May we pray with the Psalmist this day and every day, “Lord give success to the work of our hands!”

Labor Day

Today’s readings:   Genesis 1:26 – 2:3, Psalm 128; Matthew 6:31-34

Today, we’ve gathered to celebrate and bless human labor.  Human labor is a cornerstone of our society and our world, dating all the way back to the creation of the world, as today’s first reading shows us.  We know that, at the completion of the creation of the world and everything in it, God sanctified the whole of it through rest.  That’s an important point that I think we maybe don’t get the way we should.

We know that we don’t get enough rest.  We are sleep deprived, we take working vacations, we very often don’t take all the vacation we’re allotted, and some don’t take a vacation at all.  And so our lives are out of balance and I think, very often, we don’t do our best work when we’re working.

Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel that this kind of thing is just crazy.  Worrying about work isn’t going to add a single moment to our lifespan.  In fact, it will more likely reduce them.  We are told very clearly: “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.  Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”

We are certainly required to work hard and always give the best that we have to our employers or employees.  That’s a matter of justice.  It’s also a participation, the Church tells us, in the work of creation.  Work is sacred and always has been, because, as the Genesis reading today shows us, work was instituted by God who told us to fill the earth and subdue it, having dominion over every living thing.  We work because it is a sharing in what we were created for, the very imitation of God.

But there is that matter of balance.  And we do have to step back and realize that God did indeed sanctify the whole of creation by blessing it with that seventh day, with that day of rest.  And so we do our spiritual lives no favors when we ignore the commandment to observe the Sabbath through rest and worship.  So much of our lives is consumed in labor; may we never fail to sanctify that labor by observing rest and worship.

Labor Day

Today’s readings:  Genesis 1:26-2:3; Psalm 90; Matthew 25:14-30

One of the things that I remember vividly about my childhood is how hard my parents worked.  My Dad worked more than one job at a time for several years.  And in his main job, he was with the company for well over forty years, finally retiring from the company he worked for since his late teens.  My mother, too, worked outside the home, and still does on a part-time basis.  They encouraged me to work as well, and the experience of the work I did in my late teens is something that I carried with me throughout my pre-seminary work years, and continue, really, to benefit from to this very day.  And that’s how work is supposed to be: participation in God’s creation, enhancing our human dignity, bringing forth our gifts, and helping us to be better people.  Work should also help us to sustain our lives and our families, and to provide for their needs, including health care and retirement.  The Church has consistently and loudly taught these truths about work ever since Pope Leo XIII’s ground-breaking encyclical Rerum Novarum, published in 1891.

As we observe Labor Day this year, though, I think those principles are in jeopardy.  Our economy is a broken one, and far too many don’t have the resources that work provides.  The bishops of our nation publish a yearly Labor Day statement, and this year they write about the hard statistics our economy presents:

“Officially over 12 million workers are looking for work but cannot find a job and millions more have actually given up seeking employment.  Millions more are underemployed; they are willing and able to work full time, but there are not enough jobs available.  Over ten million families are “working poor”–they work hard, but their jobs do not pay enough to meet their basic needs.  The sad fact is that over 46 million people live in poverty and, most disturbingly, over 16 million children grow up poor in our nation.  The link between joblessness and poverty is undeniable, as Pope Benedict points out:

“’In many cases, poverty results from a violation of the dignity of human work, either because work opportunities are limited (through unemployment or underemployment), 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” (Caritas in Veritate, no. 63).’”

The bishops then go on to call for a more just economy, beginning with fixing the broken economy in which we find ourselves.  No easy task!  They do point out that they find a lack of concern for the poor and lack of support for workers among all political candidates right now to be ominous and disturbing.  It is then, our task to hold them accountable for that as we vote, one of many important issues that demand our attention in the upcoming election.  It is also, of course, our job to pray for that reality.  The bishops write:

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.

This Labor Day reminds us that we don’t have permission to write off human labor as some kind of necessary evil or a commodity to be bought and sold.   We are reminded that the economy exists for the good of people, not the other way around.  We must truly venerate all labor, that of our own efforts as well as that of others. We must vigorously defend the rights and dignity of workers, particularly of the poor and marginalized. And we must always offer all of this back to our God who created us to be co-creators with him. May we pray with the Psalmist this day and every day, “Lord give success to the work of our hands!”

Labor Day

Today’s readings: Genesis 1:26-2:3; Psalm 90; Matthew 6:31-34

It seems like Labor Day is a little bit painful these past few years.  This year is no exception.  I caught a part of the news the other day when I was getting ready for Mass and they pointed out that it’s ironic we celebrate Labor Day when so many are out of work.  In July, our nation lost 131,000 jobs, bringing the unemployment rate to 9.5 percent, and we found out this past week that that figure dipped to 9.6 percent in August.  Our bishops point out that the most difficult part of this Labor Day is the fact that so many workers have died in tragic circumstances.  They write: “The nation still mourns the twenty-nine West Virginia miners who died when the earth around them collapsed. We still grieve for the eleven riggers who died in the Gulf of Mexico when their oil derrick exploded. We are still saddened as the work life of the entire Gulf Coast is damaged or destroyed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. These are just the most visible examples of workers whose lives have been lost.”

This is frustrating because it’s not supposed to be that way.  Back in the Blessed Garden, God gave humanity a hand in the ongoing work of creation: “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.”  Our readings today give foundation to the Church’s social teaching that meaningful work which provides the worker with human dignity and the ability to care for self and family is a basic human right.

Since Pope Leo XIII’s ground-breaking encyclical Rerum Novarum, the Church and her popes have consistently taught that:

  • The economy exists for the person, not the person for the economy.
  • A fundamental moral measure of any economy is how the poor and vulnerable are faring.
  • All people have a right to life and to secure the basic necessities of life (e.g. food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, safe environment, economic security).
  • All people have the right to economic initiative, to productive work, to just wages and benefit, to decent working conditions, as well as to organize and join union or other associations.

In this year’s Labor Day statement, the bishops of the United States note that we have strayed from those ideals, and that it is time for a new social contract that would embrace the uniqueness of our current economy and provide those basic rights once again.  They write: “This Labor Day we must seek to protect the life and dignity of each worker in a renewed and robust economy. Workers need to have a real voice and effective protections in economic life. The market, the state, and civil society, unions and employers all have roles to play and they must be exercised in creative and fruitful interrelationships. Private action and public policies that strengthen families and reduce poverty are needed. New jobs with just wages and benefits must be created so that all workers can express their dignity through the dignity of work and are able to fulfill God’s call to us all to be co-creators. A new social contract, which begins by honoring work and workers, must be forged that ultimately focuses on the common good of the entire human family.”

This Labor Day reminds us with urgency that we don’t have permission to write off human labor as some kind of necessary evil or a commodity to be bought and sold.   We are reminded that the economy exists for the good of people, not the other way around.  We must truly venerate all labor, that of our own efforts as well as that of others. We must vigorously defend the rights and dignity of workers, particularly of the poor and marginalized. And we must always offer all of this back to our God who created us to be co-creators with him. May we pray with the Psalmist this day and every day, “Lord give success to the work of our hands!”

Labor Day

Today’s readings: Genesis 1:26-31; Genesis 2:1-3; Psalm 90; Matthew 25:14-30

“Well done, good and faithful servant. Come share in your Master’s joy.” These are the words that we all want to hear one day, on that great day, the judgment day, when God gathers us all in to bring us to the reward for which he created us. This parable is Biblical evidence that just accepting the faith and having a relationship with Jesus aren’t enough for salvation. We have to work with God, using the talents he has given us, to help God create that “kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace” (Mass for Christ the King).

And so, like 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.

So many people say, when they are asked to do some special project or take a place on a ministry “Oh, I could never do that. That’s for people with way more talent than I have.” I have two things to say about that. First, they might be right. Maybe they don’t have the ability, all by themselves, to do what God is calling them to do. But God never said they had to do it by themselves, did he? God can provide infinitely what we lack. Second, this kind of false humility isn’t praiseworthy. It is almost like spitting your talent out of your mouth, back at God, and saying, “God, what you have created is nothing.” God forbid that we should ever say that to the one who made us!

And so, on this Labor Day, we are asked to pause in the busy-ness of life and look at what God has created, and the talents he has given us. 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!