A REFLECTION OF LABOR DAY WEEKEND 2016
For some reason, this Labor Day weekend is behaving a little more different than usual for me. I recall growing up that this was a school holiday, being school started about a week-and-a-half before. We weren’t fortunate enough to live in a rich school district or be high-class enough to go to a parochial school that started its school year after Labor Day and end before Memorial Day. Our school needed as much state funds coming in for the number of class days we were in attendance. That also meant there was no such thing as “Spring Break” at my school. We received Good Friday and the Monday after Easter for the holiday. And if we used too many snow days in the winter, then that Monday was a school day.
My Dad was a union laborer during my lifetime, which meant the summer months were not spent on vacations out of state or to fancy amusement parks. Once in a while we would go to the nearby State Park and have a picnic with my cousins or, if we had the time, we would take a drive to the St. Louis Zoo and see all the animals for free. The summer months were the working months for my Dad and the winter months were the school months for us. The roads and bridges that people drove over so they could enjoy their summer vacations were the one’s my Dad and his Union brothers and sisters worked on so everyone else had a good time. We didn’t think about it much; it was just how things were. It was a bonus if Dad would get on a job that went year round.
The one thing that I just began to realize was how, in the understanding of the Gospels proclaimed on Sunday and Monday were how he lived his life as one of God’s disciples as he “sacrificed” his time with us in the summer months that other parents regarded as leisure time. In the Gospel According to Luke (14:25-33) Jesus looked at the vast crowd and saw them eager to become his followers. However, he knew that in order for them to be true disciples, they must make a choice between following God and following Man. “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother….he cannot be my disciple.” The operative word in this phrase is “hate.” How are we to interpret this word? Unlike modern society, the family unit was more of a personal tribe led by the patriarch. None of the children, even when they become adults, were permitted to start their own lives or families until the patriarch had died and his fortune was divided amongst the male heirs. So, to separate oneself from their family was to say that they hated being associated with them. This was an act that to many meant a complete separation from what they had known.
But Jesus also knew that this was a decision that could not be made rashly. So he continued his talk by making sure that the crowd had all the information necessary to make that type of a decision. He compared this choice to someone building a tower or preparing for battle. One must have all the resources to be successful or else embarrassment and disaster will ensue. But if one has the resources and the inspiration to begin a project so massive, then nothing would be able to stop them. The more information one will have, the better the decision will be made.
The Gospel on Monday (Lk. 6:6-11) takes that mindset a puts it into practice. As a perfect Labor Day example, Jesus cures the hand of someone while being accused of wrongdoing because he was working on the Sabbath. Jesus challenged the scribes and Pharisees to show what honors the Sabbath more: doing nothing or doing something that helps their fellow man? His curing the hand of that man was the example of what a disciple is to do and why it is to be done despite of the social convention.
To work is the first step in alleviating the suffering that goes on in the world around us. When we work, we do so not for our own benefit but for the benefit of those we serve, those who selected us to these positions, and for our fellow co-workers BEFORE we are to think the work we do is for ourselves. In the annual Labor Day statement from the Catholic Conference, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami stated “Dignified work is at the heart of our efforts because we draw insight into who we are as human beings from it. In our call to rebuild community of a firmer foundation, we must rely upon the sister principles of solidarity and subsidiarity. Solidarity recognized that each of us is connected…(and) the principle of subsidiarity recognized that issued facing human beings should be addressed at the appropriate level of society…”
When Dad went off to work, he was doing something that society viewed as rather low, un-sophisticated work for the uneducated. It would be an annoyance to those who needed the roads and bridges that got them to their places of work or to their vacations spots. Many felt that they should not be doing work there because it interfered with their sensibilities or it inconvenienced them, not taking into account what the end result will be. But Dad understood that in order for this work to be done for the betterment of his spiritual brothers and sisters, he had to separate himself from his “family” in order to do be a disciple of Christ and help pave the way for others to find happiness and relief.
This same mentality is what propelled St. Teresa of Calcutta, who was canonized this weekend. While working as a teacher in Calcutta as a Sister of Loreto, she experienced what she called a “call within the call” and devoted the rest of her life to helping the poor. She founded the Missionaries of Charity and lived a life dedicated to helping those that others deemed undesirable or a burden on society. They were the ones that could not care for themselves and saw others run away from them. St. Teresa chose to hate her brothers and sisters in the faith and work with these people. In her, the true example of Christ’s disciple came to be.
It is so appropriate that she was canonized on Labor Day. Her example is the basis by which we should view how we connect with our brothers and sisters in the faith: by doing all that we can for the betterment of those who cannot. We bring our talents together with others collectively so that our labors can benefit everyone individually. We cannot survive in this world by believing that all we do is for ourselves and ourselves alone. To work in union together means that we combine our abilities with our co-workers and with those with whom enable us to work. My Dad knew that. St. Teresa knew that. And Jesus knew that. It is now our turn to follow their example and be the disciple they all want us to be.
MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK