Fr. Kevin’s Column 9/5/2021

Dear friends of God,

Happy Labor Day!

This weekend is more than just about enjoying the waning days of summer. It is more than about gathering with friends and family to BBQ. It is a day when we remember the importance of labor as an aspect of human dignity. In our Catholic Christian Tradition, there is a long history of honoring human labor as well as fighting for the rights of workers. That Tradition continues today, and is as necessary today, or maybe even more so, then it was 100 years ago.

Saint John Paul II was a great philosopher. In his younger days, he was a laborer. In 1981, he wrote an encyclical titled Laborem Exercens (On Human Work) that called for a more just economic system for those who labor in our world. He knew that the market economy was broken. Pope John Paul II was highly critical of Soviet style communism, but he was equally critical of the market economy that we have created. I can only imagine what he is thinking in heaven as we have billionaires fly to the stars while our neighbors are starving. In the encyclical from 1981 he wrote this:

“We consider it our duty to reaffirm that the remuneration of work is not something that can be left to the laws of the marketplace; nor should it be a decision left to the will of the more powerful. It must be determined in accordance with justice and equity; which means that workers must be paid a wage which allows them to live a truly human life and to fulfill their family obligations in a worthy manner.” (#15)

We are still fighting for fair pay. A good example would be the atrocious minimum wage that we provide to so many workers in our nation. This might seem far afield to some regarding our Catholic Faith. But we need to remember that how we relate to the world is a reflection of the faith that we embrace. It is about loving our neighbor. Human dignity is at the center of our faith as Catholics. If we don’t protect the dignity of those who labor, it seems challenging for us to say that we follow Jesus who knew the experience of working with his own hands and shedding sweat from his brow, just as he knew what it felt like to shed water and blood from his side during his crucifixion.

Our second reading this weekend comes from the Letter of James. James is a short letter (only 5 chapters) but quite direct in its teaching that to have faith means that one needs works as well. My grandmother would say that talk is cheap.

Our faith in Jesus Christ needs to flow in our relations to each other and especially to our poorer brothers and sisters. We will hear the following proclaimed from chapter 2 of this letter:

“If a man with gold rings on his fingers and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here, please,” while you say to the poor one, “Stand there,” or “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs?”

Treating each other with our God-given dignity is essential to our faith and goes back to the earliest days of the church -and even to Jesus himself who had what the Church now calls a “preferential option for the poor.” Jesus was the incarnation of the God of Love, and in his earthly life was born to a poor family far away from the center of the known world. But that is where God decided to plant himself in our human family. God became poor to care for the poorest among us, and to work with his own two hands as a workman like so many who labor today in our world.

Much love,
Fr, Kevin