Col 1. 24-2.3; Ps 62; Lk 6. 6-11
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Sharing With the Worker of All
Like some of our other holidays, the originator of today’s is not known. We do know the Central Labor Union, the organization in Brooklyn, New York, and New Jersey, which predated the AFL-CIO and its various locals, adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic. So that’s why we picnic on this day. Yet there’s more than that.
In the mid-1880s municipalities declared Labor Day holiday observances. Then states began to proclaim the holiday. By June of 1893 the federal government proclaimed today as a national holiday in honor of workers. Still later, I learned recently, the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909 resolved that the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement./1/
Churches and synagogues are free to fashion ways to focus on the spiritual aspects of human labor. We celebrate a mass on Labor Day “For the Blessing of Human Labor.” I want to remark on St. Paul and today’s difficult times.
St. Paul worked with his hands during his evangelizing ministry./2/ As he wrote on of his churches:
You know well that these very hands have served my needs and my companions. In every way I have shown you that by hard work...we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”Manual labor and the "work of God," one of the names for liturgy, are not opposed and they do not exclude the other. Yet St. Paul said long before me that what any of us may work is to use time and created things well, that is, our work gives glory to the Worker of All, the Creator of the universe. The church has always asked us to consider if we use time and created things well, even if no paycheck accompanies our stewardship.
In these difficult times for workers—worrying if they will keep their jobs and worrying if they can find new employment—we do well to pray that people won’t feel burdened by unrealistic guilt if they have lost their jobs. It is easy for responsible people to feel they were at fault, especially when earning a wage is so important to supporting self and family.
Rather, these difficult times for workers renew our opportunity to praise and thank God for giving us stewardship of creation and of the gospel (the riches of the glory of [God’s] mystery among us, we heard St. Paul name it) and to ask God in ways that are more genuine to bless our efforts as privileged stewards and to bless our approach to creation so that at every turn we may know more clearly and live more compassionately what Jesus perceived and practiced: that to save life rather than to destroy it includes the obvious meaning and inspires us to appreciate the true effect human labor has for dignity, solidarity and humane participation in society.
1. See the Department of Labor website.
2. 1 Corinthians 4.12; 1 Thessalonians 4.11; 2 Thessalonians 3.7-9 and counseled others to do the same in
1 Thessalonians 4.11. Paul was likely a tentmaker (Acts 18.3), which allowed him to be self-sufficient (Philippians
4.11) and able to share with others (Acts 20.34-35).
Wiki-image of an 1882 New York Labor Day parade is in the public domain.