Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 2, 2017
By Father Peter Richards
As we celebrate the national holiday of Labor Day, my thoughts naturally go to the topic of work. Captured by the Russian army during World War II and convicted of being a “Vatican spy,” American Jesuit Father Walter J. Ciszek relays in his book, He Leadeth Me, that he spent some 23 agonizing years in Soviet prisons and the labor camps of Siberia. He learned to accept even the inhuman work of toiling in the infamous Siberian salt mines as a labor pleasing to God. He was able to turn adverse forces into a source of positive value and a means of drawing closer to the compassionate and never-forsaking Divine Spirit. The positive value has largely to do with offering his work, with Jesus Christ, for the salvation of his own and other’s souls. As St. Paul says to the Philippians (2:12), “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling”. One might not have the extreme and adverse conditions of Fr. Ciszek, but maintaining that ultimate meaning of work provides one with courage and hope no matter what the conditions of his work.
The dignity of the worker and of work is the subject of St. Pope John Paul II’s (Henceforth, “St. JPII”) encyclical Laborem Exercens (LE). According to the editor of The Encyclicals of John Paul II, J. Michael Miller, the scope of his reflection is, “not confined to work only of industrial or agricultural workers. Instead he extends it to encompass the work done by every sector of society: management, white collar workers, scientists, intellectuals, artists, homemakers. ‘Each and every individual to the proper extent and in an incalculable number of ways, takes part in the giant process whereby man subdues the earth through his work’ (4.4). To use a favorite expression of St. JPII’s, the world’s ‘workbench’ includes all those who labor for their daily bread – all men and women (p.152)”.
The letter covers “Work and Man”, “Conflict between Labor and Capital”, “Rights of Workers” and culminates with a section on the Christian spirituality of work. In that last section, St. JPII emphasizes how, “The gospel sheds light on the dignity of people’s work. It leads them to see ‘the meaning which it has in the eyes of God’. Through work people are to come closer ‘to God, the Creator and Redeemer, to participate in his salvific plan for man and the world and to deepen their friendship with Christ (24.2). Created in God’s image, ‘man ought to imitate God, his Creator, in working’ (25.3). By means of work each person shares in the wonder of creation, continuing to develop and perfect the created world” (Miller, p.158).
“The spirituality of work reaches its most profound level in the Paschal mystery of Christ’s Passion, death and Resurrection. Through the toil and suffering inevitably involved in work, people can be intimately associated with the crucified and Risen Lord. ‘By enduring the trial of work in union with Christ crucified for us, man in a way collaborates with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity’ (27.3). Like the Paschal Mystery, work is penetrated by the mystery of Jesus’ Resurrection. Work, too, says the Pope, has a role ‘not only in earthy progress but also in the development of the Kingdom of God’ (27.7)” (Miller, 159). While work is also necessary to provide for the well-being of persons, there is no room for using work for the unnecessary accumulation of wealth and possessions.
As we observe Labor Day this year, remember that when “it’s time to get back to work”, as well as taking satisfaction in a day of “work well done”, we are “subduing the earth” and participating in Christ’s redemption of the world.
God Bless you and have a good week!