Monday September 6, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier†† Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Genesis 1:26; 2:3)†† Reading II (1 Thessalonians 4:1b-2, 9-12)††† Gospel (St. Matthew 6:31-34)
Today, as our country takes time to honor those who work with their hands or labor for a living we consider, of course, the dignity of work. Work is something that is divine. It is a share in the divine life and the divine work. As we saw in the first reading, God worked and created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them in those seven days. Our Lord reminded us also that God is at work even until now: And so am I, he said. It is not, as some people would like to suggest, because God did all of His work in six days and then rested on the seventh day that He was not working anymore. That is simply not the case. God is at work always.
Now, there is another work that is of critical importance, and it is the one that needs to have priority, and that is the work of the salvation of souls. It has to begin with our own soul and then reach out from there. It is the work of Our Lord and we, as members of Jesus Christ, have to share in that work. [We have] to be able to bring the gospel to other people and to be able to live the gospel message in our day-to-day lives. On one level, this is what should be absolutely natural to us but, given the society in which we live, this has become work. It needs to be a labor of love on our part. [We need] to be able to work to live the gospel, and to work to bring the gospel out to others.
When we consider human labor we must remember that the priority is the purpose for doing the work. The work itself is not the priority. Rather, the vocation to which God has called us is our primary work. Therefore, for those who are raising families your family is your first priority. Your work is there to support your family. This is a point that many people have gotten backwards; especially our society, which is not based upon Catholic principles but which is based, rather, upon Protestant principles, has turned this backwards. The understanding of work is one of the differences between Catholics and Protestants. For a Protestant, a manís vocation is his work. His family is there to support him in his work so that he will be successful in what it is that he is doing. The Catholic understanding is exactly the opposite: The marriage and the family is the vocation; or, depending upon the circumstances, certainly, the call to consecrated life, or the priesthood, or whatever the vocation is that God has called a person to, the work is there (especially within the family) to support the family. It is not the other way around. We need to be very, very careful to keep that clear so that we do not make work the priority.
Work has a great dignity even to the point where Saint Paul would tell the Thessalonians that anyone who would not work should not eat. And so, it is not something that is an option but rather, because of our very being, that is, being made in the image and likeness of God, the very nature of our being requires that we work. Our fallen nature on the other hand, as we all know, tends toward laziness, especially given our society that is filled with leisure, entertainment, and all kinds of self-centered things. We can look at what happens with some of our young people who do not want to work. They want to play video games, they want to watch movies, and they want to be waited on. That is not in keeping with human dignity. What is going to follow from that, in time, is going to be chaos.
Our work must be, once again, to support our vocation and it must be for the greater glory of God. If that is what it is that we are doing then what will happen is that, following from our work, there will be order. Things will be built up and they will be proper within our own lives. And, if society in general is doing what it should, society is going to be ordered. However, that order has to begin in our own lives and in our own families and then it goes out from there. We recognize, then, that the work that we do is a share in the very work of God. The work of creation continues and it will continue for all eternity. God, who created our souls, continues to keep them in being and that is part of the divine work. We share in the divine work just as we share in the divine life and so we bring order into the chaos around us which is what God did in creation. We strive to build things up in a proper way in order to bring about the salvation of souls in order to further the kingdom of Christ. That is the work that is ours.
We need, therefore, to be very, very careful to keep our priorities straight. We live in a society, now, in which there are many corporations that are trying to require people to put the corporation first, to be working unreasonable hours, to be away from their families for unreasonable periods of time, and to basically turn their lives over to the company. This is wrong. The Church is very clear that employers are to make sure that their employees have a proper structure for their work week and have things so structured that they will be able to be with their families, to be given a reasonable and fair wage so that they can support their families, and to make sure that everything is in proper order. Where we see chaos and we see things backwards, that is not of God. We need to be very careful not to fall into the devilís trap but, rather, [we must] keep things in their proper order. If we see that our work is so dignified as to share in the very work of God, and we see it from that perspective, then we are going to keep everything else in proper perspective, as well. We will seek the will of God, first and foremost, and the will of God is to live your vocation. Your work is to build upon your vocation and not the other way around. Your work, in that way, will be for the glory of God and for the good of the souls entrusted to your care.
*† This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.