Fulfilling the Wisdom of Scripture in our Work, 22nd Monday (II), September 1, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Monday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Votive Mass for the Sanctification of Human Labor (on Labor Day)
September 1, 2014
1 Cor 2:1-5, Ps 119, Lk 4:16-30

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Yesterday we pondered Jesus’ correction to Peter to think as God thinks, not as human beings do, and St. Paul’s echo not to conform ourselves to this age, but to be transformed by the renewal of our minds so that we may discern what is God’s will, what is good, pleasing and perfect. Today the readings and the Mass we celebrate on Labor Day help us to deepen our appreciation of that renewal, that revolution, in our thought and action that God wants to give us.
  • St. Paul tells the Corinthians that he wasn’t coming with “persuasive words of wisdom,” the worldly wisdom of the Greeks, so that their “faith might not rest on human wisdom.” Instead he was coming in “weakness and fear and much trembling” as a “demonstration of spirit and … the power of God.” He was fearful because he was preaching Christ crucified, which was “folly” to the hedonistic Corinthians, because for those who loved pleasure and sought to minimize pain, what would be less appealing than following someone on a path of self-denial and a way of the Cross? But Paul was doing so anyway, and preaching Christ crucified not just by his lips but by his life, having suffered together with Christ to such an extent that he was able to say, “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” That was the demonstration of spirit and power. He was inviting the Corinthians, like him, to “know nothing … except Jesus Christ and him crucified,”  not just to “know about” Christ crucified, but to “know” him in something analogous to the Biblical sense of union, to become one with Christ on the Cross. St. Paul was enfleshing the wisdom of God that Jesus announced to us yesterday, that if we wish to be his disciples, we must deny ourselves, die to ourselves on the Cross God gives us each day and follow him. Paul was his disciple to such a degree that the demonstration of wisdom and power in his own self-denial and crucified life was far more effective in bringing people to conversion than the lofty words of wisdom he had preached before to the Greek intellectuals in the Athenian areopagus.
  • St. Paul wanted us to experience that same wisdom, but it’s a wisdom  learned not so much in books but through union with the Master. In the Responsorial Psalm, we prayed first “How I love your law, O Lord! It is my meditation all the day,” but then we added, “Your command has made me wiser than my enemies. I have more understanding than all my teachers, … I have more discernment than the elders because I observe your precepts.” We become wise by living the Word of God, by observing God’s commands and precepts, by incarnating his call to a union so intense that it lasts even in worldly pain and suffering.
  • This is also one of the essential lessons of today’s Gospel of Jesus’ preaching in the Synagogue of Nazareth, beginning our study of St. Luke’s Gospel that will last for the next three months. After Jesus had read the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah, Jesus said, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” He was the fulfillment of the one anointed by the Spirit who was announcing and delivering the Good News to the poor, freedom to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, release to the oppressed, and a year of Jubilee. But that was too much for many of his listeners. It’s fine for many when someone talks about theological subjects, but when someone goes further and tries to live by the Word of God, it’s a challenge to everyone else to live by that reality, and many resist. Those in Nazareth recognized that he was speaking with “gracious words” but they couldn’t harmonize that with the fact that he was the supposed son of Joseph the carpenter. And their amazement soon passed to doubt and then to homicidal anger as they sought to kill him. His enfleshment of the word of God was a scandal to them, they didn’t think that one of their own could be the Messiah, they didn’t want to get shaken out of their own habits to examine whether it was true and if so to follow him, and therefore they sought to reject the message by killing the messenger. We spoke yesterday that to live by what God thinks rather than by what man thinks will bring us into non-conformity with the world and those in the world who seek conformity with the spirit of the age will resist, persecute and sometimes even kill, and so Jesus got a foretaste of the Passion in his home town.
  • One area in which we’re called to enflesh God’s wisdom, to live by his commands, in contradiction to our culture is in our human work. Our world is hedonist and looks at work not as a divine blessing but as a necessary evil, something that most are required to do in order to make money to survive and eventually allow for retirement or pleasure, but something from which we’re all trying to escape. God gave us the vocation to work in the beginning before the Fall, with his three-fold command to “increase and multiply,” to “fill the earth and subdue it” and to “have dominion” over all the animals. After the Fall, this vocation to work remained, but it would now be done with labor pains, both the pain of contractions in child birth as well as the toil on one’s brow in normal human work, but it was precisely through the “cross” of work that we would be redeemed and become cooperators in Jesus’ ceaseless work of the salvation of the world through love.
  • So, in non-conformity with a culture that pretends as if the path to happiness is coextensive with the path of unending vacation, we Christians are called to proclaim the Gospel of Work, a Gospel that indeed involves the “seventh day” in which we rest with God and others, but a Gospel that also involves days one through six when we work together with Jesus. When Jesus came down from heaven to save us, he didn’t spend his hidden and public life at the Mediterranean, or the Dead Sea, or the Sea of Galilee working on his tan and diverting himself with swimming games. He spent his hidden life working as a carpenter and then spent his public ministry working even harder, spending long days preaching, healing one by one, and putting into practice all the words that Isaiah prophesied that Jesus announced in his hometown synagogue. He had so great appreciation for all human work in God’s plan that he could not stop using it as the proper analogy for his preaching. In his teaching, he favorably mentions shepherds, farmers, doctors, sowers, householders, servants, stewards, merchants, laborers, soldiers, cooks, tax collectors and scholars and many more. He compares the work of the apostolate to the manual work of harvesters and fishermen. He praised “good and faithful servants” who worked hard in their Master’s absence. He called a few to leave their fishing boats and tax-charts to proclaim the Gospel as missionaries; the vast majority he called to proclaim the Gospel by living that good news right where they were, through “increasing and multiplying,” through “subduing” and “dominion” in the kitchen or at their workbench, out in the fields or in their boats, at their desk or in the classroom. That’s where the vast majority of people are called to be saints with they do their work with “diligence”  — which means “love” in Latin, love for God and love for those served by work — offering that work to God like the sacrifice of Abel and sanctifying themselves and others in the process.
  • This Gospel of Human Work is something that seems folly to our hedonistic culture in which it seems the vast majority would take early retirement if they’d get full benefits, where more and more are playing the system to try to collect disability when they still could work, where welfare benefits just keep getting extended and where the lines of those who have stopped looking for work grows by the millions each year, not because there are no jobs, but because our culture is enabling them not to have to work. This is contrary to our vocation as human beings and will hurt individuals and our whole society. Retirement is, in one sense, a good thing, that one no longer needs to have the pressure of working in order to survive, so that as one gets older, one can focus more and more on the meaning of life that might get lost by too much work. But retirement is meant to lead to a different type of work, where one is able to use one’s life experience to pass on to others the wisdom of life, whether that means babysitting grandchildren, or tutoring at risk kids, or caring for those who are sick or lonely, or getting more involved in important causes, or helping to build up one’s parish, or, following the example of Simeon and Anna in the Gospel, praying for oneself and others. Last week in a parable Jesus called “wicked” the “lazy servants” who when their Master was away just gave into their pleasures and rather than serving others through their work, started abusing them. He said that he hoped to find his servants “working” upon his return. This doesn’t mean that there’s no time for legitimate rest, but it does mean that he wants us in general working so that we may build up his kingdom in the world and build up ourselves in the process.
  • As we celebrate this Mass for the Sanctification of Human Labor we remember that the Mass itself is a combination between God’s work and ours, symbolized by the prayers of the offertory when we thank God for the “fruit of the earth” and “fruit of the vine” but also for the “work of human hands” that converts grain into bread and grapes into wine. That’s a symbol of the pleasing sacrifice of Abel that we’re called to bring with us each day to the altar, something that prepares us much better to allow Jesus to continue to do his divine work of salvation in us and through us. Today a diligent construction worker from Nazareth with calloused hands bids us to “Come, follow me!” to this altar, where he wishes to strengthen us so that he may send us out to proclaim his Gospel not just by words but by our work. We pray that at the end of today, as we examine our conscience before him, we might be able to echo his words in Nazareth and say honestly, “Today, this Scripture about the importance of work has been fulfilled in me.”

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
1 cor 2:1-5

When I came to you, brothers and sisters,
proclaiming the mystery of God,
I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom.
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you
except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling,
and my message and my proclamation
were not with persuasive words of wisdom,
but with a demonstration of spirit and power,
so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom
but on the power of God.

Responsorial Psalm
ps 119:97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102

R. (97) Lord, I love your commands.
How I love your law, O LORD!
It is my meditation all the day.
R. Lord, I love your commands.
Your command has made me wiser than my enemies,
for it is ever with me.
R. Lord, I love your commands.
I have more understanding than all my teachers
when your decrees are my meditation.
R. Lord, I love your commands.
I have more discernment than the elders,
because I observe your precepts.
R. Lord, I love your commands.
From every evil way I withhold my feet,
that I may keep your words.
R. Lord, I love your commands.
From your ordinances I turn not away,
for you have instructed me.
R. Lord, I love your commands.

lk 4:16-30

Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had grown up,
and went according to his custom
into the synagogue on the sabbath day.
He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
Rolling up the scroll,
he handed it back to the attendant and sat down,
and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.
He said to them,
“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
And all spoke highly of him
and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.
They also asked, “Is this not the son of Joseph?”
He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb,
‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place
the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’”
And he said,
“Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.
Indeed, I tell you,
there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah
when the sky was closed for three and a half years
and a severe famine spread over the entire land.
It was to none of these that Elijah was sent,
but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.
Again, there were many lepers in Israel
during the time of Elisha the prophet;
yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
When the people in the synagogue heard this,
they were all filled with fury.
They rose up, drove him out of the town,
and led him to the brow of the hill
on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong.
But he passed through the midst of them and went away.