Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Retreat House, Alhambra, California
Labor Day, September 6, 2004
1 Cor 5:1-8; Lk 6:6-11
1) In today’s Gospel, there is a huge eruption between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees over the meaning of the Sabbath.
• Because of what Jesus taught about the Sabbath and all he did on the Sabbath, they began to plot to kill Jesus.
• The true meaning of the Sabbath was important enough for Jesus to die for.
• The scribes and pharisees had forgotten the true meaning of the sabbath.
• When the Lord gave the commandment through Moses to keep the Sabbath day holy, he gave the reason: for you were once slaves in Egypt.
• The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, so that man could remember who he was, his real dignity as a beloved creature of God.
• Sabbath was a gift of God to help man continually rediscover true freedom, by worshipping God, not just in prayer but in LOVE, in DEEDS.
• Jesus’ rhetorical questions he poses in today’s Gospel are easy to answer: “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath… to save life?” Of course it is! That’s the real meaning of the Sabbath.
• Hence it should come as no surprise to us that Jesus worked most of his miracles of healing on the Sabbath, like he does today with the man with the withered hand.
• The reason the scribes and Pharisees misunderstood the meaning of the sabbath is because they had misunderstood the meaning of work, shown in their thinking that Jesus’ work of curing somehow violated — rather than DEMONSTRATED — the sanctity of the sabbath.
• On this Labor Day, when so many in our culture have forgotten the real meaning of the sabbath and the real meaning of work, it’s important for us to reflect deeply on the meaning of work in God’s plan.
2) The first command in the Bible was “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
• Man, made in God’s image and likeness, was called to develop that image and likeness by participating, freely, in the perfection of God’s creation.
• God gave man a share in the perfection of creation, bringing out the inherent potentiality God had given it, by making food grow from the grow in farms, by using so many substances for building, even by using sand in modern times to make computers.
• But in giving man the command to work — to subdue the earth and have dominion over all creation — God was also giving man the means to perfect God’s greatest creation: man himself. Through work, man would become more and more whom God created him to be.
• There is a distinction in Romance languages that describe man’s action that has not been retained in English. In Latin, there are two terms which describe different aspects of work: facere and agere. We find the same distinction in Spanish between hacer/actuar, in French between faire/agir, in Italian between fare/agire.
• Facere describes building SOMETHING. It’s external. It’s transitive. It’s objective.
• Agere describes building SOMEONE. It’s internal. It’s intransitive. It’s effect is in the subject, not in the object.
• In making anything (facere) we are also, at the same time, also making ourselves (agere). These are two aspects of the same action. We form ourselves through our work by the quality with which we do it.
• Work was a central part of God’s plan for man from the beginning.
• Man had, what Pope John Paul II describes in Laborem Exercens, a vocation to work.
3) What happened with the Fall?
• That vocation to work remained, but now it was going to participate, by God’s plan, in man’s redemption, through giving man, in work, a share in Christ’s Cross.
• The pain and suffering that would invade man’s work would contain within it the means by which man’s redemption would be partially accomplished.
• In the work of procreation — one of woman’s most exalted works, both transitively and intransitively — there would be “labor pains.”
• In the work of dominion and subduing the earth and man himself, there would not be “toil” and man would do it by the “sweat of his brow.”
• But it was precisely in work where man would recover the self-dominion he had lost through the fall. It was in work done well that he would learn how to care for others, how to get out of himself, how to love again.
4) Work’s role in the redemption reached its apex in the Incarnation when Christ, in taking on our human nature, took up the vocation to work.
• He was a teknon, a construction work, humbly laboring alongside St. Joseph for two-thirds of his salvific life.
• He was showing us in the carpenter’s shop the salvific meaning of humble, ordinary work.
• It’s no surprise that during his public ministry, Jesus praised human work and human professions.
• His preaching was imbued with appreciation for this work. Among others, he mentioned: shepherds, farmers, doctors, sowers, householders, servants, scholars, teachers, stewards, fishermen, merchants, day-laborers and even lawyers.
• He praised the work of fathers and mothers, too, as well as the work of love of wise virgins.
• He compared man’s apostolate to that of harvesters and fishermen.
• All of us, no matter what we do, are called to imitate our Savior in hard work, in DILIGENCE. Diligence comes from the Latin word, diligere, which means to love. Diligence is a result of our love and we’re called to work with his diligence.
• St. Josemaria Escriva taught that in work we’re
• to sanctify the work itself (by Christofinalizing it, doing it for God’s glory)
• to sanctify others through it (by being leaven, the type of new leaven St. Paul describes in the first reading); and
• to sanctify ourselves in the work (by working out our redemption and doing it with Christ-like diligence).
5) This vocation to work, this GOSPEL OF WORK (which John Paul II calls it), has no last chapter.
• Even in heaven, the work goes on. “My Father is still working,” Jesus says in St. John’s Gospel, “and I am also working.”
• St. Thérèse, who now is love in the heart of the heavenly Jerusalem, longed for heaven, so that she could spend heaven doing good (working) upon earth.
6) In the Mass, through which we share in that heavenly Jerusalem, we see how God wants to involve us in the Redemption and the Redeemer we receive in the Mass.
• For the matter which would become His body, blood, soul and divinity, Jesus did not start with grapes and grain, which are his gifts to the world. He began with bread and wine, which combines his blessing of grapes and grain and human labor. They are, as the priest says in the offertory, “fruits of the earth/vine” and “work of human hands.”
• As God did with the young boy with five loaves and two fish, as he did with the servants at Cana, God wanted to involve us and our work in his greatest miracle.
• As we come together to do the “public work of the Church” which is what the word Liturgy means (leit-ourgos), we ask St. Joseph to intercede with God so that we may live out our vocation to work so well that our whole life might become God’s work (opus Dei), that it might become the true Gospel of work Jesus calls us to proclaim.
• Let’s get to work!