Sunday, September 02, 2012

2 September 2012 – Labour Day Homily

First Reading: Jeremiah 22:13-19
Responsorial Psalm: 72:1-4, 11-14, 18
Second Reading: I Corinthians 12:12-26
Gospel: Matthew 25:31-40

For days, I was puzzling over how to weave these three readings together.  I had no one to blame but myself because I chose them from a list of suggested Labour Day readings.  Trusting in the Spirit, once I made the choices, I thought it best not to change them.  Still, I struggled with how to weave them together.  Finally, I gave up and began to look at each one separately and see what the Spirit would knit together for me.

What came to me was that each of the readings looked at labour differently.  In the first reading, Jeremiah lets us know that God holds a dim view of those who reap benefits from injustice and inequity.  The injustice that Jeremiah describes is strikingly similar to what is going on today, in our world and in this very neighbourhood.  In our neighbourhood, developers are building fine, if not spacious houses, while the violence of poverty and homelessness continue. 

In other parts of the world, corporate interests are gaining profits from the shedding of the innocent blood.  Those who are working for the rights of their communities to have just wages, clean drinking water, and preserve their lands from pollution, are the targets.  Violence and oppression are epidemic in countries like Colombia, for example, in Colombia, the most dangerous and life threatening position to hold is that of union organizer. 

Since the free trade agreement between Colombia and the United states took place in October 2011, 34 Colombian trade unionists have been killed.  And according to the executive director of the National Trade Union School, in Medellin, more than 2,900 acts of violence and 1,500 assaults have taken place, aimed at workers and labour activists. 

I remember saying a few years ago, in my uninformed state, that unions were no longer needed.  Needless to say, I have changed my mind.  In 2007, a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Report called “Negotiating without a floor,” found that traditional unions have been victim to the loss of coverage under the Employment Standards Act for large sections of their members….
Under the previous Act, unions were aware that if their collective agreements did not contain rights and benefits at least equal to the Act, the superior provisions of the Act were deemed to form part of their collective agreement.  However, since 2002, under the new Act, large groups of union members have potentially lost these employment rights without legal recourse. The new Act has left gaping holes in many collective agreements, and the government has not given unions the opportunity to re-open their collective agreements to ensure their members are not exposed [to the loss of employment rights].1

Another example, is when Christy Clark increased the minimum wage, she included everyone but servers. It's not fair and it's open to abuse.  Under the new legislation - licensed restaurants can now pay servers less than the minimum wage.2

One of the most disadvantaged groups of workers is migrant workers.  We can all as Christians and as voters work to alleviate the conditions of our brothers and sisters in their struggle for decent employment conditions. 
So the first reading can be said to describe labour issues that pertain to those in power: governments, corporations, and the wealthy.  This also suggests that the way to work for labour justice from these entities is to participate in and/or support our labour unions.

In the second reading, we are told that we are all part of the Body of Christ.  As such each and every member of the body is important and vital.  The proverbial rocket scientist is no more important in the eyes of God than the binner who collects our empty bottles.  We are to treat everyone with love and respect.  However, let’s take this analogy a little bit farther. 

Many of us, especially those of us who were schooled in pre-Vatican II Catholicism, were taught that our religion was more important than anyone else’s.  We were told that we had the exclusive rights to God’s truth and by extension, God’s love.   But the old Baltimore Catechism taught that we were created to know, love and serve God.  Now, there was no specification on who helped us to do this.  Therefore, any religious community that aids its members in knowing, loving and serving God, is performing the labour for which it was intended.  Our opening song refrains said in succession, I believe in God and it ain’t me, I believe in God and it ain’t us; I believe in God and God is God.  We are not to judge the vessels or the pathways the Creator chooses for the people of God.  We are all, ̶ regardless of race, colour, creed, affectional orientation, or social or professional status ̶   people of God. 

Which brings me to the Gospel; it tells us how we, as people of God, are called to be towards one another.  God calls us to a labour of love.  Many of us already do or contribute in some way to giving drink to the thirsty, feeding the hungry and visiting the sick.  Fewer of us, I imagine, spend much time with the, “I was in prison and you visited me”, part. 

Those of who live in the nicer areas of the city might even be part of the “Not in My Neighbourhood” crowd when the location a halfway house is proposed for their area.  Why is that?  Well because we know that the socialization to prison life does not translate to socialization in the community.  But we as Christians and as good citizens could begin the socialization process with people while they were in prison. 

Many people in our prisons belong to the marginalized and racialized groups of our society.   They are familiar with poverty, racism, and exclusion.  How healing for all of us, if we could befriend people and incorporate them into our social networks while they were still incarcerated.   With our social support and if our friendship is genuine, people would have the experience of being accepted and included.  They would then have a social support network when they are released.  We would be a living expression of a gospel community and give everyone involved a greater incentive to transform our lives. 

So the readings give us all something to think about.  In my opinion, the readings look at labour from different vantage points.  The readings also call to us for a response. 
  • From the political viewpoint of working for the common good, we could support fair labour practices and our unions
  • From the social viewpoint of the value of labour ̶   secular and religious, we could value and respect the different faces of work, and lastly,
  • From the personal viewpoint, we could become active participants in the labour of love that we are called to as people of God.

I’ll end with this prayer:
St. Joseph, Patron of Workers,
Help us to respect the dignity of all workers.
Help us to learn about and to care about workers
who do not have fair wages, just benefits, safe working environments.
Help us to raise our voices for justice for workers.
Help us to ask our government and our representatives
to develop policies that create jobs with dignity.
Guide us in our own work
and in the work of justice we are all called to participate in.
Renew our strength and commitment each day
as we face the work ahead
as we labour for the common good of all.3

1.         Fairey, David and McCallum, Simone (2007) Negotiating Without a Floor:  Unionized Worker Exclusion from BC Employment Standards.  Vancouver: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (


3          adapted from: Education for Justice. Prayer to St. Joseph, Patron of Workers.

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