Monday September 2, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Genesis 1:26-2:3) Gospel (St. Matthew 6:31-34)
Our Lord in telling us that we are not to worry and ask questions like "What are we to eat?" or "What are we to drink?" or "What are we to wear?" is not telling us that, therefore, we can just sit back and do nothing. But rather, what He is telling us is that we have to do the right thing for the right reason and we have to place our trust entirely in the Lord. So as we take this day out as a country to celebrate human labor, we need to see it in its proper perspective.
There are lots of people in our society who labor for the sole purpose of money. They want more is really what it comes down to. The very purpose of human labor is to support one's vocation. For most people, it is because they are raising a family; therefore, the purpose of their work is to be able to support their family. It is not necessarily to be able to acquire more stuff, but it is to be able to have enough to be able to support the work of the family.
There are some who get it backwards. In fact, in some Christian denominations they have it completely backwards. They would even go so far as to say that the vocation of a male is his work, and the vocation of a female is to support the male in his work. That is completely wrong. The vocation is to marriage and family, and work is to support the vocation. The family is not there to support the work, but the work is there to support the family.
Then we need to look at the other extreme. There are some who want to work as little as they possibly can. Our society has provided us with lots of opportunity for leisure. And I think if we look at the vast majority of people, we would have to say that this has really done nothing but get them in trouble. It has provided all kinds of opportunity for selfish and sinful pursuits. They have much more money than they need and much more time than they know what to do with.
It is imperative that we have rest and it is made very clear in the first reading today that on the seventh day God declared that the Sabbath was to be a day of rest because on it He rested from all the work He had undertaken; so too, He declared that we must rest. Yet, at the same time, it must be properly balanced. There are some who are workaholics and they have forgotten that Sunday is to be a day of rest and it has become for them just another day to work. This is something which is sinful. At the same time, we have those who want all kinds of leisure time, all kinds of rest. That too is wrong. It is part of human dignity, being that we are made in the image and likeness of God, that we work.
There are different forms of labor. There are those who will have to go off to work everyday so they will be able to obtain their paycheck and be able to support their family. There is the work right within the family, which of all the work that is done is the most important: the formation of the consciences of children, the raising of children. That is precisely the work that the family is about. For those who must go out of the home to be able to work, it is to be able to provide so that a mother and her children will be provided for, protected, and cared for so that the work the mother has undertaken of raising and forming children is going to be protected and provided for.
But in our society, we have gotten things backwards as we have done so very often. Children in our society are seen as secondary. We can shuffle them off to somebody else to take care of because we want both mother and father out working so that someone else is raising the children. Karl Marx wholeheartedly endorses that idea - and that is where the idea comes from: Get both parents out of the house and then get the State raising the children. It is not just Karl Marx who wants that, but it is what our legislature has been pushing for for a long time. And so there has been artificial inflation to make sure that a single income family can hardly survive to require that both get out of the house so that the most important work - and the ultimate purpose of the work of a husband - is undermined. It requires that both husband and wife go out and work. And the most important work, which is the formation of the children, is left dangling so that we can have more money, so that we can have more material things, so that we can have more leisure, so that we can get in trouble.
We need to keep it all in the proper perspective: in God's perspective. Remember the reading from yesterday that we are not to allow ourselves to become like the mindset of this age, but we are to be transformed by the renewal of our minds so that we can know what is right and just and perfect. That is what the Lord is asking of each of us. Put things in their proper order. See work from God's perspective. See family life from God's perspective. And keep the priorities straight. We do not need more stuff. We do not need more leisure time. What we need is to pour our hearts into work for the right reason, for the support of a family, so that the children are going to have a stable place and a place where they are going to be able to thrive and grow, where they are going to be formed, loved, and cared for.
The vocation is what is most important, and that is the most important work to which God has called each of us. The labor which we must exercise must be exercised in support of the vocation and not the other way around. We must shun the ideas of this society and we must embrace the Will of God. Now that may mean we are not going to be keeping up with the Jones'. We may not have every last thing that the marketers are telling us we need (which we do not need anyway). All that we need is what is necessary. Then there will be peace and joy and happiness in the home. What we do not need is children being left so that we can have more material things and a bigger bank account; that is unnecessary. We need to see things from God's perspective and we need to shape ourselves according to God's Will. And that is to work and have the proper balance of recreation, to make sure that we are busy - but busy about the right things for the right reason - so that we will work for the support of our vocation.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.