Monday September 1, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier†† Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Genesis 1:26-2:3)††† Gospel (St. Matthew 6:31-34)
In the first reading today, we see from the Book of Genesis that great truth that each one of us is made in the image and likeness of God. And we know from Saint Johnís Gospel that God is love. But Jesus also tells us in the Gospels, My Father is at work until now and I am work until now. We see in the first reading that God is Creator, as He creates the light and the darkness, the earth and the stars and the firmament, all the plants and all the animals. If we are made in Godís image and likeness, we are to share in His creative work; we are to share in His work in general.
Now while we can recognize the dignity of human work, being made in Godís image, we also have to look at the manner in which God chose to work and what He chose to do. Perhaps for us as Americans, what is most important is that we recognize that God rested on the seventh day. This is something that many Americans have completely lost. The Lordís Day has just become another day to work, and that is not the way it is supposed to be. While work has dignity, obedience has far greater dignity. The charity that Saint Paul spoke of in the second reading has greater dignity. And Saint Paul told us also, Whatever you do, do it in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to do it for God rather than for men. In other words, even the work that we do has to be done out of charity. It has to be done out of a love for God, which means that when we look simply at the way that many businesses are run today without concern for the workers, but rather with concern only for the bottom line; with making more money for the corporation rather than being concerned for the good of the worker; this is something that is wrong. Obviously, the people who are in charge of the business have a right to make a living as well. But it is not proper for one to be living high off the hog while others are suffering because of an injustice in either the amount of money that is being paid to the laborers or by the way they are being treated or by the expectations that are placed on them in a manner which is not proper. These are the things that God condemns.
If we are going to live according to that image of God in which each one of us is created, it does mean that we share in Godís creative work. Parents share in that creative work in the greatest manner possible in that they actually share in the creation of another human person. But also, as we work with our hands and with our minds, we are also sharing in the creative work of God. But again, it must be for the right purpose. As we heard in todayís Gospel, we are to seek first the kingdom of God and His way of righteousness, and everything else will be added. That too is something each one of us needs to look at in our own lives. When Our Lord tells us to store up treasure in Heaven, we can ask ourselves, ďIs that where my focus is?Ē It is always a balance. Saint Paul tells the Thessalonians in the second reading that they are to live a quiet life; they are to work so as not to be dependent upon anybody else. They are to make their living and they can even put some money aside for retirement. All of that is perfectly fine, but it is a question again of the priorities. That is what it always seems to come down to. Are we putting God and His kingdom and His way of righteousness first? That is what our life is supposed to be, and then all of the other things will follow from it.
And so it is a matter that while we need to work and we need to support ourselves and our families, it is a question still of putting God first and putting the work second. Your vocation is your primary work and the labor that you exercise is there to support your vocation, not the other way around. The other way around is the Protestant view of things, and it is backwards. Unfortunately, in this country, which is founded on many Protestant ideas, the country has it backwards. So we need to make sure that as Catholic people we are doing things the way God intends them to be done. God did not call you to a job; God called you to a vocation. He expects that you are going to be working to support that vocation, or working in that vocation as the case may be. But again we need to make sure that the priorities are right, that we are seeking Godís Will, that we are doing what He wants us to do and in the manner that He wants us to do it.
So as we take this day out as a country to honor those who work with their hands, Godís way of honoring those who would work is to bless those who are seeking to do things according to His Will. What good does it do a man, Jesus asked, if he gains the whole world and loses his soul in the process? Working for oneís own self only, storing up treasure in this life, seeking first our own kingdom and our own way is going to lead to condemnation. It is like everything else. Work is good but it is not an end in itself; it is the means to another end. It must be understood in its proper context and it must be lived in its proper context. Otherwise, we are working to our own condemnation rather than working unto our salvation. What we want to make sure is that we are seeking first the kingdom of God and His way of righteousness. In that way, our work is a share in the creative work of God, our work glorifies God, our work becomes part of the Will of God for our lives, and our work becomes the means by which we store up treasure in Heaven. That God will bless, and He will bless abundantly.
It is not a matter of the financial aspect that we are concerned about; it is a question of the soul. Obedience to the Will of God is always the best. It is the clearest and it is the most perfect way to cooperate in Godís work, which means that the first work each one of us must be about is our prayer life and to make sure we are seeking the Will of God in the depths of our hearts in prayer so that in our day-to-day life we will be able to carry it out. If that is not the way it has been done, then I can assure you that if you begin to do that, even the way you work, the attitude you will have toward work in getting up every morning and going to work, all of that will change. You will begin to see things with different eyes. Work takes on a whole different meaning as it becomes part of a means to our salvation, and not just a means by which we pay our bills. It becomes part of our eternal fulfillment; it does not become a means to earthly fulfillment. That is where we need to put our focus: seeking first the kingdom of God and His way of righteousness, and trusting in the Lord that everything else will be provided for us as well.
*† This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.