On Labor Day, a call to lift up the Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers

Volunteer with intelectual disability working at Bakery WorkshopIn his 2018 Labor Day statement, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, calls for all persons to work together for just wages, which are necessary for families to flourish. A just wage is one that “not only provides for workers’ financial well-being, but fosters their social, cultural, and spiritual dimensions as individuals and members of society.”

We heard this call echoed in the readings this past Sunday. In the first reading from the book of Deuteronomy, the Israelites are reminded of the justice within God’s law, which included several parameters on work and economic justice (5:13-15, 14:28-29), and their duty to keep the demands of that law (4:1-2,6-8). In the second reading from the letter of James, we heard the call to “Be doers of the word and hearers only” (1:22), something Mark’s Gospel points out can be challenging to do in light of temptations towards greed, deceit, theft, and other evils (7:20-22).

As we reflect on the vision of Catholic teaching, and in the just laws of the book of
Deuteronomy about the treatment of the poor and workers, or James’ warning
not to simply hear the words of God without action, or Mark’s warnings against greed, we might ask ourselves: How can we help make God’s vision of justice a reality? How can we, in our families, institutions, and as a society, better respect the dignity and rights of workers and the well-being of their families?

As Bishop Dewane remarks in his 2018 Labor Day Statement, “First, we are called to live justly in our own lives whether as business owners or workers.  Secondly, we are called to stand in solidarity with our poor and vulnerable brothers and sisters.  Lastly, we should all work to reform and build a more just society, one which promotes human life and dignity and the common good of all.”

Watch this video resource for more on how Catholic Social Teaching invites us to uphold the dignity of work and rights of workers not only in regards to just wages but also to allow for the full flourishing of all people.

 

Going Deeper

Looking for more information on what Catholic teaching says about the dignity of work and rights of workers? Use this primer on Catholic Social Teaching on Labor or these quotes from Pope Francis on Labor and Employment to learn more.

A Reflection for Poverty Awareness Month

Listening is an important ingredient to every healthy relationship. Can you think of an instance in which a relationship in your life either deepened or was challenged due to the ability or inability of one or both parties to listen to the other?  Our relationship with Christ, and with our neighbors, in whom Christ is present, is the same way. The readings for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Jan. 28, 2018) reminded us of the importance of listening. Listening to God’s call for our lives, our communities, and our world is essential. We first listen, and then we are called to respond. What a fitting theme to reflect on during Poverty Awareness Month!

As we heard in this Sunday’s first reading, we might recall that throughout the Old Testament, God speaks through prophets like Moses, calling the people to repent of their unfaithfulness—which is often illustrated by their worship of false idols, immoral living, and failure to care for those who are poor and oppressed. In the first reading, Moses describes the role of a prophet, who is to be God’s “voice” to the people. Moses invites the people to listen to God’s words to them.

Moses’ message from God to the people spans numerous chapters in Deuteronomy. The instructions aim to help the people remain in right relationship with both God and neighbor.  Part of the instructions are about caring for the stranger, orphan and widow (14:29) and forgiving the debts of those who are poor (15:1-11), for example. Moses exhorts the people to listen (18:15). Those who listen to God’s voice, engaging in both right worship (orthodoxy) and right practice or deed (orthopraxy), will flourish.

The refrain of the Psalm likewise exhorts the people to hear God’s voice: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

Listening is also key in the second reading. Paul writes to the community at Corinth in anticipation of Christ’s second coming, which he and the early Christians believed was imminent. Whatever our state in life, this reading calls each of us to create space in our hearts and lives so that, “without distraction,” we can listen to God’s voice.

In this past Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus—the son of God, the one about whom the prophets spoke—speaks words that elicit immediate response.  “He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him,” the people remark.  If “even the unclean spirits” obey, then those who are “faithful” should be even better at recognizing Christ’s voice!

We can peel back another layer to this story by asking: Who is the man with the unclean spirit, whom Jesus liberates? In Jesus’ time, mental illness, disability, and disease were frequently attributed to demonic possession. (See, for example, Mt. 9:32-34, 12:22-32, and 17:14-21; and Lk. 4:31-41.)  As a result, those who were sick, disabled, or mentally ill were on the peripheries. They were ignored or even intentionally marginalized. But not by Jesus. Jesus approaches the man in today’s Gospel without fear. He sees the person behind the condition. In some other healing stories (e.g. Mt. 9:32-38, Mk. 1:29-45, etc.), Jesus is “moved by pity” or compassion.  He speaks with authority, healing the one who is sick or possessed. Those who watch the miracles rarely seem to understand Jesus’ message. We know his invitation to faith and compassion is not only for the Gospel crowds and Pharisees: it is for us today as well!

We all struggle to listen to Christ’s call. This can be challenging due to our busyness or from our unwillingness to prioritize prayer or to encounter Christ in the “other.” How can we listen, when the world around us seems so much in turmoil?  Instead of viewing prayer as a way to escape from the realities around us, can we think of it as a special time to unite the deepest concerns of our hearts, and of the world, with Christ’s loving presence?

Try this prayer exercise: find a quiet space and read the Gospel reading again (Mark 1:21-28). Imagine that you are a character in the story—perhaps someone in the crowd, perhaps the man with the unclean spirit. Imagine how it would feel to be there. Imagine using your senses: what do you see around you? What do you hear? What do you smell? Imagine seeing or meeting Jesus.  React to what he says and does. Enter into the story.

Then, read the story again. This time, substitute a modern-day person into the story for the person with the unclean spirit—perhaps someone who is often rejected: a homeless person; someone with a mental illness; an undocumented person; an individual with a disability; a refugee. Watch Jesus see and approach this person. See what happens. Let this exercise lead you into prayer for those on the peripheries. Pray about how Christ might be calling you to respond.

In God is Love, Pope Benedict XVI challenged us to allow love of God and love of neighbor to “become one: in the least of our brethren we find Jesus himself, and in Jesus we find God” (no. 15).

The month of January is Poverty Awareness Month. Connecting love of God and love of neighbor in prayer can help us form a strong foundation through which we can open our hearts to see Christ’s face in those who experience poverty—over 40 million people in the United States. At PovertyUSA.org, a website of the Catholic bishops in the United States, you can learn facts about poverty, watch videos, and read stories about how faith communities are responding.

Another part of our response is to allow ourselves to be “moved with compassion” to imitate Jesus’ example of healing. Consider: how can I imitate Jesus and encounter someone on the peripheries? Following the footsteps of Jesus, we are all called to listen to God’s voice, recognize his presence in our neighbors, and respond with acts of charity and justice.

This reflection is excerpted from a liturgical aid for the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Jan. 28, 2018), by the USCCB Dept. of Justice, Peace and Human Development.

Turning a “contemplative gaze” toward our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters

Building on his September launch of the “Share the Journey” campaign in support of migrants and refugees, Pope Francis’ Message for the 51st World Day of Peace (Jan. 1) invites Catholics to embrace those who endure perilous journeys and hardships in order to find peace. He urges people of faith to turn with a “contemplative gaze” towards migrants and refugees, opening our hearts to the “gaze of faith which sees God dwelling in their houses, in their streets and squares.”

In his Message, Pope Francis echoes St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, pointing to war, conflict, genocide, ethnic cleansing, poverty, lack of opportunity, and environmental degradation as reasons that families and individuals become refugees and migrants.

Four “mileposts for action” are necessary in order to allow migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and trafficking victims the opportunity to find peace. These include:

  1. Welcoming, which calls for “expanding legal pathways for entry” and better balancing national security and fundamental human rights concerns;
  2. Protecting, or recognizing and defending “the inviolable dignity of those who flee”;
  3. Promoting, which entails “supporting the integral human development of migrants and refugees”; and
  4. Integrating by allowing migrants and refugees to “participate fully in the life of society that welcomes them.” Doing so enriches both those arriving and those welcoming.

How can we, as Catholics, respond to Pope Francis’ powerful words in this year’s message?  What are we called to?

Here are three ideas.

  1. Pray with a “contemplative gaze.” Pray for the grace to approach issues around migrants and refugees from a starting point of faith and prayer.
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    Encounter the stories of migrants and refugees on this handout and at ShareJourney.org and then pray for those families and individuals.
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    You may also try one of these prayer practices to enrich your experience of prayer for our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters.
  1. Learn. Visit ShareJourney.org to read the stories of families and individuals who are migrants and refugees and to learn how you can respond. Visit WeAreSaltandLight.org to learn how faith communities are answering the call to welcome migrants and refugees.
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  2. Act. Join tens of thousands of Catholics to advocate for policies that support migrants and refugees in the U.S. and those experiencing poverty or conflict around the world. For current action alerts, visit ConfrontGlobalPoverty.org and JusticeForImmigrants.org.

Together and with God’s help, we can seek peace for all people, including those who are migrants and refugees.

This text is excerpted from the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development handout for the World Day of Peace 2018, which is also available in Spanish.

Replacing “Clamorous Discord” With Love and Mercy

In this past Sunday’s first reading, the prophet Habakkuk, who lived in a time of “strife” and “clamorous discord” (Hb. 1:3), cries out to God for assistance. God urges him to wait faithfully, for the “the rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live” (2:4).

In the heat of this election season—with its “clamorous discord” and “rash” words—Habakkuk’s plight takes on a new meaning. When inflammatory rhetoric, uncivil accusations, and personal attacks abound, the temptation can be to turn off the news, shut the newspaper, and ignore the Twitter feed for the next four weeks.

But Sunday’s Gospel challenges us. At the beginning of the Gospel reading, the apostles implore Jesus, “Increase our faith” (Lk. 17:5). They are responding to Jesus’ challenge in the verse prior: “If [your brother] wrongs you seven times in one day and returns seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him” (17:4).

How difficult the challenge of forgiveness sounds to them! Yet, Jesus responds to their request for increased faith: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (17:6).

Clearly, prayer rooted in deep faith can make the impossible a reality.

We are called to bring this Gospel challenge to our current situation. At this long moment in our country when mercy, forgiveness, and love seem to be completely missing in the public square, we must utter the apostles’ prayer: “Increase our faith!”

When faced with the temptation to withdraw or disengage from public life, we must pray, “Increase our faith!”

When, in our conversations with others, we ourselves feel the urge to refuse to model the respect we want to see; or to attack the person instead of discussing the issue; or to use inflammatory language; we must call out, “Increase our faith!”

As followers of Christ, we are called to think and act differently, approaching dialogue with a spirit of love and respect for the dignity of others. In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis offers these guidelines for dialogue within families. They would be truly transformational if applied in the public square as well.

In response to our cry, “Increase our faith!,” we must allow the Holy Spirit to guide us so that we may model love and mercy in our families, at our workplaces, and in the public square. We must also urge candidates and elected officials to engage in dialogue that is civil and respectful.

Civil dialogue means that when speaking with others with whom we disagree:

  • We should begin with respect.
  • We should decide neither to degrade the persons, characters, and reputations of others who hold different positions from our own, nor spread rumors, falsehoods, or half truths about them.
  • We should be careful about language we use, avoiding inflammatory words and rhetoric.
  • We should not assign motives to others. Instead, we should assume that our family members, friends, and colleagues are speaking in good faith, even if we disagree with them.
  • We should listen carefully and respectfully to other people.
  • We should remember that we are members of a community, and we should try to strengthen our sense of community through the love and care we show one another.
  • We should be people who express our thoughts, opinions, and positions—but always in love and truth.

 

If we can model Christ’s love in our civil dialogue, we can begin to change the negative climate in our country during this election season, and beyond.

Increase our faith!


Going Deeper

As an individual and as a family, reflect on Pope Francis’ guidelines on dialogue and consider how you can put them into practice in your own conversations.

Encourage civil dialogue in your parish. Include the civil dialogue insert in your bulletins in English and Spanish.

Show the video reflections by Cardinal Wuerl and by Franciscan Media on civil dialogue at the end of Mass, in a place where parishioners gather, or as part of scheduled parish events

Being “Sheep” Who Hear Jesus’ Voice

7-342-Catholics-Care-Catholics-Vote-1In yesterday’s reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus called us to be “sheep” who hear: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” (10:27-28). Are you a sheep who hears Jesus’ voice?

In Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. Catholic bishops emphasize the importance of hearing God’s voice—in particular, “the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil” (no. 17).

Another name for this voice is “conscience”—our “most secret core and sanctuary” where we are “alone with God, whose voice echoes” in our depths, revealing “that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 16).

Each one of us has this “secret core and sanctuary” where we can hear God’s voice. Yet, as all of us who are still on the path to sainthood can attest, “hearing” doesn’t usually come naturally—it’s something we work at for our entire lives.

When we have important decisions to make, such as deciding which candidates, policies, or platforms we should best support as Catholics and U.S. citizens, forming our consciences becomes all the more important—especially during an election season when candidates, parties, and super PACs spend millions trying to convince us that their side is right.

So how can we be sheep who hear?

First, in Faithful Citizenship, the bishops encourage us to begin with a sincere desire to embrace goodness and truth (no. 18).  We don’t engage in conscience formation simply to reaffirm or justify a conclusion we’ve already reached.

Second, we are called to study Sacred Scripture and the moral and social teachings of the Church.

Third, we must carefully examine facts and background information about various choices before us.

Finally (and really, throughout), we must pray and reflect, seeking to discern God’s will.

Conscience formation is a lot of work—but it’s a must for anyone serious about trying to hear and follow Jesus’ voice.

So let’s get to it.


Go Deeper!

Learn how Catholics across the country are putting their faith into action through civic engagement with Success Stories from WeAreSaltandLight.org.

For more on conscience formation, check out the Conscience Formation Bulletin Insert and Homily Suggestions for April 17, 2016.

We are Salt and Light

salt and light screenshot

We are pleased to announce a new website to help Catholics respond to Jesus’ call to be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world,” in the words of Matthew’s Gospel. WeAreSaltAndLight.org is a project of the U.S. bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, and includes:

The website equips Catholics to live out Pope Francis’ call to “go forth” on mission. It also seeks to help Catholic communities—especially parishes, dioceses, schools, universities, seminaries, religious communities, and ecclesial movements—to carry out the vision of the U.S. bishops’ 1994 document, Communities of Salt & Light: Reflections on the Social Mission of the Parish.

“WeAreSaltAndLight.org is an excellent tool to help parishes, schools, universities, and other Catholic communities form disciples who pray, reach out, learn and act together,” said Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.

“Salt preserves and flavors, light heals and warms.  As missionary disciples who have encountered the living Christ we are called to share the joy of the Gospel with all.  May this website serve as a tool to assist us in our vocation to be communities of salt and light in our world today,” said Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, chairman of the Domestic Justice and Human Development Committee of the U.S. bishops.

Success stories on the site include accounts of Catholics praying and acting to end human trafficking, groups mobilizing to end the death penalty, and a parish in the United States finding solidarity with a sister parish in Guatemala.

Check out WeAreSaltAndLight.org today, and join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook!