The New Jersey State AFL-CIO thanks the Rev. Jon Thomas, pastor of the Parish of St. Monica, Atlantic City, the Revs. Cesar A. Rebolledo and Andrew T. Pham, St. Monica’s parochial vicars, Nick Myers, organist and cantor, and sisters and brothers of UNITE-HERE Local 54 and New York State Nurses Association for the uplifting Mass for the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. The service reinforced how worker dignity is a human right.
The state labor federation also thanks Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan of the Diocese of Camden and U.S. Rep. Donald W. Norcross, D-1st District, for their words of inspiration and hope, and Bob McDevitt, President of Local 54, for his extensive coordinating efforts.
For those who were not able to watch the livestream, the video is archived HERE.
Genesis 1:26b-2:3, read by Myrna Alexander, UNITE-HERE
Judith Romero, UNITE-HERE, and Suzanne Jenkins, NY State Nurses Association
The homily by Father Jon Thomas
If we’re honest, I think most of us imagine Jesus spending his time on earth walking on water and snapping his fingers to heal the sick and raise the dead. This Jesus of our imaginations is a supernatural rock star, who speaks and performs in front of large crowds.
Our imaginations, however, at best capture only the last two or three years of Jesus’ life.
Jesus spent most of his life working. I don’t mean rabbi work or Messiah work. I mean normal work, work that supports the family. Like all of you, Jesus was a worker. He learned carpentry from his father, St. Joseph, who we honor at this Mass.
And don’t think Jesus was simply biding his time in carpentry until he could begin his messianic ministry. His work was part of his ministry. Remember, Jesus is God in the flesh and work is part of the human condition. In the Genesis reading, God commanded people to “fill the earth and subdue it.” So, in order to really become one of us, Jesus had to work.
But Jesus’ work was not like an episode of “Undercover Boss.” Jesus wasn’t investigating us or looking for ways to improve performance. Jesus was doing something much simpler and also far more meaningful. A lot of you know it as solidarity. God wanted to be with us.
Solidarity is a two-way street. If God almighty came down from heaven into a woodshop, if the Creator of the stars and planets spent time making tables and chairs, to say, “I’m here with you,” well then….
We need to do that for others. Our struggles are not the same, but we are all struggling. Some workers are worrying about furloughs becoming layoffs. Others having been working long, hard hours for the last several weeks, all the while exposed to great danger.
So many other worries haunt us at night:
• by working on the frontlines, am I exposing my family to the same dangers?
• do I risk retaliation by demanding more protection at work?
• will my company survive this economic catastrophe?
In an unprecedented present, with an uncertain future, with many of us deprived of the meaning we find in our work and deprived of the dignity of providing for our families with our work, we’re desperate for meaning:
• What is God trying to tell us?
• What lessons are we supposed to learn?
• Can we come out stronger?
We are stronger than our struggles and better for them thanks to our faith in God. Thinking about all the crises we’ve been through before is a double-edged sword. Here in Atlantic City, for instance, our Local 54 members have survived hurricanes and casino closings. Maybe that inspires us that this pandemic, too, will pass. Or maybe we despair that we don’t have any “fight” left in us. Fortunately, our faith anchors us in the simple but relevant truth that “God is with us.” In Genesis, God warned us we would have to work by the sweat of our brows. In the Gospels, Jesus himself worked by the sweat of his brow. There’s so much strength in knowing someone else “gets us,” that they’ve been where we are. That strength is limitless when the other person is the all-powerful God.
Let me be clear. We have not failed by being in this situation. We are not failures. We are loved by God now, the same as always. On the contrary, we have to stay the course.
The meaning we need for today is the same meaning we’ve worked for before. Solidarity then, solidarity now. Solidarity between God and people. Solidarity between people.
Jesus is not a supernatural rock star. He’s a friend for good times and bad. Yes, God is telling us, “I’m with you.” He’s also challenging us, “You can stand up for others.”
Our masks may hide our smiles, “six feet apart” may keep us from handshakes and hugs, staying at home may keep us from extended family and from our work families – but nevertheless, we are not alone.
But someone’s got to get the ball rolling. It’s got to be us. At this Mass, Jesus’ sacrifice is made present for us in the breaking of the bread. God is working to draw close to us here and now. Let’s draw confidence from this divine companionship, because we need that strength to show compassion for others.
We may have not our normal work to do, but we always have the work of drawing close to the neighbor in front of us, the brother or sister in need of us. That work never stops. And it is the most important work and from it we get the greatest dignity.
Unprecedented times allow for unprecedented opportunities. Right now we can build solidarity far wider and far deeper than we could have hoped for in normal times. Then, when we’re through this, we are stronger because our union is stronger: God-with-us and you and me for each other.