4 Sep 2016
“Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him …’” (Luke 14:28-29) In the name …
Tomorrow is Labor Day, a national holiday created out of respect for the dignity of work and the worker. Too often we equate compensation with the value of work and the worker. It is estimated by Pew Research that a high school graduate will earn approximately $1.6 million in his or her lifetime. That monetary figure doubles for a person with a Bachelor’s degree. Skills are different and different skills are rewarded differently, but the work and the worker are no different. I remember as a high school and then as a college student working some summers at Columbia Manufacturing in Westfield. We made bikes and school furniture. I have a couple of their bikes in the garage and we have their furniture in our church hall. At lunch we would sometimes sit outside, and there across the street were some other kids working under the nets of shade tobacco. Seeing how hot and hard their work was under those nets, it was always easier to go back inside to work at Columbia. Our pay rates may have been different, but in no way whatsoever did this mean that their work was easier or that they didn’t put as much effort into their labour.
The same applies to career choices. Back in 2009, a young person coming out of college with a degree in engineering or computer science could expect to make a starting salary in the upper $40,000. A teacher would come in about $10 – 15,000 lower. And a liberal arts major, such as myself, defined the bottom of the salary expectation graph. Again, this doesn’t mean that the work of a teacher or a priest is less valuable than that of an engineer or a computer scientist. Compensation is not equivalent to the importance of the work one does.
I was very impressed to read last Sunday about Paul English. He’s the internet wizard who has made a fortune creating and selling internet start-ups. He sold Kayak, which compares travel search engines, for almost $2 billion. He, like many other generous people of wealth, realize that there is more to affluence than money, and this is why he is giving away a good portion of his fortune. But what really struck me as insightful was his comment about the value of work. He told the Boston Globe reporter that he felt uncomfortable about his Kayak fortune, and that when he said this others would reminded him: “You shouldn’t feel that way. You worked hard for your money.” But the implication Paul English heard in those words was that poor people wouldn’t be poor if they weren’t lazy, if they worked more. Then he said something uniquely profound: “But I didn’t actually work that hard. I’m just good at something that makes a lot of money.” (http://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2016/08/23/you-made-million-what-would-you/VvRMYeb9SemivUavpfWp7J/story.html) His skills are rare and that’s why he has a fortune to give away, but he realizes that skills are not the same as work. In this sense, he is little different than any other worker, and this is why he has chosen to take his good fortune and use it to help others who are less fortunate.
This same kind of respect for work and the worker was at play in our young church. Hodur decried the wealth of some elites because it was only possible at the expense of treating workers so terribly. I’ve mentioned several times from this pulpit that the coal companies cared more about the mules in their mines than they did the miners, and those miners and their families filled Scranton’s church. These were good, decent and hard-working people whose lives meant little because there were so many other good, decent and hard-working people desperate for their jobs, for any jobs. Hodur didn’t see this as an economic issue or a political one of conservative or liberal. He saw this as a Christian one. He wasn’t against the rich. He was against the abuse of the poor and the failure to appreciate their work.
Five years ago this October, I attended a lecture with my old friend Rev. Richard Killough over at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Amherst. The guest speaker was Dr. Gary Dorrien. He’s a scholar of the Social Gospel Movement that emerged at almost the same time as our church denomination. The Social Gospel Movement believed that if people suffered from the effects of politics and the economy, then the church needed to be concerned about politics and the economy because that’s what Jesus did, and that’s what Jesus would continue to do. I went up to Dr. Dorrien after his presentation and as I was telling him that I was a priest of the National Catholic Church, he interrupted me and said, “Hodur’s church.” This scholar knew of us because of the way Hodur and this church stood up for the worker and their work, and did so because of our Christian faith.
Work and workers were and remain honourable words. Bp. Hodur often said to those around him, “I don’t know if I will be alive tomorrow, but if I am I will work.” And he did until his dying day. In a church pamphlet from 1901 when we were only 4 years old, Fr. Hodur encouraged us to religious and social activism, and he finished with the words: “To work then because our God is calling us to it!” Labour Day gives us a chance to remember the value and importance of work and the worker, and in a time when the separation between work and compensation grows ever larger, we need to remember the social gospel movement of our formative years. As church we need to stand-up again for the value of work and of the worker. There is a moral point at which too few make too much and too many make too little for their work, and that’s when the church in the name of Jesus, the one who was once a carpenter, the one who sought to foster the common good, that in His name we need to speak out on their behalf, and this Sunday of Labor Day weekend gives us the chance to remember this gospel commandment of social justice. And for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo