Catechetical Sunday will be celebrated on Sept. 18th. With school already underway and religious education programs starting to kick in, this is a good time for both prayer and thanksgiving for all of our catechists. This includes not only our Catholic school principals and teachers, of course, but also our religious education directors and coordinators, as well as the many catechists, most of them volunteers. As we reflect on all of those who are a part of our “Catholic Work Force,” our catechists occupy a special place in our minds and hearts.
Last Monday’s Labor Day celebrations were the occasion for a number of impassioned rallies, editorials and speeches. All of them in some way expressed both the ideals and the frustrations that surround any mention of the current challenges our work force is experiencing in the midst of the financial crisis and the resulting high unemployment. With so many families living with deep anxieties about the future, we cannot fail to pray that, as a Church, we will continue to respond with love, support and all of the creative resources at our disposal.
We are especially mindful of the many good people who have worked for our parishes and institutions within the diocese, some of them of many years. Because of the economic hardships we are all facing, some difficult decisions have had to be made, sometimes more quickly than anyone would do were there other alternatives. Unfortunately, in the process of consolidation and reorganization, layoffs are often unavoidable. The result has been the loss of valued employees who loved their work and would have wished to continue, if the option were available. We are all diminished in some way by their absence.
So many people who work and have worked for the Church do not do so primarily because of the material benefits. We can be proud of how, over the years, the Church has helped to form, educate and offer social services to so many generations, many of them poor and immigrant families. Much of this, however, would not have been possible without the sacrifice and good will of those who have generously given so much more of their time, talents and skills than they might ever have received in terms of payment.
Not to mention all those who give so much as volunteers – which includes not only our catechists whom we singled out at the start, but also altar servers, ushers, readers, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion – as well as many of our teachers aides, sacristans, choir members, and social service providers. We have in mind, for example, those who work in soup kitchens, food pantries, home and hospital visitation, and those who are scout leaders and coaches in our sports programs.
As we think of our “Catholic Labor Force,” we cannot exclude those whose primary support is in the form of their prayer. So many of the faithful form the spiritual cement that helps connect our many works, ministries and services by their prayer presence and support. It is not by accident that we speak of the spiritual and corporal “works” of mercy, which include the many ways in which all the Catholic faithful, clergy, lay and religious, participate in building up the Body of Christ – none of which are done for a single dime.
In no way do we dishonor those who work honestly for the just compensation they so well deserve. It is important, however, that we recall that so much of the good work of our Church – and indeed in our larger society – is done by those who give so much more than they are ever paid or even thanked for. Those of us who are fortunate enough to also have employment by which we can provide for the needs of ourselves and our loved ones, have all that much more to be thanking God for at this time. Even if our work is, at times, arduous or monotonous, it is still an occasion to join our sacrifice in solidarity with those who may be sacrificing so much more.
And can we forget today those who 10 years ago, on Sept. 11, 2001, lost their lives simply because they woke up early and came to town for no other purpose than to show up on time for an honest day’s work? A moment of prayer and silence in their honor and for their loved ones.