By Reverend Richard Creason
Pastor, Most Holy Trinity Parish, St. Louis
Mass honoring St. Joseph the Worker
at Annual Robert O. Kortkamp Memorial Union Labor Mass,
May 6, 2012
At Shrine of St. Joseph
Thank you for inviting me again. From all the St. Louis clergy, you have asked again that I preach. It is the greatest honor as a priest that I have received through the years.
Today, it is my privilege to be the one who is the breaker of bread – bread that is God’s Word and as well the very bread of life that is the real presence of Jesus.
A contemporary view of Jesus would place him among an artisan class of carpenters and living with his extended family in the small hamlet called Nazareth. This picture does not present him as some typically think: which is as poor, or just having a nuclear family, or not having much education.
JESUS WAS A WORKER
Simply stated, Jesus could very much be said to have been working class or middle class depending on which term you like better.
There are some for whom the term “working class” would be demeaning, but personally I have always used it to describe with great pride my own background. My father was a Teamster driving a truck for 25 years after experiencing several periods of unemployment due to the depression.
Being working class always means taking pride in one’s work, of having the resources of life close at hand, of having a great support network of an extended family, and finally valuing highly a good education.
I offer the following challenge not only for us gathered here this day, but for all America: “Now is the time for the working class to take back the economy of our nation.”
Again, let me repeat that: “Now is the time for the working class to take back the economy of our nation.”
Amid this current financial crisis we have probably trusted too much in our government to do it alone.
Wall Street brokers, bankers and CEO’s have sought their own self-interest and profit far more than the common good of people.
Economists – practitioners of that dismal science – have not proved reliable enough to bring us out of foreclosures, layoffs and higher prices.
So more and more do I imagine what it would be like for the working class to lead us out of this current economic mess that is becoming more stressful on families, more divisive in pitting Americans against one another, and more global as nations of the world get caught in the debt trap?
I imagine what would it be like to cast ourselves — working class people — into a stronger role of leadership? I would suggest that we begin by looking at God’s Word as it was proclaimed today by Gary Dollar and Bob Soutier.
In the first reading, as Saul or Paul arrives in Jerusalem, he is greeted with fear and uncertainty as people tried to figure out if he was for real. Was he really a disciple? His friend, Barnabas, introduces him to other apostles with two claims: Saul had truly seen the Lord and the Lord had spoken to him. Seeing the Lord for Saul was very real and this was not a far-fetched experience.
It applies to us as disciples as well: What is it for us to see the Lord? How can the Lord speak through us?
UNIONS WERE VISIONARY
In the tradition of the Hebrew prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and others it is the prophetic word, it is the prophetic word that led labor unions years ago to make visionary proposals that created a minimum wage, insurance for those retired or unemployed, and other labor rights. It even extended into the idea of affordable housing. The result of these efforts – it has been recently said — was “to put human dignity at the heart of public policy.” That is truly prophetic and is of God.
By contrast, now influential Catholic members of Congress are promoting agendas that undermine and even betray this proud legacy.
Some current efforts are not only renewing this legacy but are literally breaking new ground and with great imagination.
Example 1: Cheers and kudos for Dave Zimmerman and Dan Andrews as well as all the men and women of Sheet Metals Workers Local 36 on their new union hall, training center and benefits office. Local 36 is setting the pace for the meaning of green in St. Louis and use of the latest technologies.
Example 2: “Five for the Fight.” Union workers tossing an extra $5 into the kitty this past year built a fund of $165,000 to assist 460 families who had experienced unemployment. Utilities, house payments, food and medications are needs of all families, but when unemployment hits, paying for these things become a crisis.
One of the best union benefits is solidarity – brothers and sisters, workers and the unemployed, the retired and the disabled.
Example 3: The St. Louis Union Homebuilding Partnership. Nine construction trades have invested $1 million and have joined with McBride and Son to build a projected 120 new homes. This initiative stimulates the housing market, creates responsible investments, but most of all it puts people to work.
In the second reading from John’s letter, John encourages us to reassure our hearts before Christ in such a way that it gives us new confidence in God.
The questions are paramount. What in our hearts needs reassurance? Again, what can this confidence look like?
As a nation we need reassurance about this thing called “the budget.” The current one as espoused by Congressman Paul Ryan in the words of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops “will significantly worsen inequality and increase poverty and hardship and reduce opportunity.”
The dignity of every person needs reassurance and the confidence of the nation needs to be restored.
Any budget that benefits only the top 1% of Americans and leaves out the 99% is patently unjust. The proposed budget is an example where organized labor and the Church – by that I mean the whole Body of Christ — Baptists, Catholics , Disciples , Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and United Church of Christ – and joining with the Jewish Community, can all work more closely to construct a budget that is both fair and inclusive.
A second area where Americans need reassurance is rebuilding the physical infrastructure of our nation. Road, bridges, tunnels, and sewers periodically need to be reconstructed.
Public investments funding these projects provide more than periodic updates of concrete and steel. These investments also help sustain the social infrastructure represented by parks, community centers, swimming pools libraries and the like. An important element in the social infrastructure in any community is the presence of churches, synagogues and mosques. Both the physical and social infrastructure are especially important to the working class who depend upon good roads accessible, public transit, quality health care and good schools, all factors that are related to the common good.
It is all about getting people back and forth to work; it is about caring for those injured at work, it is about furthering education to produce better workers. But most of all it is about putting people to work in order for them to care for their families.
JESUS CHANGES ALL OF US
The work of Jesus is always characterized by love demonstrated in the willingness to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Jesus himself is a model of such solidarity, and he continually invites us to reflect upon these questions: For whom will I lay down my life? For what important cause will I choose to give everything?
The very relationship we have with Jesus is that of him as the vine and of ourselves as the branches. We draw life because of God’s care and pruning. The pruning process is going on right now. The sum of our current experience: it does not feel good and it is often painful.
The greater life lies in our faithful relationship to one another. The greater good lies in the hope of justice for all. The greater faith we experience is the promise of Jesus always to journey with us. Who could wish for greater solidarity? Who would not want to be part of this working class?
God bless you and your families. We’ll meet you at the union hall. And remember: “Now is the time for the working class to take back the economy of our nation.”