By Fr. Glenn Jones
I hate shopping. A lot of people are like that … exacerbated these days by the fact that you can order pretty much everything online and have it delivered to your door. But … I’d never been to a Costco before, so yesterday I thought I’d do a little reconnaissance to see if they had anything that I could use. Uhhhh … wow. Just … wow. I’d been to Sam’s before, but … dang!
I couldn’t help but recall videos of foreigners from impoverished countries entering our stores and being utterly flabbergasted … or suspicious, wondering if it was a propaganda “show” store. Nope; these types of stores are about in every even moderately large city in the U.S.—not just one, but often many of them … not even to mention the behemoth Amazon.com, eBay, etc. (check out the distribution center they’re building off west I-40 out of Albuquerque). Especially when you’ve lived overseas, it really gets you thinking about how blessed we are (at least materially) living in this nation…
…and yet also thinking about our brothers and sisters in other nations who have so much less.
Whence comes this bounty of ours? Well, whence comes virtually all material prosperity? A hint: what do we celebrate in the beginning of every September? That’s right, boys and girls: Labor Day. All of that bounty on all those shelves throughout our nation did not pop up by magic, but are the fruits of human labor. And while Labor Day’s origins are largely connected with labor union movements, it seems appropriate to celebrate ALL productive labor, as labor contributes to the increasing common good of society when utilized wisely.
Certainly we Christians and our Jewish brethren should celebrate labor, as even in the Garden of Eden story, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it”. (Genesis 2:15) Thus, the Catholic Catechism teaches: “Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation…both with and for one another. Hence work is a duty…” (para. 2427)…referencing St. Paul: “If anyone will not work, let him not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10) Also: “…by the care taken for the education of his family, by conscientious work, and so forth, man participates in the good of others and of society.” (para. 1914)
But, of course, the ability to work is essential. Thus, we who are blessed with sufficient work have not only a duty to support ourselves and our families, but also to help those who simply cannot work, or cannot obtain sufficient work to support themselves.
Beholding our seemingly limitless bounty, whatever your politics about the southern border situation, it’s hard to blame the people themselves trying to come over. Who among us would honestly say in their place: “Yes…I and/or my family are impoverished and possibly in danger from war, gangs, etc., but we’ll remain content in our current situation rather than intrude rudely on our rich northern neighbors.” Yeah, right. If we saw our kids hungry, we’d be right there among ‘em.
And currently it would be really a blessing to behold the doubtless wonder of the Afghan immigrants coming over … escaping from the Taliban as the U.S. departs their homeland. Imagine the wonder in the eyes of children, women, men who have known little more than hard-scrabble existence as they walk into their first Costco! In some ways I think we’d be no little ashamed, for no doubt they will think after the initial shock: “So many people have so little…and they have all this!??”
And so … perhaps on this Labor Day weekend/month/year/century, we should not remember only laborers, but even more so those who cannot labor … cherishing the gift of labor, as Pope Francis said: “Work is fundamental to the dignity of a person. Work…’anoints’ us with dignity, fills us with dignity, makes us similar to God, who has worked and still works, who always acts…”. And in helping others, where is our limit? At what point do we arbitrarily deign: “Well…I’ve helped enough”? We must each answer this for ourselves…but it’s also what we will have to answer at the throne of God. Will He be impressed…or not?
I cannot but recall the final scenes of the movie “Schindler’s List” when the European war finally ended, and Otto Schindler’s Jewish workers were no longer in danger of execution. Schindler, who had saved so many lives by his efforts, did not revel in the knowledge of those whom he had saved, but was filled with self-accusing remorse for what he had NOT done…not sold the gold pin, the car, etc., to save at least one more family…one more child…one more life.
Will we be confident in what we’ve done for the poor and needy when we walk the gauntlet of the angels and saints to the throne of God? Will they look at us with admiration…or disgust? This is something that each of us must contemplate. What is “enough” for the support of ourselves and our families, and, on the flip side, to help those in need? When we see the tragedies of the disasters in Haiti and Afghanistan and upon their peoples—or even in disasters in our own country like hurricanes Karina and Ida—will the material bounty we withheld excuse, or rather accuse, us? I point no fingers; I’ll have plenty to answer for myself. But…I will have to answer, and that understanding is a never-relenting goad to conscience.
This is a good opportunity for a plug. There is an urgent call for professional social service and health volunteers to assist the rush of Afghan refugees—men, women and children—at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, NM. It is requested that volunteers help for at least two weeks. Those who would like to assist can email email@example.com or call 410-340-2290. Perhaps you will be privileged to behold that wonder and gratitude of the less fortunate. May God help you discern, and bless all your efforts.
“If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead… Even the demons believe—and shudder.” (James 2:15-19)
Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.