Labor Day is reminder of dignity of workers, Cardinal Gregory says

Washington Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory celebrates a Labor Day Mass at Our Lady Queen of the Americas in Washington Sept. 6, 2021. (CNS screen grab/YouTube, Archdiocese of Washington)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — “We are still too quick to judge a book by its cover,” Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington said at the Archdiocese of Washington’s annual Labor Day Mass.

The adage applied even in Jesus’ time, he said in his homily during the Sept. 6 Mass celebrated at Our Lady Queen of the Americas Church in Washington.

“Is this not the son of the carpenter? What therefore can we expect from him?’ That was the intent of or at least the implication of that searing question,” Cardinal Gregory said of those who were listening to Jesus, a fellow Nazarene, preach at the synagogue in the Gospel passage of St. Matthew proclaimed at the Mass.

To Jesus’ audience that day, “he was only a carpenter’s son and he ought to conduct himself more like a carpenter’s son. He was the child of a common laborer and he should have behaved as a man who came from humble origins,” the cardinal said.

“We have not advanced very far in the arena of human expectations from this scene in first-century Nazareth,” he added.

“We still tend to view and judge people by their occupation, background, their heritage — and their pasts. In addition, we often have scant appreciation for those who perform work that does not seem to be too lofty or very important.”

The cardinal said: “Workers and laborers are people with a dignity that comes not simply from what they do but inherently from who they are as God’s own reflection — as God’s children. The world still tends to impose limitations on human potential. We are still too quick to judge a book by its cover.”

He also noted that frequently people have “limited expectations and place little hope in those that we view as no more than we are — even more troubling, as less than we are. Perhaps there is an even greater danger in this attitude, and that is the ultimate tragedy.”

Cardinal Gregory suggested the people of Nazareth in Jesus’ time may have been too beat down to recognize their own value as God’s children, noting: “We judge ordinary workers as we often judge ourselves — as all too average and commonplace.”

“How wrong the folks of Jesus’ time were — and how wrong are we — when we do so. The people of Nazareth may have judged Jesus as they judged themselves as just ordinary,” he said.

“Labor Day reminds us that we must be conscious of the dignity that all workers possess, not because of the work that they do” but because it is God-given.

“Our gratitude and respect must be for all types of workers from those who are full-partners in the most prestigious law firms in Washington to those who landscape and serve as domestics, from those who work in factories and those who clean office buildings,” he added.

“Let us also pray for those who lack safe, sufficient and suitable work to support themselves and their families. We pray that the rights of all workers be honored and valued,” Cardinal Gregory said.

He also said that Catholics should be “more aware this year of the importance and generosity of those who suffer from lack of work, of those who have been first responders for those who have worked in dangerous circumstances, so we as a nation can benefit from their labors.”

The general intercessions included prayers for church and labor leaders to make decisions that honor the individual; for all workers, especially those deemed essential and who continue to labor throughout the pandemic to be kept safe from illness; for those who are underemployed or unemployed; and for all who have died, including Richard Trumka, the Catholic president of the AFL-CIO, who died Aug. 5.

Washington-area labor leaders participated in the Mass, which was livestreamed,  including Yanira Merino of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement and Clayton Sinyai, executive director of the Catholic Labor Network, which sponsored the Mass.

After Communion, Sinyai asked for “special prayers for all the workers who have been affected by COVID, and suffered a sudden interruption in employment, and had a hard time getting by in the past year and a half.”

He also asked people to pray for “essential workers who have taken a risk with their own health” to continue working.