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Chaplain’s Corner – Fr. Frank’s Labor Day Sunday 2012 Sermon

Father Frank Cloherty sailed through his first Labor Day weekend as Guild Chaplain. On September 2nd, he celebrated his first televised Labor Day Sunday Mass at Boston’s Channel 7 for Catholic TV.  The following morning, he delivered the Invocation at the Greater Boston Labor Council’s Labor Day Breakfast at the Park Plaza and had an up-close, head-table view of this year’s candidates and speakers.

by Father Francis Cloherty

The Sisters of Jesus Crucified are an order of religious women founded around 1900. Their original ministry was to orphans and families who had lost husband and fathers in the coal mines of Western Pennsylvania.  Currently, I serve on a committee with some of the sisters in Brockton (MA). We are researching their origins and history.  Sister Elizabeth, 95 years young, is a member of this committee.

At one of our recent meetings, Sister Elizabeth told a story of her growing up in that area in the early 1900’s  One memory she carries is of being told of her grandfather’s death in the 1890’s.  Her grandmother found out that her husband had died when a mining company vehicle pulled up to her home with her husband’s body in the back. The company representative told her there had been a cave-in in the mines. He then placed the body on the front porch–and drove away. As far as mine owners were concerned that was the end of their responsibilty to her and her children.

In 1891, a few years before that event, Pope Leo XIII wrote an encyclical letter, Rerum Novarum (Of New Things). The Pope and the Vatican were deeply concerned over the issues emerging from the new economic and industrial situation developing in Europe and the United States. His particular concern was what he called “the abounding wealth among a very small number and destitution among the masses in the working class (RN #1).  He also warned of the danger of conflict and unrest in society if great disparities in income and wealth were allowed to persist (RN #28).

This letter called for a recognition of the natural rights of workers to form associations to secure terms of wages, hours and conditions from their employers (RN #69 & 72). He also called for protection of unions by the state (RN #75).

Throughout the gospels, Jesus condemns what I will call superficial or surface religion. He calls for a faith that is more than empty words and is truly incarnational, a faith that is real and active.  Faith for Him was more than washed hands and all the right words.

Cardinal John O’Connor, the former Archbishop of New York, summed it up all rather well in one of his Labor Day Masses, when he said:

“This must be the hallmark of  orgnized labor in our country. We must do everything well. We must do everything as we are required to do, to the very best of our ability. We must treat people as made in the Image and Likeness of God–everyone without exception: employer, employee, rich, poor, whatever color, whatever ethnic background, men and women (must be treated as human persons made in the Image and Likeness of God.)

That is the beginning of true bargaining in justice. We must recognize the sacredness of every human person…This is ultimately what unionism and collective bargaining is about–to try to bring justice, but justice to all, not just either to the ‘haves’ or to the ‘have nots,’–justice to everybody.

At the Eucharist, we give thanks for all the gifts that we have received from the Father of Light. Today, we give thanks for the imaginiation of Pope Leo XIIII and the work of our church to promote justice and peace in the workplace.”

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