Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

Labor Day 10 Years After 9/11

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The image of the collapsing towers in lower Manhattan continues to haunt our history and our psyche. The anniversary of the terrorist attacks on our country falls this year a week after we celebrate work and workers on Labor Day. If we move beyond the image of collapsing buildings, we realize that 9/11 is a story of workers. If we begin with people, as we always should, we meet again and remember prayerfully those who went to work that day in those office buildings: the executives and secretaries, the accountants and analysts, the building cleaners and repairmen. We remember even more vividly those whose work brought them into collapsing buildings: firefighters, police, medical personnel, priests.

The church tells us that human work is a way of participating in God’s creation. Work is holy also because it makes us participants, sharers, in the work of Christ. On the cross on Calvary hung a carpenter who had worked with his hands and who finished the work his Father had given him: our salvation. Hard work can be a joy, when we recognize its full dimensions.

Work is also a way of making a living, of supporting those who depend on us, of giving our time and effort and expertise so that others might be able to eat and be sheltered, to be cared for in this life and prepared for the next. The church’s social teaching has emphasized the family wage, because work is social, as is all of human life. The church’s encouragement of unionization of workers recognized that workers, one by one, were at a disadvantage in protecting their families. The church continues to encourage workers to form unions, but to form unions that are not allied with forces that destroy families, that support abortion and other heinous crimes in the name of false “rights.”

This Labor Day finds many people out of work. In the economic recession, jobs have been eliminated. Since work is social, so is unemployment. People without work lose their homes, and their families can more easily come apart, as can our entire society. Many of our parishes have set up agencies of various sorts to help people find work. As a more immediate response, the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese has increased its aid to working families. One out of every three residents of the city of Chicago is touched, directly or indirectly, by a program administered by Catholic Charities. This past summer, Charities served over 450,000 meals to children in over 200 sites within Cook and Lake counties. The food stamp program unfortunately must now enroll more families than ever, and Catholic Charities Tax Assistance Program helped 1,656 families receive over $3.3 million in tax refunds. Charities has reduced its staff in the Homelessness Prevention Call Center because its just does not have money to help pay the rent of those who are now calling for help. When families cannot afford to take their children to the doctor, Catholic Charities has expanded its health screening and back to school testing, including testing for HIV. The pattern of necessary response to family needs is a telling indicator of a society that can no longer afford its own people.

If the economy is for people, and not vice versa, the economy itself is not working as it should. Behind the terrible economic and social statistics is a collapsing vision of what it means to live together as a people. Pope Benedict XVI has explained: “The earthly city is promoted not merely by relationships of rights and duties, but to an even greater and more fundamental extent by relationships of gratuitousness, mercy and communion” (Charity in Truth, 6). These are the relationships that create a genuinely common good.

The common good is the goal of the economic and political orders, but it is a goal that cannot be reached by excluding God or by worshiping a false God. It makes a difference if one worships a God who tells us to forgive our enemies or one who tells us to get even with them. As we remember those who were killed on 9/11 10 years ago, we should come to a new recognition that forgiveness is essential to living together in peace. Forgiveness is not forgetfulness nor does it deny the power of evil. We have lived too close to evil to paper it over with platitudes. Forgiveness shapes our lives and makes social peace possible when we ask God for the strength to change the pattern of our lives together, to heal us and make us whole. Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies. When they are also able to pray for us, we will live in peace.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Archbishop of Chicago