By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
After God set the world in motion through the work of creation, he fashioned man and woman from the dust of the earth in the divine image and likeness and entrusted them with the task of developing this grand handiwork. Then and now, God intends that we not lose sight of his divine presence when we apply our talents to building a world that gives glory to the creator, dignity to human life everywhere and a profound awe for the beauty of our planet. For further motivation and inspiration, we, as disciples of the Son of God, recall the words of sacred scripture that proclaim, “for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible … all things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:15-17) Through faith we know that love is our origin, love is our constant calling and love is our fulfillment in heaven.
We also know that for as long as we live there is much to be done. Perhaps this Labor Day more than ever reminds us that throughout our lives the work of building and rebuilding is constant.
Recall the sobering yet hopeful words from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning with labor pains together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons and daughters, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:19-23)
Are we ever groaning these days, as the pandemic grinds on in many corners of our society and world, whether it be over our children, academically and developmentally, or the loss of life and the suffering that ensues. Considerable rebuilding will be necessary.
Blessed Mother Teresa understood well the lifetime task of building a religious community to serve the dire needs of the present moment, and to endure for generations to come in a world where there are no guarantees. In a poem attributed to her entitled, “Anyway” she mused, “What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.”
Clearly, what she is saying is that when necessary, rebuild and create something better. We can apply her wisdom to the destructive drives inherent in humanity or to the overwhelming power of nature. It seems that wherever we turn, too many are caught between a rock and a hard place, Scylla and Charybdis, the rocky shoals or the churning whirlpool.
On the one hand, there is the destructive power of nature in the virus silently stalking, in raging fires, in howling hurricanes, in unforeseen flooding or in heaving earthquakes. On the other hand, destruction boils over from the abyss of human nature, alienated from our loving creator, in acts of violence, terrorism and war. What once was, is no more and people are pressed to choose. Look ahead and rebuild in one form or another or look backward and wallow in inertia. The Book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that in the cycle of living, “there is a time to break down, and a time to build up.” (3:3) As God’s children we want to be busy about living.
This weekend is the 20th anniversary of 9/11 that obliterated many lives, destroyed iconic structures, wreaked havoc upon our nation’s psyche, and unleashed a 20-year war whose official ending is still spilling blood. Indeed, all of creation groans. Yet, this crisis immediately revealed the goodness and courage of first responders and many others who put aside concern for self in the hope of rescuing their neighbor and the stranger. It took 14 years for the majestic One World Center to be built on the spot of the Twin Towers that were destroyed. It will take a lifetime or more for those who directly experienced this horror to heal. We pray that the work of reconciliation will never cease.
The Son of God, the one through whom and for whom all creation came to be, revealed life’s inevitable vulnerability on Calvary. Yet, on Easter Sunday the dawn from on high broke upon us and we who walk in the shadow of death, now walk by faith and labor with a purpose everyday of our lives, because Christ lives.
In the big questions about our lives and in our daily and familiar tasks, may we know that in God our lives are a labor of love, whether we are building something new with great confidence, or rebuilding in the face of loss. In the prologue of St. John, we know whence the power comes to regain our footing and our hope. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God, all things were made through him. In him was life, and the life was the light for all. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”