Labor Day is upon us and brings with it the unofficial conclusion of the summer. It is a day in our nation when we reflect upon the importance of labor by taking time off from work to be with our families and friends, especially before we begin a new year of work. Memorial Day brought with it the unofficial beginning of the summer season with more relaxed days and times for vacations. Labor Day reminds us that work is an essential part of our being through which we spend our time and build up our families and communities. As Pope Francis has reminded us, "We were created with a vocation to work. ... Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment."
Labor Day, always the first Monday in September, is a holiday particular to our nation. It was a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It recognizes the contributions which workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our great nation. Labor Day has been in existence for more than 100 years within our country. It is a particular reminder to us that the right to work is something which is natural to every person especially since it is part of the very nature of our creation. In our country, so dedicated to giving every person the dignity of labor, we have a particular concern for those who find themselves without work and always do our best to provide this right.
This year, the Labor Day weekend will bring with it a special celebration in the life of the Church. On Sunday, September 4, Pope Francis will formally canonize Mother Teresa of Calcutta in a much anticipated celebration at the Vatican. Mother Teresa stands as a great example of one who dedicated her life to the poorest of the poor who many times found themselves without the ability to work and support themselves, especially in Calcutta, India. She is also a great example of one who gave her life to work in a manner in which God created us with a purpose in our being which reflects His very life. The biblical narrative's first description of God is as a worker who brought the world into existence with man and woman as the pinnacle of His creation. God handed over to them the ability to cultivate the earth to continue His work. God literally worked for us and gave us the gift of work for each other. Mother Teresa's work for humanity was much in keeping with that of God Himself.
Mother Teresa, baptized as Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, was born on August 26, 1910, to a devoutly Catholic family. Her parents were of Albanian descent and her father was a man with great respect for work as a construction contractor and a trader of medicines and other goods. They were deeply involved in the life of their local church as well as in city politics as proponents of Albanian independence. Agnes’ father died when she was only eight years old and she became extremely close to her mother who instilled in her a deep commitment to caring for others. She would invite the poor of her city to dine with her family. It was at an early age that Agnes was attracted to religious life and at the age of eighteen joined the Sisters of Loretto in Dublin, Ireland, where she took the name Sister Mary Teresa of Lisieux. On September 10, 1946, Sister Teresa was riding in a train from Calcutta for a retreat, when she said Christ spoke to her and told her to abandon teaching to work in the slums of Calcutta, assisting the city's poorest and most infirm people. It was from there in October, 1950, that she went on to found a new congregation, the Missionaries of Charity, which grew quickly due to her devotion and love for the poor. By the time of Mother Teresa's death on September 5, 1997, the Missionaries of Charity members were more than four thousand – in addition to thousands more lay volunteers – with six hundred and ten Foundations in one hundred and twenty-three countries around the world. Mother Teresa's labor of love for the poor made her the friend, not only of the poor and abandoned, but also of the leaders and the well known of the entire world.
As we celebrate Mother Teresa's canonization during the Labor Day weekend, she is an extraordinary model of compassion, understanding and love for the dignity of every person, from the moment of conception until natural death. Her labor of love was one that recognized the right of all people to labor in imitation of the Creator Himself. She, not out of pity but out of love, gave herself to those who could not do for themselves. She found great joy in the dignity of every person and stands in our world today, so torn by violence, hatred, prejudice and political unrest, as a person who made a difference – not with great political prowess but with love, pure and simple. She stated that she had no role in politics and that her role as a religious was to leave that to the faithful laity. However, she had no difficulty proclaiming the truth by expressing what the faithful should be seeking in terms of political leadership. Her wisdom is a good one for us today in facing a significant election within our nation. A difficult decision is before us.
Mother Teresa was a very vocal proponent of the sanctity of life on behalf of the unborn. Much in keeping with her devotion to the vulnerable, she gave herself unswervingly to the most vulnerable – an unborn child in a mother's womb. An example of her very inspiring words are found in an address she gave at the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in September, 1994. In speaking of the need for peace within the world, she stated: "I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?" At the conclusion of her address she spoke directly to us in the United States: "If we remember that God loves us, and that we can love others as He loves us, then America can become a sign of peace for the world. From here, a sign of care for the weakest of the weak – the unborn child – must go out to all the world. If you become a burning light of justice and peace in the world, then really you will be true to what the founders of this country stood for."
In keeping with her commitment to the sanctity of life, Mother Teresa was also a vocal proponent of the poor, the immigrant and the homeless. Since every person is made in the image and likeness of God, every person is deserving of a home and of the ability to mature as that person. For Mother Teresa, there were no barriers which prevented people from getting the care and nourishment which were their due. Such basic rights were not limited to any group or individuals. She was a strong proponent for the immigrant and when visiting Los Angeles in 1989 spoke of the plight of immigrants. When asked her thoughts about immigration law that makes it a crime to hire immigrants or offer them shelter, Mother Teresa expressed: "Is it not breaking the law of God to keep them on the street? They were created by the same loving hand of God."
Mother Teresa will be a saint and her example and words are those of a saint very much needed by our world. As our nation celebrates Labor Day, giving recognition to the right of every person made in the image and likeness of God, may her living example be for us one in which we appreciate the labor to which God has called us and the critical needs which face our great nation. Mother Teresa calls us to a conversion and it is that conversion which will make the difference so needed in our nation and in our world.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
August 26, 2016