A Letter to the Faithful of the Diocese of San José
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
On this Labor Day weekend, on which we Americans have traditionally rested from work and spent time with family and friends, often in backyard cookouts, I wish to share a few thoughts with you. I wish to reflect with you about the Lord’s Day and its focus on worship, rest, and solidarity as well as our baptismal call to live as God’s co-workers, building up the Kingdom of God through the work of our hands, minds, and spirits.
We are now half of a year into the COVID 19 pandemic and may face another half-year sheltering in place, distant from each other, in isolation from familiar networks and communities. Even as scientists and doctors search for a vaccine and a cure for the virus, we continue to pray for a timely end to this pandemic that the widespread suffering throughout the world may be alleviated.
The Dignity of Work
We have grieved with those millions of Americans, and others around the world, who have lost their jobs during this pandemic. Not only has income been lost, but dreams dashed, small businesses shuttered, and optimism diminished. For too many, a sense of purpose seems elusive.
While a job is important in helping us to provide for our families, in social networking, in helping us to build a sense of purpose and contribution to society, a job should never define us. Work (as distinct from a job), on the other hand, expresses and even builds our character, who we are. Work is an important expression of who we are as human beings. And for us who are baptized, we recognize our labor, both inside the home and outside of it, as God’s own invitation to build the Kingdom. Our human labor is a participation in God’s creative work.
Pope Francis notes, “We were created with a vocation to work.” He continues, “Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfilment” (Laudato Si’ 128). He moreover notes that “Jesus worked with his hands, in daily contact with the matter created by God, to which he gave form by his craftsmanship. It is striking that most of his life was dedicated to this task in a simple life which awakened no admiration at all: ‘Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary’ (Mk 6:3)” (LS 98)?
Pope Francis reinforces the Catholic teaching that work not only contributes to personal fulfillment, but even to our own redemption. He states, “In this way he sanctified human labour and endowed it with a special significance for our development. As Saint John Paul II taught, ‘by enduring the toil of work in union with Christ crucified for us, [a human person] in a way collaborates with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity’” (LS 98). Whenever we do God’s will, we participate in God’s redemptive work for us and all humanity. We find encouragement, then, in believing that every action of ours, whether of child care or elder care, of tending the family and the home, of contributing to the good work of small or large companies, is a way to actively participate in the Redemption Christ has won for us. Our work is God’s work for the life of the world.
St. John Paul II wrote of work as participating in and continuing God’s work of creation as well as an activity that is essential to humanity. “Work is a good thing for man – a good thing for his humanity – because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes ‘more a human being’” (Laborem Exercens 9.3).
Work during the Pandemic
You may be asking the question, “If work is so important to our human dignity and development, and even redemption, what do we say about so many persons who are out of work now or who are underemployed because of the pandemic?” A very legitimate question. Above I distinguished work from a job (or employment). I did this for an important reason. We do important work outside of our jobs or employment. I have been told countless times by married couples that marriage takes work! Raising children takes work. Tending the frail elderly or chronically ill family members takes work. When we reach out to others in charity we refer to these actions in Christian tradition as “Spiritual Works of Mercy” or “Corporal Works of Mercy.” The work of humanity goes far beyond employment and that which we do at a job.
The work that we do during this pandemic certainly requires a transition, a shift in perspective, in focus. In our families, we are called to tend to our family members – to work on building those relationships that are so important to us! As Christ’s disciples, we also recognize that our family includes brothers and sisters “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev.5:9): we are our neighbors’ keepers. In this pandemic when we must be physically separate from others, we are called to reach out to them in perhaps new and creative ways: a phone call to a neighbor, a relative or a parishioner living alone; a virtual chat with loved ones or fellow parishioners can go a long way in dispelling the isolation that plagues us in this pandemic. The Spiritual Works of Mercy involve instructing, advising, consoling and comforting, as well as forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. As one who grew up in a household of eight siblings, the spiritual works of mercy sound like a summary of family life! One of the Corporal Works of Mercy is to visit the imprisoned. There are many who are “imprisoned” in their homes because of their age or health conditions. Can we pay a virtual visit to them? A phone call? Run errands, drop off food, tend the yard?
Many in our communities have volunteered with Catholic Charities in the weekly distribution of food at several of our parishes. Some of our youth groups have organized to provide grocery shopping for the elderly in their community. What a magnificent witness! Feeding the hungry is another Corporal Work of Mercy. Others volunteer in firefighting. How grateful we are to them during the wildfire season in California! Others are helping to provide shelter to those evacuated from the fires. Providing shelter: another Corporal Work of Mercy.
We are mindful of and grateful for so many persons in our communities who risk their own health and safety by working for us – those “essential workers” in hospitals, fields, factories, grocery stores, etc. Many in our fields, food processing plants, and grocery stores have been infected by the Coronavirus. Let us not only be grateful for them because they keep food in our pantries – let us pray and advocate for them, for their protection!
Let us continue to do the work of humanity and Christianity during this pandemic. We need a more humane society, one of love and mercy! As we pray together in the words of our Eucharistic Prayer: “Open our eyes to the needs of our brothers and sisters, inspire in us words and actions to comfort those who labor and are burdened. May your Church stand as a living witness to truth and freedom, to peace and justice, that all people may be raised up to a new hope” (EPMVNIV).
Working from Home: Unintended Consequences
It has been a blessing during this pandemic that so many have been able to work from home. Those persons have been able to maintain their employment, contribute to society in various ways, and to spend more time with family. However, some of the negative consequences of working from home quickly became apparent, particularly the blurring of boundaries between work and home. To some degree both work and family life have been compromised, particularly for parents of school age children. I have been particularly concerned for parents working from home, while supervising children during their virtual schooling. This must be tremendously difficult and stressful! While many persons have made it a regular rhythm of their lives to multitask, multitasking during this pandemic seems to have reached a tipping point. It has affected people’s health, physical and mental, with the added effect of making us less effective. I do pray that our families are able to find a proper and healthy balance in their lives, particularly during this pandemic, which has brought added stress into people’s lives. And I invite us all to pray for children and adults whose home environment may expose them to danger, to the possibility of neglect or abuse, even to food insecurity.
Worship during the Pandemic: Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy
As multitasking at home has become part and parcel of our culture and lives, I wonder if it has affected our sense of the sacred and our commitment to keeping the Lord’s Day as a time of worship, of rest, and of solidarity – particularly as we have shifted to on-line worship during the pandemic. While we are all members of a multitasking generation, I am offering this Labor Day message as an opportunity for us to reflect collectively on how to make time and space in our busy lives for the sacred – for connecting with God and with the Body of Christ, the Church.
While this is not always the case, there are moments when your child, your spouse, a dear friend, or even a stranger, need your undivided attention. We are better for granting that time and space to someone, listening, acting. Our soul is enlarged in making space for someone, allowing them to tell their story, to get a weight off their shoulders, to connect with someone who cares. As Christians we are better when we devote time and space to the sacred, to connecting with God and with our Community, the Church. We worship not because God needs our praise, but because worship confirms and reminds us of our filial relationship with the God who created us, redeemed us, and sustains us with his love and grace, and our familial relationship with the Body of Christ, the Church.
The Lord’s Day
As Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday and thus began a new age in human history, an age of hope, of grace, of redemption, Sunday is referred to as the Lord’s Day. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that the “Sunday celebration of the Lord’s Day and his Eucharist is at the heart of the Church’s life” (2177). Sunday is a day of worship, of rest, and of solidarity, a day we keep holy by prayer, works of charity, and devoting time apart from work to nurturing the vital relationships in our lives.
Beginning on March 14, 2020, when we suspended public liturgies in the Diocese of San José because of the pandemic, I dispensed Catholics in the Diocese from the obligation to attend Mass until further notice. Even with the limited opening of public Masses outdoors, that dispensation remains in effect until further notice.
When I issued a general dispensation from Sunday Mass, I encouraged our parishioners to follow the livestreamed Masses on-line and to pray from their homes. Many have continued to do so, and others have begun to return to in-person Masses outdoors in our parishes. I am most grateful to our clergy and parish leaders who have adjusted logistics to make this new setting possible.
While the dispensation lifts the obligation, there is a fundamental need as people of faith to connect with God and his Church. St. Augustine’s prayer never gets old: “O Lord, you made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” This brief, insightful prayer, hints to us that worship, rest and solidarity are fundamentally connected. Worship helps us confirm our relationship with our God and the body of believers, the Church. It also helps us mitigate restlessness. There are few things more reassuring and determinative of mental and physical health to children than to know that they are loved. As children of God, we need that connection to God in worship, in sacred moments, so that we too can be reassured in mind, body, and spirit. Below I will offer some suggestions for worship and maintaining our spiritual lives during this pandemic.
With regard to rest and leisure, the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes the following: “Just as God ‘rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done,’ human life has a rhythm of work and rest. The institution of the Lord’s Day helps everyone enjoy adequate rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social, and religious lives” (2184). Thus, the Lord’s Day is not only about worship, but about cultivating proper relationships with others – our family, our community. Works of mercy are also especially appropriate on the Lord’s Day, for these reasons. Thus, we confirm our relationships with our loved ones, our neighbors, our communities.
Some Practical Suggestions
During this pandemic, let us acknowledge our hunger for the Eucharist. Here are some practical suggestions for keeping the Lord’s Day during this pandemic:
- Set aside a specific time and even space for prayer; Identifying a particular place and time for prayer helps us to mark those moments and spaces as sacred;
- Set aside times for family conversation, perhaps at a Sunday meal;
- Make time to call friends and relatives to check in on them;
- Connect with your parish, either virtually or in person, at Sunday Mass;
- Set aside time for quiet meditation; just five minutes in the morning can make a big difference in how you respond to events throughout your day; it can help your attitude, your disposition to others, to challenging situations;
- Pray before meals;
- Make time for works of mercy, spiritual or corporal; they are beneficial not only to those to whom we reach out, but to us, as well;
- As Christ is really present in his Word, parishioners find nourishment in reading and reflecting over the Scripture readings for Sunday Mass; face-to-face or virtual conversations might include sharing those words or phrases from Scripture that touched our heart;
- As Christ is really present in the members of his Body gathered, parishioners find nourishment in encountering Christ in the parish community as well as in those most vulnerable among us; as this Sunday’s Gospel reminds us: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (MT 18:20); using every means of communication with which we are blessed, we reach out to others;
- Even though we may be unable to celebrate the Mass every Sunday, we may still keep faithful to two patterns which are the foundation of the Eucharist: thanksgiving and intercession. Sunday is the ideal time to reflect on the blessings and experiences of the previous week, and to offer thanks and praise to God for the grace of these divine encounters.
- As faithful disciples, we then turn our thoughts from thanksgiving to intercession as we pray for the needs of our own Parish and Diocese to the needs of all brothers and sisters oppressed throughout the world.
- And we recall that every Mass ultimately leads to mission. Before the sacred time of the Lord’s Day draws to a close, we take a moment to commit ourselves to the particular mission which God sets before us, to the work that is ours to do in our family, our work place, our neighborhood, our community in union with the Risen Christ as he continually works to bring the redemption of the world to fulfillment.
Yours in Christ,
Most Rev. Oscar Cantú