A Call to Service

by Fr. Justin Huang
Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Malachi 3:19-20A

2 Thessalonians 3:7-12

Luke 21:5-19

You know how we all say we’re busy? Can we be honest and admit that, despite our busy schedules, we still waste time? One survey found that seven in ten people admit to wasting time at work, mostly on social media, then online shopping, browsing travel, sports, and entertainment, and just scrolling down pages with no purpose (Michael Hyatt, Free to Focus, 212).

I’ll admit that I waste time. Whenever I have something difficult to do, such as writing a homily, I finish first everything else on my to-do list. It’s similar to that feeling you get when you go to the office: “I don’t feel like working. I think I’ll go around and say ‘Hi’ to everyone.” We avoid hard work by distracting ourselves, and sometimes because we’re lazy.

The Second Reading helps us understand the Church’s theology of work. In the year 50 A.D., St. Paul founded a Christian community in the Greek city of Thessalonica. However, some of these new Christians struggled with the idea that Jesus was coming again for the final judgment. Believing that He was coming very soon, they stopped working, thinking there was no point. St. Paul corrected them about this in his first letter, but had to repeat his teaching in his second, which we read today.

He says, “Brothers and sisters, you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labour we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate” (2 Thess 3:7-9). We know from the Acts of the Apostles that St. Paul was a tent-maker (18:3), and would do this to earn money while at the same time preaching the Gospel! He could have said that his work was preaching, which is true, but he showed them and now us how important it is to earn our food and not burden anyone.

St. Paul was a worker like Jesus. St. John Paul II says that Jesus was “a man of work” (Laborem Exercens, 26). What was His trade? Carpentry, like his foster father, St. Joseph. Think about this: God Himself belonged to the “working world, he has appreciation and respect for human work.” This cuts right against our laziness, procrastination, and excuses. Jesus said, “My Father is working still, and I am working… The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing” (Jn 5:17,19). Jesus’ Gospel is a “gospel of work.”

St. Paul makes work a command: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: ‘Anyone unwilling to work should not eat’” (2 Thess 3:10). The Catechism of the Catholic Church, commenting on this command, says work is a duty (2427), because we’re made in the image of God Who creates, and so we’re called to create.

This is a fascinating point: Only humans work. Animals do not work (Laborem Exercens, 1). “Sometimes, animals act as if they are working, but they are really only following the dictates of their nature. Beavers build dams. They do so because they are beavers, and beavers build dams. They don’t think, ‘Yeah, but I’d rather be on a beach in Mexico with my girlfriend’ while they’re doing it” (Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life, 164). By work, we mean a rational activity, that’s why it’s specifically human; we get to choose to work! We can praise God for His gifts to us, improve society, and grow in our humanity!

I told you a year and a half ago that, when I was in my late teens, I had an experience that wrapped many lessons into one. It was around midnight, my brothers were at UBC studying, and I drove from Richmond to pick them up. While driving home, they fell asleep, and I had a sudden sense of responsibility and protection come over me: “I better drive safely so that nothing happens to my brothers.”

I loved that experience: I was working, serving, and taking responsibility. And I wanted more of that. Upon deeper reflection, I realized I was becoming more mature. Work and service are beautiful! They make us more perfectly human.

I said something similar to this on Oct. 20, 2019: If we are able to contribute but freely choose not to because of laziness, we’re like perpetual children, and feel useless and pathetic. On the other hand, when we choose to contribute to the best of our ability, and St. Basil the Great, commenting on today’s passage, says one’s labour should be in proportion to one’s strength (Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, 121), then there’s an experience of satisfaction.

Not everyone can work, sometimes because of mental or physical limitations, and there’s no sin in that; and when we can’t find a job, there’s no shame in that. In cases like these, we praise God by our human dignity, by our ability to receive, and by trying to find work.

Finally, St. Paul says, “For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (2 Thess 3:11-12).

Idleness is not the same as rest. As we discussed in the summer, rest helps us achieve our final end of praising God; it renews and allows us to enjoy the good things He’s given us. Idleness means we’re avoiding contributing.

For example, some people say taking social media breaks during work is like people taking a walk. That’s only partially true, because taking a walk is more rejuvenating, whereas social media breaks just interrupt our focus on doing good work (Hyatt, 213).

There are a few lessons for us here. We’ve been talking about Made for Mission these past three months because we’re all made to serve, and bring people back to God the Father.

1) Everyone’s called to serve. And it starts at home. In some families, work is shared unevenly between mother and father. It sometimes happens that a mother will work all day, either at home or in a professional job, and then come home and take care of the kids, while the father is disengaged. This pattern continues in their sons and daughters, where the girls naturally help around the house while the boys are like a young Justin Huang, a lazy kid. We must all contribute to the best of our ability.

2) Put kids to work. It’s important for them to realize that money comes from work and so not feel entitled. Of course, work should be age appropriate; don’t get your 5 year old to mow the lawn. In the real world, you only get paid when you work, and so we can pay our children for certain work. Hence, they can learn to use money wisely, and appreciate the value of things. That’s why some parents believe giving an allowance isn’t a good idea. Kids may learn to spend an allowance but won’t appreciate it.

3) Everyone’s called to serve their parish family, insofar as it’s possible. This is your parish and your responsibility. While it’s considered normal that we come to Mass, which is the most important, and contribute financially, which is also important, God has also given us talents and gifts that are meant for service!

I think of Ante, who helped us drill holes for better water drainage, using his tools and experience for free. I think of Kathy, who does gardening for us; Sean, who’s giving us marketing communications advice; Aubrey, who’s trying to get my homilies onto a podcast. The majority of our choirs are teenagers and those in their 20s; and I love seeing Leo, Garvan, and Alex do photography. I’m personally thankful for everyone’s service and all of our unsung heroes.

Years ago, one of our great Faith Study leaders, Alex Djauhari, was hesitant about leading a group in Faith Studies. What changed his mind was a truth he heard about the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is earth’s lowest elevation on land, some 430 metres below sea level. Water only flows in, and no water ever exits. There’s so much salt there that no plants or animals can live in it.

That’s how it is in life: If we only receive when we’re meant to give, then we’ll die. The only way to live and grow is to serve. When Alex heard this, it convinced him to lead Faith Studies. And thank God! He’s one of our best leaders, and has led 14 rounds, almost always doing two groups in each round. Over a hundred men have benefitted from his service.

One of the goals towards which we should move is that everyone who’s able serves concretely in one way. We’ll have to improve our leadership, and I’d ask everyone to think how you could serve in the future. Is there any area in which you could help? Do you have any talent or interest that may help the parish achieve its vision? I’m inviting you to share in the joy of serving God and others! It’s not for me, but for others and their growth, and for yours as well.

In the bulletin today are ministries that are inviting people to share in their joy of serving! Please take a quick look and pray about it. The right call may not come immediately but over many months.

St. John Paul II wrote so beautifully on the dignity of work partially because, when he was 20 years old in Poland, in 1940, under Soviet communist rule, he was forced to work in a stone quarry and a water purification plant. He learned first-hand what hard work was like. And he learned about the dignity of the other workers, their families, and living situations. Two years later, he joined the underground seminary while still working there.

Here’s the beautiful part for us today. When at work, he brought his books to study, to prepare to be a holy priest, and the other workers, so generous themselves, said, “‘We’ll keep watch: you go ahead and read.’ This happened especially during the night shifts. They would often say: ‘You go and take a break, we’ll keep an eye open’” (St. John Paul II, Gift and Mystery, 20-22). Because of their generosity and hard work, they allowed that young man to train and eventually become the pope. Through their service, they helped form the future pope, who, when the time came, helped bring down communism, and free millions and millions of people. That’s what happens when everyone does their part.

God is calling us all to do something similar. That’s how we become like Jesus Christ, a man of work.