THE TELEVISION news this day has several stories involving workers: a coal miners’ strike in one country;
after an earthquake men buried alive in a gold mine in another; thousands laid off by a multi-national so the company can cut costs and increase the dividends to stock-holders; and yet another series of tales from the former USSR of workers, teachers, doctors, and so forth, not having been paid in months.
Stories too: of human beings hiding in the containers on great ships, for weeks at a time, seeking to make their way into the country, in hopes of a better life.
Elsewhere, to punish and control the neighbouring nation, one country periodically closes its border so those workers who daily cross over to earn bread are kept from work, their families without bread.
How many hours have I spent in the confessional listening to the exhausted, frustrated, men and women, who feel so powerless before the corporate giants, or even just in face of the foreman, or others with power over their daily bread.
During the almost two years I worked for that company which supplied contract workers, I would work from the highest towers in the financial district to inside a print-plant six stories below ground.
I would work in stocks and bonds, accounting, as a person asking questions for a polling company, bureaucrat for an engineering firm, a folder and binder in a print shop — added to my experiences over the years as a social worker, postman, lumberjack, tailor, working in a laundry, free-lance writing, dj, some months as a mechanic, time as a farmer, even time doing stoop labour of seasonal workers around the world — each work experience a gathered fragment of insight and understanding into what it means for men and women to be workers.
My heart believes part of the greatness of Pope John Paul II as shepherd is he too has the heart, hands, bent back, of a worker.
Only a priest who has known hard labour could have written this:
( In Memory of a Fellow Worker )
He wasn’t alone. His muscles grew into the flesh of the crowd,
energy their pulse, as long as they held a hammer,
as long as his feet felt the ground.
And a stone smashed his temple
and cut through his heart’s chamber.
They took his body, and walked a silent line.
Toil still lingered about him, a sense of wrong.
They wore grey blouses, boots ankle-deep in mud.
In this they showed the end.
How violently his time halted: the pointers on the low-voltage
Dials jerked, then dropped to zero again.
White stone now within him, eating into his being,
taking over enough of him to turn him into stone.
Who will lift up that stone, unfurl his thoughts again
under the cracked temples? So plaster cracks on the wall.
They laid him down, his back on a sheet of gravel.
His wife came, worn out with worry; his son returned from school.
Should his anger now flow into the anger of others?
It was maturing in him through its own truth and love.
Should he be used by those who come after,
deprived of substance, unique and deeply his own?
The stones on the move again: a wagon bruising the flowers.
Again the electric current cuts deep into walls.
But the man has taken with him the world’s inner structure,
where the greater anger, the higher explosion of love. [cn]
Yes, I watch the television news from time to time, especially watching for stories of workers from across the world.
Jesus, God-Incarnate, spent most of His time on this earth as a worker.
Priests MUST have a special love and passion for, a particularly acute attentiveness and willingness to serve, those who work.
I recall one lunch hour going to the trading floor, that place of shouting, gesticulating, ulcer spawning, greed slacking-enhancing ante-chamber to the actual power over peoples — multi-national corporations.
The place where you could become wealthy beyond one’s ability to consume — or even quickly loose more money in an instant, more than the average human being can even conceive of.
This was a place – or rather this had become our culture — of greed and death where you can no longer assume a job for your entire working life — where human beings are declared as redundant faster than a technology becomes outmoded — stocks having replaced sweat as a the measure of a man.
No longer actually coins or paper or even a plastic card — rather increasingly a series of data on some electronic network — gone the clink of coin dropped into a man’s calloused palm at day’s end, gone the pay packet handed a woman as the store closes of a Friday evening — indeed gone the worker’s weekend — the believer’s day of rest — for money demands we never slow down, never stop, twisting in our constant search for more, even as the world turns, as if the earth were turning about looking itself for a place to rest.
I watched the relentless rush from right to left — globally from east to west — of the endless ‘ ticker-tape’ electronic spew of data — symbols and numbers assuring those on the winning end, discouraging those who’d misjudged — of fortune to be made, fortune now lost.
Not a single human face upon the ‘ big board ‘, not a single thought that this frenzy of buying and selling affected the dignity of real human beings at the end of the day as they were ‘ downsized ‘ while the cost of bread rose, interest on their mortgage rose, the corner store closed because the big box store a few blocks over now controlled things.
Money, money, money.
For thirty pieces of it you can buy and sell the Innocent One.
I returned to my office after that lunch time visit to the trading floor, returned to my work transferring billions in stocks and bonds from one buyer to another, one seller to another, and watched one town rejoice while another sank deeper into emptiness.
Something stirred in my heart that end of day as I was putting things away at my desk.
My heart saw the disposable worker, the frenetic trader, the corporate captain, the holder of stocks as not unlike myself — each of us wondering who and why, from whence to where, and fearing the answer as much as the question.
I understand now what my heart was seeing, and feeling, as a fragment of love –but I quickly dismissed it.
The Holy Spirit would have to prod deeper before I would look into the light, listen to what He was speaking to my heart.
But it was another fragment and they were — no doubt by Our Blessed Mother — being gathered into the basket of my heart.
Money, to the degree that I was making it in those days, became a problem for me for a time.
It became something of a burden, especially as I blithely walked past the seemingly constantly growing number of homeless and panhandlers.
Initially I was determined to cling to my new found money, after all I needed things, didn’t I. Besides if I gave to one person, what about the next. And the next.
Then Lent came and my heart was moved from incipient greed to a renewed awareness of charity.
I began to understand that what I was experiencing as a burden – money – was in fact a treasure and that for virtually the first time in my life I was in a position to be truly generous.
I began to make sure I always had some coins in my pocket. True, I could not give to everyone but once every day I could give to someone.
For several months then my life became a rather comfortable, if somewhat insular, existence.
I had my daily job routine; stressful though it was which often included attending Mass in the worker’s chapel. There were the evenings with my companion, weekends with friends in the various bars, theatres, money with which to indulge my passion for books, the time, the security of a comfortable home in which to read.
Money for fine dining, art galleries, time to write poetry, essays, to travel in comfort whenever I went to visit my spiritual father.
There was a dichotomy however which could not long be ignored between the orthodox true teachings being placed in my heart by my spiritual father and the advice being given me by priests I consulted in the city whenever I would approach the sacrament of confession and confess sins such as greed or my disordered relationship.
The city priests assured me that if I was, as they said ‘basically’, monogamous, there was nothing wrong with the way I was living.
In the depths of my heart I knew they were not speaking truth, just as surely as I knew my spiritual father was speaking truth.
Of course I was placing myself in the heart of the dichotomy because as much as part of me desired to live in truth the rest of me clung to my fears and addictions.
Thus in the midst of a seemingly benign routine of life I was increasingly stressed.
One day I doubled over at my desk in excruciating pain and found myself rushed to the nearest emergency ward.
Once the doctors found out where I worked they spoke to me as if I were just another over-stressed achiever.
They loaded me up on some strong antacids, having determined it was stressed induced stomach trouble, and sent me home.
My stress induced trouble had nothing to do with the job I was doing.
It had everything to do with the work I was not doing.
If a man is entangled in the things of this world, caught by their many shackles, and seduced by the evil passions, it is very hard for him to recognize that there is another invisible struggle and another inner warfare. – -St. Makarios of Egypt.
Within a few weeks I was going through a bottle of the antacid medicine every day.
Summer arrived and with it the extreme heat and humidity which annually takes such a toll on my being.
My conditioned worsened and I began to miss work.
Food, which always had been a last resort source of comfort, became intolerable as it seemed to fuel the acidic burning in my stomach.
I returned to the doctors and more tests were ordered.
Nothing definitive was found.
Looking back on it, given my lifelong acute anxiety attacks, I am surprised none of the doctors recommended a tranquillizer.
Here is another fragment though, for at that stage of my life had I calmed down through drugs I most likely would not have looked into my own heart.
Filled with the physical pain, struggling with increasing anxiety, feeling like my idyllic situation was beginning to unravel, I decided on a spur of the moment to go and visit my spiritual father.
Not having checked ahead of time to be sure he was there I was very disappointed when I arrived at The Community to be told he was away and would not return for a few weeks.
Crestfallen I headed towards the shrine of Our Blessed Mother.
As I was walking towards the shrine one of the hermit-priests was coming towards me, noticed my sadness and asked what was wrong.
I told him my woes and he invited me to open my heart more and to walk with him to his hermitage.
Once in his hermitage he said he would pray for me and blessed me with a relic of a true healing saint.
I call upon You, my God, my mercy, who made me, and did not forget me, although I forgot You. I call You into my soul, which You prepare to accept You by the longing that You breathe into it. Do not desert me now when I call upon You, for before I called upon You, You went ahead and helped me, and repeatedly You urged me on by many different words, so that from afar I could hear You, and be converted, and call upon You as You called to me. [co]