Reflection on the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Who can know God’s counsel?” asks the book of Wisdom. We are timid and find it very hard to grasp the world around us – except that sometimes, says Wisdom, we do receive guidance from the Holy Spirit to make the paths on earth straight. The psalmist begs God to teach us wisdom, perhaps the wisdom to make those paths straight? Paul tells the small community in Philemon he is sending them his dear Onesimus, a beloved friend, sent not as a great teacher or leader but as a friend. Finally, if we cut through the complicated considerations about not building a tower and not recruiting an army, Jesus is calling on us to leave everything behind and follow Him – but maybe Jesus’ point is that instead of putting in the effort to recruit an army or build a tower, the way to follow Jesus is by doing the complicated planning and the work it takes to make the roads straight.
I signed up to offer this homily, taking the next open date, not looking at the readings to choose an easy set. But I did look at the date and realized it was the day before Labor Day. If all scriptural inspiration failed, I could preach on labor organizing. It’s a matter of reading the signs of the times. We meet God where we are, in the moment. And this weekend it is worth remembering the wisdom that calls us to stand together, to seek justice together, to make the paths of earth straight, to love our friends and welcome them and do our best, not just for our friends but for everyone who uses the roads.
The placards that read “Bread and Roses” originated in the Lawrence, Mass., textile strike in 1912. The state legislature had reduced the hours women and children could work down to 54 hours a week, and when the women opened their pay envelopes, the pay was less. The Polish women marched out into the street and went from factory to factory, calling the other women out – Italian, Slavic, Hungarian, Portuguese, Syrian. They stayed out from Jan. 11 to March 14. They carried signs, including “Bread and Roses.” They couldn’t understand each other but they sang. That was then – and it’s a struggle still today in textile plants in Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico.
Another struggle most of us know from our own experience is the effort of farmworkers here to get job protection, health care, toilets in the fields, cooling stations, just wages – union contract guarantees for workers. In 1960 Edgar R. Murrow broadcast “Harvest of Shame.” The UFW Organizing Committee was formed in 1966. Some of us spent summers providing services for men and women working in the fields. In 1973, during an Assembly here at Loretto, Mary Jean Friel was arrested during a strike in California. The Assembly sent two delegates, Cathy Mueller and Ann Patrick Ware, to get Mary Jean out of jail. Cathy came back with her. Ann Pat stayed – and here’s the story I only learned a couple of years ago from Pearl. Ann Pat reported to Pearl in Salinas, asking for work to do. They didn’t know each other, and Pearl said, “What do you do in your ordinary life?”
”I work for the National Council of Churches.”
“Would you know church people who could call pastors and ask them to send their members here to support the strike? And call the newspapers and television stations and tell them to report on the strike?”
So Ann Pat sat down in her polyester suit and nylon stockings and good shoes and pulled out her address book and began to make the calls, asking faith leaders to send people to the strike lines and to call the media and tell them to cover the story. The people came from all over and so did reporters. Pearl said that Ann Pat broke the news blackout and mobilized faith leaders to stand with farm workers.
It’s a small story of Loretto sending our beloved friend Ann Pat to a distant community of union organizers to help make the path straight. It’s a familiar story, I wrote it for Interchange and for Loretto Mag. We tell these stories of the Polish women who walked out of the Lawrence textile mill and the farmworkers who struck for better lives in order to swell our hearts with love and to bolster our own resolve to leave everything behind and follow Jesus, accepting and acting on the grace we receive, doing our own small part to straighten the roads.