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12/31/23 Homily: Family and Work

Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]

Today, I wanted to share a few words with you about work and family. While I can’t speak at length due to time, in the space of this homily, I wanted to at least plot a trajectory for your personal reflection later.

As a bit of a primer, when teaching children, I’ve shared in the past that creatures tend to have a purpose, or a reason for being, as designed by their creator. The purpose of a pen, for example, is simply to write.  If a pen were self-aware, it would be happy if it were used for that purpose.  It would be unhappy if it were abused by being used in any other way, like being stabbed against another object.

A happy book is one that is being read, again if a book were self-aware.  We use books by reading them.  We abuse books by tearing them up, or by using them as scrap paper, or by neglecting them altogether. These are simple examples involving simple objects.  But that same basic logic applies to more complex creatures.

Human beings are created by God, and our Creator likewise created us with a purpose.  A happy human being lives according to that purpose.  An unhappy human being lives neglecting that purpose.

So… what is our purpose?  We learn our purpose as early as the first two chapters of the Bible.  For clarity, the first two chapters of the bible aren’t sequential.  They’re actually two different accounts of creation altogether.

Think of a story book with many stories.  Chapter one might be Snow White; chapter two might be Cinderella, and so on.  Those aren’t sequential stories, despite being sequential chapters.

That’s how Genesis is with its first two chapters.  They come from two distinct literary sources from different time periods of history.  Nevertheless, they both are consistent in the lessons they teach us regarding our purpose.

In the first chapter of Genesis, you may recall, God commands the man and woman to have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth, and to take possession over every tree and its fruit; in short, to govern over creation.

In the second chapter of Genesis—again, a different account—God places the man in the garden of Eden to till and to keep it.  Those words for to till and to keep, in Hebrew: abad and shamar, are translated literally as, to work or serve (abad) and to guard or watch over (shamar).

In very general terms, mankind’s purpose is to work to cultivate the world that God has entrusted to him.  Mankind is productive, not independent of the world, but in relationship to it.  It’s through man’s guardianship of the world that the world nourishes him.

A happy human being is a human being that works in harmony with creation.  But this work that God has commanded isn’t characterized by financial gain, as we can tend to associate with work today.

We work in and watch over the garden entrusted to us.  Whether that garden is as expansive as an entire nation for the leader of a nation, or as small as the bedroom for a child, we all have a garden that we’re in relationship with, that we’re called to till and to keep it; to serve and watch over it.

Sacred scripture teaches us this explicitly, but many cultures have intuited this because it’s a natural good that is part of our nature.  You may have heard the words, kuleana and pono, while living in Hawaii, because they’re used quite often.  Kuleana means responsibility.  It’s this same idea of having stewardship over creation.  Pono means righteousness.  Those who embrace their kuleana are living pono.

Families can take note of this.  If we want our children to be happy in life, it’s important to teach them the dignity of work and how to embrace and appreciate responsibility at an early age.

Now, the work that we do isn’t only in service to our relationship with the world itself; it’s also at the service of our relationship with one another; namely, with the family.

Our first two chapters of Genesis also teaches us this.  Family is at the heart of our humanity.  In the first creation account, God’s commandment isn’t given to an individual.  It’s given to the family.

In Genesis, we read: God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it…”

This is the very first commandment we received from God: to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and to subdue it.  God commanded us to embrace the family, and through the family to have dominion over the earth.

Like the God who is a family of Divine Persons, the one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; we likewise are a family of human persons.  And as whenever God acts in creation, every Person of the Holy Trinity acts; so also, it’s in relationship with one another that we’re meant to act in the world.

That’s the same message we hear from the second creation account, as well.  God said that it isn’t good for the man to be alone.  He would make a helpmate fit for the man.  Even though Adam has the breath of God in him, even though all other animals were created for him, even though he has guardianship over Eden, even though he has all knowledge—symbolized by the naming of animals—it’s not good for him to till and keep the garden alone.

Only companionship with someone who is equal to him in dignity and likeness is able can overcome that primordial solitude—and make him happy.  And so, God creates his equal; the femininity that his complement to his masculinity.  Therefore, a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh (verse 24).

Work and family underlie our human nature, as created by God.   There is no escaping this reality.  Happiness demands finding peace in our work and our families.

Thankfully, there is a peace that the world cannot give, that only comes from God, who adopts us as his children through the sacrament of baptism.  It’s through that relationship that our natural desire for family finds its home in being his sons and daughters.  And the work we do, in the end, reaches perfection in the building up God’s kingdom.

At the dawn of this new year, let us recommit to our place in our own families and in the family of God, and reflect upon how we may better work towards building up our home and our Church.  Our happiness depends on it.

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