Labor Day Reflection

Written by SMM Parishioner Carlos Benitez

Hello everyone and God Bless you all. I’ll try not to be too long-winded because I know there’s still a lot of concern about Hurricane Dorian’s impact and preparation this Labor Day. I want to thank Sister Rosemary and Fr. Walsh for this opportunity to address you all. I don’t know why they picked me, maybe because my name is Carlos Manuel Benitez. My middle name stands for Manuel Labor.

All kidding aside, what does Labor Day mean to me and what significance does it play in our life especially as a Catholics? My address isn’t the typical civic or historical account of how we came about to celebrate this national holiday. Although important, I believe there is a much more important message and narrative about Work and Labor. I’d like to concentrate my Labor Day Testimony on my responsibility as co-creator with God, which is part of God’s original plan for humanity.

Our Catholic Social Teachings reinforces and clarifies the role and dignity of work, and the rights of workers. All people must be recognized for their inherent dignity and gifts regardless of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, or their place of origin. All these gifts need to be shared in order to build up the whole, in keeping with God’s original plan.
Catholic Social Teaching says; “Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected--the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to private property, and to economic initiative.”

According to St John Paul II Encyclical On Human Work: work is dignified and an intrinsic good, and workers must always be respected and valued. Jesus became “like us in all things, devoted most of the years of his life on earth to manual work at the carpenter’s bench.” Jesus’ imagery of a builder and carpenter is quite apparent:

  • On this rock I will build my Church…Mt 16:18
  • The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone…Mt 21:42

I take it very personal and I’m committed to the Divine mandate to leave this world a better place than I inherited it. John Paul II underlines the Church’s conviction that “work is a fundamental dimension of man’s existence on earth.” As stated in Genesis: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.”

In his book called, “The Bible Blueprint” Joe Paprocki states, “God has a plan for us, and, when we follow that plan, we become a new creation. The blueprint for salvation is found in the Bible, and the Bible itself is constructed according to a plan.”

During the time of Jesus, a carpenter was not merely a cabinetmaker but was comparable to an architect: someone who was skilled at designing buildings. It makes perfect sense that Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, was an architect since his heavenly Father is the “architect” of all creation.

My whole life I’ve worked. I worked 31 years at UPS, 32 years in the military, the Army National Guard, and I’ve been married now for 39 years. After retirement I worked 5 years with Veterans helping them transition back to civilian life. Now I work with the incarcerated helping them transition back into society. Add that up and that’s over 100 simultaneous years of toil, trials and tribulations but I’ll never admit that to my wife. Just kidding, I love my wife Noaida. Our marriage is a labor of love.

While in college, I got the opportunity to join UPS in 1979. The requirements were easy; weak mind and a strong back. I learned a lot as a UPSer; what can brown do for you? Customer service, strong work ethic, reliability, dependability, working with a sense of urgency and perseverance were a few character traits and competencies instilled in me. In 2010, with 31 years of service and at the age of 50, we purchased our retirement home here in Winter Park.

In 1980, while working at UPS, I joined the NY Army National Guard reserve. I retired from the military in 2012 with 32 years of service. I worked my way up from a Private E-1 to retiring as a Major. I served as Engineer Officer, Company Commander and various other assignments to include a year of combat duty in Iraq. The military taught me a lot about work; teamwork, duty, honor, integrity, selfless service and leadership.

I met my wife in college. We’ve been married since 1980 and raised our family as Catholics. Our son and daughter attended Catholic schools and we were active members of Holy Angels Catholic Church for over 30 years.

My middle name does really stand for ‘manual labor’, sowing and reaping the harvest, that’s what God calls us to do, to be co-creators of his master plan. All my working experiences has led me to a fuller understanding of who I am and given me a sense of mission and servant leadership. When we think about labor and work, it especially extends to caring for the least of these. This is what Christ modeled. He reached out to those outside the margins.

Currently I work as the Program Manager of St. Peter Claver Prison Ministry. This ministry is part of the Orlando Council of St Vincent DePaul Society. Our team of volunteer workers go to State Correctional prisons weekly and facilitate re-entry classes. Our learning objectives are accomplished if we can encourage these soon-to-be-released new citizens not to re-offend. I take it to heart what Jesus said; ‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these…you did for me… I was in prison and you visited me.’ Matt. 25:40 We are forgiven and reconciled every time we celebrate the Eucharist, the incarcerated deserve a second chance also.

It is said the 2 most important days in life are the day we’re born and the day you find out why. Our need for identifying and living out our God-given mission in life is as basic a human desire as feeding our bodies for survival. As workers we have an intrinsic desire to contribute, to make a difference in this world that is imprinted in us by our Creator at birth.

Finally, the Eucharistic connection is amazing: at the preparation of gifts, the priest says this about the bread… “work of human hands” So the work of human hands become the Body and Blood of Christ. Christ is already present in our work…. transforming it….our work becomes the vehicle for Christ’s Presence here on earth. Through the Eucharist we receive an invitation to an intimate relationship with the Creator of the universe. It is through an intimate relationship with God that we find everlasting life.

To conclude, I encourage all of you to take a good look at the work you do every day and appreciate and value it. You may not see your work, the everyday stuff, even at home, as an expression of God’s creative work that is continually going on in the world, gradually transforming it. I believe it’s all part of God’s universal plan. Amen.