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Bishop's Homily for the Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker

May 1, 2020

[Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace (private; live-streamed, due to Covid-19 restrictions)]

As you probably know, we are live-streaming this Mass from the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in downtown Honolulu.  Many of you have been here, but I know that many of you have not had the opportunity to visit.  This is a very historic cathedral.  Dedicated in 1843, it is one of the oldest buildings in Honolulu.  It is built of coral harvested by Native Hawaiians off Kakaako.  King Kamehameha III was present at the laying of its cornerstone.  Father Damien was ordained a priest here on May 21, 1864 and celebrated his First Mass here the next day.  St. Marianne Cope worshipped here when she and her Franciscan Sisters arrived in Hawaii in November 1883.  The mortal remains of St. Marianne Cope are enshrined here, as is a relic of the foot bone of St. Damien.  What you can see on your screen is our partially renovated sanctuary, but if you saw the rest of the Cathedral you would see that it is very much in need of renovation and repair.  We are working on that very project, but we need millions of dollars more to complete it, since it is very expensive to upgrade an old building and to be faithful to its architectural and artistic beauty.

As we entered the lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, I thought this project would have to be put on the back burner, because many people will be out of work and we will need to spend our money to help them recover.  Already we are trying to reach out in many ways to those who are suffering economically due to the lockdown through our parish outreach programs, Kupuna Care, Office of Social Ministry, HOPE Services, and Catholic Charities; and, of course, there will be much more to do in the days ahead.  I thought it would seem callous to ask people to support the Cathedral Renewal Program while so many are out of work and in need of assistance.  But as I thought about this further, maybe it would the best thing to do to continue working on this renewal project.  I spent almost my entire priesthood working in very poor parishes in the inner city of Oakland, and I saw the need for many programs to help those who were living in great poverty.  However, I learned that what the poor really need is not so much a hand-out, but a job; an opportunity to use their own skills, time and talents to be creative, to contribute to the community, and to be able to support themselves and their families from their own earnings.

As I thought about this Cathedral, I thought of the many builders and craft people who would be employed in its renewal; the accountants who would manage the funds; the Human Resource people who would manage the personnel; the people who would provide the building materials; the cashiers and stock clerks at the building supply outlets; the delivery drivers who would transport the materials here.  Then I thought of the workers who would go to the nearby restaurants for a sandwich or a spam musubi, and of the cooks, dishwashers, and janitors who would be employed because of their patronage.  In other words, what might at first sight appear to be a luxurious expenditure of money in the face of so much economic suffering could actually be the engine that drives an economic recovery.

When our current social distancing requirements are no longer necessary, we might debate with ourselves whether we should still stay at home and eat and give the extra money to some charity – which is always needed – or whether our going out to a restaurant would actually be a better way to help people recover, because then cooks, bus people, cashiers, and wait staff could be employed.

Now I am not saying all of this primarily as a way to promote the Cathedral Renewal Campaign, but to illustrate that there is a great dignity in work.  This is why we celebrate this Mass in honor of St. Joseph the Worker, set on a day on which many countries in the world celebrate Labor Day to honor their workers and the dignity of work.  We are made in God’s image and likeness, and God spent six days working on the creation of all the wonders of the world.  He made us creative like him so that we, too, could create other wonders in the world he has entrusted to our care.  This is a very exalted grace we share by being entrusted by God to be his co-creators, and it may seem out of our reach.  But God very often accomplishes astoundingly great works in very simple ways.  When people saw the mighty deeds Jesus was accomplishing, they asked, “How can this be?  Is he not the carpenter’s son?  Don’t we know his simple relatives, who are ordinary people like us?”  We sometimes expect miracles because we do not have the eyes to see the miracles that happen around us every day.

As we honor St. Joseph, the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom this month of May is dedicated in a special way, we honor all simple workers.  He knew unemployment for a time when he had to flee to the foreign country of Egypt to protect Jesus.  He had to leave the reliable business connections he had established in his home town and had to find his way as an immigrant in a foreign land to be creative and to sell his works to support his family.  He was a man who was creative in his work, yet who always observed the sabbath as a day of rest, so that he could reconnect with the source of all his skills and talents, God himself.  We call upon St. Joseph now to give courage to all who work in a variety of ways to never lose hope, but to continue to dedicate their God-given talents to the work which brings them dignity and enables them to care for their loved ones.  We ask him to pray for us, that very soon all will be able to return to the work that builds up our world with God’s abiding love.