Francis Campbell writes about the challenge of living out Jesus' teaching amid resentment during a labour dispute at Halifax's Chronicle Herald. Photo courtesy of airstrikes.wordpress.com

Opinion: Jesus’ teaching is a real-life challenge amid labour strike resentment

By 
  • January 5, 2017

Another year over, a new one just begun. For 55 newsroom employees at the Halifax-based Chronicle Herald, almost the entire year was spent on the picket line. A year is a long time to be on strike.

It provides far too many hours and too many days to worry fruitlessly about what you will be doing next week, next month or next half year. It provides too much time to develop unproductive resentment for a situation beyond your capability to change or influence. It provides too much time to foster animosity about your lot in life and against those who are playing a real or perceived role in prolonging the situation.

Striking employees yearning for a negotiated agreement automatically direct their rancour at ownership and management of the company and replacement workers who help keep them on the street. They can also turn a jaundiced eye toward fellow strikers who may have different ideas about how best to pressure the company to return to the bargaining table.

Harbouring negative feelings toward colleagues once considered friends is not a comfortable place to be. The resolve to love your enemies according to the teaching of Jesus can become a tough road to travel to get you out of that uncomfortable place.

“You have heard it said, ‘you will love your neighbour and hate your enemy,’ ” Jesus said. “But I say this to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in Heaven.

“For if you only love those who love you, what reward will you get? Do not even the tax collectors do as much? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional?”

Certainly, those are words to live by. But during a year-long strike they often seem impossible to live up to. God knows His creations, impeded by human limitations and frailties, will often struggle with that divine concept.

Another concept that arises is an adage often attributed to St. Augustine: Pray as if everything depends on God, work as if everything depends on you. The second part of that advice has been achievable during the strike. I threw myself into the strategies of picketing and, more specifically, into the online news site produced by our striking members.

But the first part of Augustine’s instruction has been challenging. Thrown into a situation beyond your control, an obvious reaction should be to seek out something you can control. Prayer. Praying as if everything depends on God should be natural in these circumstances. Yet I’ve found prayer increasingly difficult, particularly prayers of intercession regarding our labour situation. That’s due to a life-long reluctance to turn things over to God. I’ve never been good at allowing myself to let go and let God.

Days before Christmas, I stopped into our parish church for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The parish priest was well aware of our labour dispute and we had a meaningful chat about the strike and the feelings that accompany it.

The benefit of his advice cannot be underplayed. I left the confessional with a tremendous feeling of relief. That’s what a good talk, a good reflection and penance can do for a troubled soul.

In some ways, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the start of a new year can be similarly cleansing. At the start of a new year we resolve to do this or do that or, more likely, to stop doing something as a means of self-improvement. But these personal vows are often soon broken. Similarly, the confessor starts out with good intentions but will often repeat his sins despite making an act of contrition and promising to not offend God with sin anymore.

The difference between resolution and reconciliation is, of course, the parties involved. Resolutions are usually a personal promise. Reconciliation is a three-person pact among confessor, priest and God, in whose name absolution is granted.

Reconciliation and a New Year’s resolution can both create a clean slate, the promise of starting anew. But when animosity, resentment and uncertainty about the future are thrown into the equation, it seems best that resolutions include God.

(Campbell is a writer in Halifax, N.S.)

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