St. Joseph

By Br. Warren Perrotto, MSC

On May 1, we celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph, the Worker.

St. Joseph, Patron of Workers, exemplifies the dignity of work and the holiness of all our labors. Pope Pius XII instituted this day for St. Joseph in 1955 so that workers would maintain the special mission of the Christian dignity of human work, which is participating in God’s plan of salvation. Working persons– whatever their job may be– “cooperate with God and in some way [they] become creators of the world around us.” (Pope Francis I, Patris Corde (PC), 2020, n. 2). Addressing the Catholic Association of Italian Workers, Pius XII said, “There could not be a better protector to help you penetrate the spirit of the Gospel into your life…From the Heart of the Man-God, Savior of the world, this spirit flows into you and all men. Certainly, no worker has ever been as perfectly and deeply penetrated by it as the putative Father of Jesus, who lived with Him in the closest intimacy and commonality of family and work.

So, if you want to be close to Christ, We also repeat to you ‘Ite to Ioseph’: Go to Joseph!” (May 1, 1955) This Feast Day, St. Joseph the Worker on May 1, was created by Pius XII to respond to Russia’s declaration of a secular May Day, the International Workers Day. The Soviet Union fancied itself to show the world that it was a defender of workers’ rights and to show off its military strength.

Work is a human good. It is a basic human right that reflects men’s and women’s dignity and worth. (Pope John Paul II, Laborem Exerecens (LE), 9) Pope Benedict XVI reminded us of labor issues that “the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is the man [woman], the human person in his or her integrity” (Pople Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate) (CV), 25). In Genesis, we can see that the dignity of work consists of teaching that man [woman] “ought to imitate God his [her] creator, working because man [woman] in working because a man and a woman alone have the unique characteristics of likeness to God. (Cf. LE, 25) Thus, work, whether manual or intellectual, involves the whole person. It is “central to the freedom and well-being of people. (Cf. LE 24-25, United States Conference of Bishops, Economic Justice for All (CE, 141). Pope Francis I adds:

Joseph the Worker teaches us that faith in God includes believing that he can work even through our fears, frailties and weaknesses. He also teaches us that amid the storms of life, we must never be afraid to let the Lord steer our course. At times, we want to be in complete control, yet God always sees the bigger picture. (Pope Francis I, Patris Corde, 2020, n. 2)

Jesus’s vocation was to do the will of His Father: My food is to do the will of the one who sent me to finish his work. (John 4:34) Before his public ministry, Jesus was most likely to engage in manual labor with his father, Joseph the Carpenter. (Cf. (LE, 26) In his public ministry, Jesus used the day-to-day human work of men and women in his parables to describe the reign of God: householder, merchant, shepherd, farmer, fisherman, steward, servant and laborer. Indeed, work allows us to express and develop our talents for our good and the good of others. From a Christian perspective, we can say that work is a vocation in the service of discipleship. It is a basic human right and a duty from our baptismal call and commitment to work with Christ.

Many people view labor as something bad and burdensome because of Original Sin. They might think that God is punishing us for the sins of Adam and Eve. This mentality does not seem, however, to be the case. If we look closely at the Fall in Genesis, we see that God cursed the earth more than he did Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve were already working in the Garden of Eden as God’s stewards before the fall. God blessed them, saying, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on earth.” (Genesis 1:28) Furthermore, “God’s curse falls directly not on man nor his work, but the earth, which brings for thorns and thistles. It is only indirectly that the curse affects human work, insofar as being exercised over a hostile earth; it is made difficult and harsh.” (Judith Dwyer (Edt.) The New Catholic Dictionary of Catholic Social Thought, Collegeville, MN, Liturgical Press, 1994, p. 992. See also Genesis 1:14-19) Original Sin damages our relationship with God; however, human work is not a result of that damaged relationship.

The Catholic Church has long been a promoter of the rights of workers. These rights include the right to have fair wages and social benefits, safe working conditions, organization and union formation, rest, and vacation. Likewise, all workers must have the proper training for employment.

Today, the reality of unemployment remains in our society and the world. “What Do We Mean by “Decent Work?” Decent work “means work that expresses the essential dignity of every man and woman in the context of their particular society: work that is freely chosen, effectively associating workers, both men and women, with the development of their community; work that enables the worker to be respected and free from any form of discrimination; work that makes it possible for families to meet their needs and provide schooling for children, without the children themselves forced into labor; work that permits the workers to organize themselves freely, and to make their voices heard; work that leaves enough room for rediscovering one’s roots at a personal, familial and spiritual level; work that guarantees those who have retired a decent standard of living” (Caritas en Veritatae, #63)

Regrettably, unemployment and underemployment continue to be a significant social problem in our country and the world. These experiences can bring serious physical and psychological damage to the well-being of a person, family and community. They create economic burdens to obtain proper food, clothing and shelter. It can separate and displace individuals from families and communities. Often, people must trek to other countries in search of employment. It leaves people with a sense of unworthiness and powerlessness. In extreme cases, unemployment may push people to suicide. Unemployment “almost always wounds its victim’s dignity and threatens the equilibrium of [a] person’s] life.” There are healing retreats for unemployed victims. They focus on the Church’s solidarity with them, that they will never lose their dignity and worth as human beings. The retreat attempts to help the participants let go of the harmful feelings and reactions they have pressing in their lives. The message to them is that they should not despair. The retreats offer a deeper understanding of what feelings and reactions are normal and what feelings and reactions are not normal. They provide a spiritual strength to move forward with a renewed and hopeful spirit that their sorrow will pass. They also are encouraged to know that the Church is on their side.

St. Joseph the Worker reminds us to “appreciate the importance of dignified work.” (PE, n. 6) He is our exemplary patron who leads us to believe that work is a gift from God, and when we work, we are affirming God’s will to realize that we are participating in God’s plan of salvation. Ametur.

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