Today is the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. Today’s feast was established by Pope Venerable Pius XII in 1955 to increase devotion to St. Joseph among Catholics, but also to counter Communist “May Day” celebrations. Pius XII said, “If you wish to be close to Christ, go to Joseph.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
“Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another. Hence work is a duty: ‘If any one will not work, let him not eat’ [2 Thess. 3:10]. Work honors the Creator’s gifts and the talents received from him. It can also be redemptive. By enduring the hardship of work in union with Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth and the one crucified on Calvary, man collaborates in a certain fashion with the Son of God in his redemptive work. He shows himself to be a disciple of Christ by carrying the cross, daily, in the work he is called to accomplish. Work can be a means of sanctification and a way of animating earthly realities with the Spirit of Christ.
“In work, the person exercises and fulfills in part the potential inscribed in his nature. The primordial value of labor stems from man himself, its author and its beneficiary. Work is for man, not man for work. Everyone should be able to draw from work the means of providing for his life and that of his family, and of serving the human community.
“Everyone has the right of economic initiative; everyone should make legitimate use of his talents to contribute to the abundance that will benefit all and to harvest the just fruits of his labor. He should seek to observe regulations issued by legitimate authority for the sake of the common good.” (CCC, 2427-2429)
Some key points from the CCC:
- Through our work, we participate in the creative power of God and the command God gave us to subdue the earth (Gen. 1:28)
- Work is a duty, and not optional
- Work honors God by honoring the talents He has given us
- Work can be redemptive, a sharing in the mission of Jesus
- Through our work, we partly fulfill our human nature and potential
- Work is meant to serve man, not the other way around, which means that slavery or any form of forced work is immoral
- Work ought to provide a person with the means to provide for self and family, which requires a just wage for a day’s work; people who work shouldn’t have to still struggle to take care of themselves and their families
- Everyone has a right to take initiative to find a way to provide for self and family through the legitimate use of talents
- Work provides benefits for individual workers and for the entire community
- Government has a place in the life of the laborer; there are legitimate authorities that may impose reasonable and just regulations on labor
St. Joseph is a model for workers. He worked tirelessly in his carpenter’s shop, providing for St. Mary and Jesus. Work, then, is a duty for everyone. Individuals have a duty to seek work and to work according to their means to provide for oneself and one’s family. Governments should not provide, and individuals should not exploit, programs that decrease the initiative to work. Assistance is necessary for those who, through no fault of their own, cannot work. Assistance is necessary for those who, through no fault of their own, are not able to find work, or work that provides enough to adequately care for one’s self and family. But, programs that provide so much as to decrease a person’s initiative for work, or make it unnecessary to work, are an injustice against the greater community, and even against the individual. Work is good for the soul, and no government program should rob this good from anyone. The best programs are those that provide the necessary skills to people so they can then find work and care for themselves and their families. Those with the resources who can and do create jobs for others in the community by legitimate and moral economic initiative should be lauded and supported in their efforts.
At the same time, employers have a duty to provide just return to their workers for their labor. It’s a symptom of an unjust economy that so many have to work two or even three jobs to provide for their families. While work is a duty, time off, especially time to spend with one’s family, is also a right and one that benefits the entire community. No one benefits from a population of frustrated workers over-extending themselves to provide for even the most basic needs. Can we really justify an economic system where professional athletes make as much in one game as most teachers make in the course of an entire year? Salaries are a measure of where a society’s priorities are. The evidence condemns us as a society that prioritizes sports and entertainment over education and scientific initiatives.
Work can be frustrating, but it can also be redemptive. The frustrations we endure and sacrifices we make for the sake of others can be united with the sufferings of Christ to benefit the Body of Christ and our own growth in holiness. Personally, there are plenty of times I would rather stay home than go to my job. But, I remind myself that this is how I provide for my family, and I love my family. It makes me feel good and just and thankful that I’m able to do so.
God, the creator of all things, who formed the law of labor for the human race, graciously grant that by merits and patronage of St. Joseph, we may do the work You assign us and earn the reward You promise. Through our Lord, Jesus. From “The Josephites”
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.