May 1 is a national holiday that commemorates “Workers’ day,” a day which the Church points us to Saint Joseph, a diligent example and model of workers. Put differently, as a way of promoting and encouraging devotion to Saint Joseph among Catholics, and in response to the “May Day” celebrations for workers sponsored by Communists, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker was instituted by Pope Pius XII in 1955. In his declaration, Pope Pius XII said of St. Joseph, “The spirit flows to you and to all men from the heart of the God-man, Saviour of the world, but certainly, no worker was evermore completely and profoundly penetrated by it than the foster father of Jesus, who lived with Him in closest intimacy and community of family life and work.” Saint Joseph, who in the Bible is recognized as a just man, is the one who reveals with his own life that God the Father works, and through Him, work is sanctified. Unfortunately, most Christians, have a distorted view on the subject of work, and therefore, do everything to get rid of it. Sanctifying our work is the mission of all Christians.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us: “The sign of man’s familiarity with God is that God places him in the garden. There he lives ‘to till it and keep it.’ Work is not yet a burden, but rather the collaboration of man and woman with God in perfecting the visible creation.” (CCC #378). This is so because right from the Book of Genesis, the dignity of human work has long been contemplated as a participation in the creative work of God. By work, humankind both fulfils the command found in Genesis to care for the earth (Gen. 2:15) and to be productive in their labours. Saint Joseph, the carpenter and father of Jesus, is but one example of the sanctity of human labour. Thus, we can say that work is a path of sanctification in which men must adhere in order to contribute to the growth of the society; for it is part of the cultural evolution of man, throughout history.
Little wonder Saint Paul exhorts: “Whatever your work is, put your heart into it as done for the Lord and not for human beings, knowing that the Lord will repay you by making you his heirs. It is Christ the Lord that you are serving.” (Col 3, 23-24) Sadly, we face many difficulties within the context of work in the society today: unemployment, injustice, slavery, dehumanization and laws that do not benefit workers. Even living in a materialistic society, which divides people by the type of work they do and which values the human being for what he receives, the Church wants us to remember the dignity of work by setting St. Joseph as an example of one who laboured diligently for the good of his family and society. Jesus, too, was a carpenter (Mk. 6:3).
He learned the trade from his father, Saint Joseph and spent his early adult years working side-by-side in Joseph’s carpentry shop before the commencement of his ministry. Pope John Paul II in his Encyclical, “Laborem Exercens” writes: “The Church considers it her duty to speak out on work from the viewpoint of its human value and of the moral order to which it belongs, and she sees this as one of her important tasks within the service that she renders to the evangelical message as a whole. At the same time, she sees it as her particular duty to form a spirituality of work which will help all people to come closer, through work, to God, the Creator and Redeemer, to participate in his salvific plan for man and the world and to deepen their friendship with Christ in their lives by accepting, through faith, a living participation in his threefold mission as Priest, Prophet and King, as the Second Vatican Council so eloquently teaches.”
Faced with a colossal problem of unemployment on the backdrop of corruption in a country like ours, the Church continues to speak truth to power and calls the faithful to continually place their trust in God in prayers and use their God-given talents to be inventive, rooting out all forms of laziness, while waiting for justice as everyone collaborates to vote for God-fearing and honest leaders in government who would create more employment opportunities. Therefore, let us try to discover today and always, continuously, the presence of Saint Joseph in our families and society; and he will continue to be, as he always has been, our protector and model. May he also remind us to diligently treat those who work under our care and not dehumanize them or use them as though they were machines.
May Saint Joseph continually intercede for all workers, for those receiving unjust wages or salaries, for those awaiting promotion at their places of work, for retirees with unworthy income, for those who live in the instability of the informal economy, for those who live without even a home, and most especially all the unemployed and those who are out of work, looking up to God for justice in an imbalanced and corrupt society like ours. Above all, as St. Joseph worked diligently, humbly, and silently in his carpentry shop to provide for the Holy Family, we, too, are called to work in humility and diligence for the greater glory of God.
Rev. Fr. Chinaka Mbaeri works in the Province of Oblates of St. Joseph in Brazil.