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Feast of St Joseph the Worker: Affirming the Dignity of All Work
By Deacon Keith Fournier
May 1st, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
On the Feast of Joseph the Worker, let us seek the intercession of the Patron of the Universal Church and follow his example, recognizing that all human work participates in the workshop of Nazareth.A Catholic vision views work through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. God Incarnate became a worker! The dignity of this God become Man elevates the basic goodness of all human work.
CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) - During an apostolic visit to Africa in 2009 Pope Benedict XVI reflected on St. Joseph and what he teaches us. He often uses the Patron of the Universal Church - his namesake (Joseph Ratzinger) - as an example. He told the faithful gathered in the Basilica of Mary Queen of Apostles in Cameroon:
"He took Mary into his home. He welcomed the mystery that was in Mary and the mystery that was Mary herself. He loved her with great respect, which is the mark of all authentic love. Joseph teaches us that it is possible to love without possessing. In contemplating Joseph, all men and women can, by God's grace, come to experience healing from their emotional wounds, if only they embrace the plan that God has begun to bring about in those close to him, just as Joseph entered into the work of redemption through Mary and as a result of what God had already done in her."
"Joseph was caught up at every moment by the mystery of the Incarnation. Not only physically, but in his heart as well, Joseph reveals to us the secret of a humanity which dwells in the presence of mystery and is open to that mystery at every moment of everyday life. In Joseph, faith is not separated from action. His faith had a decisive effect on his actions. Paradoxically, it was by acting, by carrying out his responsibilities, that he stepped aside and left God free to act, placing no obstacles in his way. Joseph is a "just man" (Mt 1:19) because his existence is "ad-justed" to the word of God."
On May 1 the Universal Church honors this Patron for his witness to the dignity of human work. During the last years of his service, Blessed John Paul II addressed leaders of the "Catholic Action" movement in Italy on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. He used a poignant expression, the "Gospel of Work". In explaining what he meant he developed a theme deeply rooted in the Sacred Scriptures, expounded upon in the Christian Tradition and desperately needed in this age. In 1981 he had authored an Encyclical letter entitled "On Human Work" which presented the Christian vision of the dignity and meaning of human work.
In the industrial age men and women were often reduced to instruments in a society that emphasized "productivity" over the dignity of the worker. The technological age promised something different but failed to deliver. Human beings are still reduced to human doings rather than human beings. To come to a new understanding of the dignity of human labor requires what St Paul rightly called a "renewal of the mind" (See, Romans 12:2).
He called them to be rescued "from the logic of profit, from the lack of solidarity, from the fever of earning ever more, from the desire to accumulate and consume." When the focus of work becomes subjected to what he called "inhuman wealth" it becomes a "seductive and merciless idol." That rescue occurs when we "return to the austere words of the Divine Master: 'For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?'"
This "Gospel of Work" needs to be proclaimed anew in an age reeling from the near collapse of a banking system corrupted by greed and the rejection of the dignity of every human person. On Friday, April 30, 2010, Pope Benedict, mindful of the pending Feast of Joseph the Worker, addressed a Vatican conference on the theme "Crisis in a Global Economy. Re-planning the Journey."
The Catholic Catechism reminds us: "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." 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. The primordial value of labor stems from man himself, its author and beneficiary. By means of his labor man participates in the work of creation. Work united to Christ can be redemptive."
A Catholic vision views work through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. God Incarnate became a worker! The dignity of this God become Man elevates the basic goodness of all human work. The early Church Father and Bishop Irenaeus expressed the profundity of this all when he said: "Whatever was not assumed was not healed!"
Though there is biblical support that the toil and drudgery or "sweat" of work is connected to the fracture in the order of the universe which was occasioned by sin (see Gen 3:19) work itself is not the punishment for sin. Rather, for the Christian, work can become a participation in the continuing redemptive work of Jesus. He was always doing the "work" of the One who sent Him (John 9:3-4) and we are invited by grace to now do the same.
The early Christians' worship became known as "liturgy" which meant the "work" of the Church. For them the world was not a place to be avoided but their workshop! They were there to bring all to Baptism and inclusion in Christ and to prepare the world for His return. The "Paschal mystery" began a process of transformation not only in the followers of Jesus but also in the very cosmos created through Him and for Him. It is now being recreated in Him. The work of Jesus continues now through His Body, the Church, placed in that creation as a seed of its transfiguration.
All things were created in Christ (see Col 1:15-20) and are being re-created as His work continues through His Body, the Church of which we are members. The unfolding of all of this is a what St. Paul calls a "plan" and a "mystery", to bring all things together under heaven and on earth in Him (e.g. Eph 1: 9-10).For the Christian work is an invitation to participate in that plan. No matter what we are doing as work we are to "do it as unto the Lord" (see Col 3). That choice enables it to change the world both within us and around us.
This plan includes all work - not just what is often called the "spiritual stuff." God Incarnate, Jesus, did not just do what is too often called the "spiritual stuff." All human work sanctifies us and changes the world. St. Paul captures the hope of all creation when, in the eighth chapter of his letter to the Romans he reminds us that all of creation "groans" for the full revelation of the sons and daughters of God.
I am old enough to remember the days when on May 1st Communist Nations paraded their weapons of destruction through the streets of major cities promising a workers' paradise through their counterfeit ideology. It was during this time that the Church first set aside this Feast of Joseph to make a prophetic cultural statement.
We need to turn to the teaching of the Church on the dignity of work - and the worker- as we consider all of the implications of this important policy concern as a Nation. On this Feast of Joseph the Worker, let us seek the intercession of Patron of the Universal Church and follow his example, recognizing that all human work participates in the workshop of Nazareth. Let us reflect on Pope Benedict's words "In Joseph, faith is not separated from action. His faith had a decisive effect on his actions." Let the same be said of each of us.
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