July 10, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord

Work is for us, we are not for work

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I have a special devotion to St. Joseph, the husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus. The quiet strength and dignity of this humble man, the carpenter of Nazareth, amazes me. He faced situations that most of us would run away from, but Joseph always stood his ground. He accepted things he couldn’t possibly understand because he was, first and foremost, a man of faith.

I used to protest whenever I saw images of St. Joseph that depicted him lying down, asleep. After all, Joseph the carpenter was a man of action. Why insult him by showing him at rest? Then I learned that these images of St. Joseph lying down are meant to illustrate the fact that he encountered God through messages delivered in dreams. Most importantly, he was open to God’s word—no matter how mysterious or frightening—and he always acted on it, and followed through to the end.

In 1955, Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of St. Joseph the Worker as the Church’s response to May Day celebrations for workers sponsored by Communist organizations. The pope wanted to affirm what Christians have believed from the beginning: that Jesus, the carpenter’s apprentice, cares deeply for the plight of workers (and those who are unable to find work.)

In the Indiana bishops’ recent pastoral letter, Poverty at the Crossroads: The Church’s Response to Poverty in Indiana, we make the following observations about work and its importance for human dignity and the common good:

“ ‘The economy must serve people, not the other way around’ is a succinct paraphrase of a crucial statement by St. John Paul II in his encyclical, “Laborem Exercens”: ‘In the first place, work is for man and not man for work’ (#6.6). Work is more than simply a way to make a living; it is a continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected; these include the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to organize, to private property, and to economic initiative.”

Especially during elections for state and federal offices, we hear a lot about the economy and the need to create jobs. But rarely do we hear about the spiritual dimension of work, or the devastating effects that chronic unemployment can have on the human person, the family and society itself.

Poverty at the Crossroads continues:

“For St. John Paul II, this powerful statement—work is for man; man is not for work—is the principle that governs the success or failure of all economic systems. The human person is what is most important, not economic theory or social structures. The human person, the one who works, is not a means to an end, but the primary beneficiary of his or her own labor.

“Every worker has a fundamental dignity because he or she is made in the image and likeness of God. Workers are co-creators with God in building the human community. Workers are not commodities. They are not instruments of production or tools in the hands of owners or managers, who are entitled to use them and then set them aside at the end of the day or the completion of a particular project.”

Our Church’s devotion to St. Joseph the Worker underscores our conviction that each of us has a fundamental dignity as a child of God and that our work—whatever it is—is a participation in the work of our Creator. From this profound vantage point, the economy, jobs, working conditions, just wages and the meaning of work itself must all be seen with new eyes. We are not means to an end (the economy or the state). We are “co-creators with God in building the human community.”

As we note in our pastoral letter, “Indiana is home to thousands of the so-called ‘working poor.’ These are women and men who have jobs, but whose income is not enough to sustain them or to cover the necessities of life, including food, housing, health care, transportation and childcare. For these families, full-time, year-round work by itself is not enough to lift them out of poverty.”

Our Church cares deeply about these families—and about thousands of others in our state who are unemployed, homeless or unable to work because they suffer from mental and physical illnesses.

St. Joseph the Worker, pray for us. Inspire us to listen for God’s voice, and then to act to help our sisters and brothers who are poor find worthwhile work in accordance with their human dignity. †

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