Sunday, 10 June 2018

Chartres 2018: Meditations (11)

St Joseph - Model of Workers


Dear pilgrim friends !

On the 10th May 1955, Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of Saint Joseph, artisan and worker, choosing the date of 1st May for the feast. By establishing Saint Joseph as ‘patron saint of workers’ he gave as an example to follow in our own labours.

Main Points
Saint Joseph teaches us the benefits of work
Work : a curse, or an inevitable evil
The nobility of work, the activity proper to man.
Technology in the service of man, not the other way round
Work in the service of the common good, an act that is both charitable and respectful of others a structure - a culture of welcoming diverse talents
Good and bad inequalities.
Contemporary plagues – lack of work, the disappearance of Sunday as a day of rest. 

Saint Joseph teaches us the benefits of work. At Nazareth, he provided for the material needs of the Holy Family by his modest work as a carpenter, even though he was, like Mary, a member of the royal race of David. (Gen I,27). He worked all his life, teaching his trade to his adopted son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, who thus sanctified work and in particular manual work. Life at Nazareth seemed to run on the three pillars of : "Work, family, prayer."

Let us begin by clearing away the popular misgiving that work is a curse : Genesis affirms that : "God placed Adam in a Paradise that he would cultivate it" (Gen II,15). From the time of Creation work has corresponded to the will of God for men. Adam and Eve worked in the terrestrial paradise; however there would have been no suffering involved in their work. It was original sin which brought an element of suffering into work. "You will eat your bread by the sweat of your brow" (Gen III,19). Pope John XXIII spoke of this in a radio message on 1st May 1960, the feast of Saint Joseph the worker: "Work is a sublime mission. It allows man to collaborate with God in an intelligent and efficient manner (...) all the difficulties in work, can be made part of God’s redemptive plan, who having saved the world by the love and suffering of His only begotten Son, made human suffering, united with that of Christ, a precious means of sanctification."

In contrast with animals, man has to work to tame nature to meet his needs: to feed himself, dress himself, protect himself against the elements, but also to honour his dead, to engage in artistic or intellectual activities, to think about the meaning of life. By his actions man takes part in God’s work of creation. He is the image of God who is pure Act.

Work is the actualisation of God’s commandment in Genesis: "Fill the earth and subdue it." The words of Scripture teach us that everything in Creation is at the service of man who, himself, is at the service of God. "All are yours, and you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s" (1Cor III, 22).

This subjugation of nature by man is achieved with tools and technology, which are man’s allies when they are at his service. Unfortunately though, it often happens that in place of technology remaining at the service of man, man ends being enslaved in the service of technology.

Work is man’s ‘good’. But as Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us it is a difficult good. This is true under two aspects: initially, man transforms nature by adapting it to his own needs, and subsequently work becomes fulfilling for him. Working hard becomes a virtue: "In working, man perfects in himself the image of God" (Pius XII, Christmas 1955). Work educates and develops a great many natural virtues: fortitude as well as prudence, justice as well as temperance.

This is on the condition that man is not used just as a tool, a ‘human resource’, but that work is organised so that people can work as human beings able to use their initiative and take responsibility.

Another benefit, is that through work, man learns humility because he is faced with reality, and with knowledge of the true order of things. An engineer, a farmer, a manual labourer, a craftsman are, daily, confronted with reality, and with the more or less immediate consequences of their actions. This is less true of ‘intellectual’ professions where work has less interaction with practical realities.

Finally, work has an undeniable social dimension:

  • Through work, man carries out acts of charity by responding to the needs of others. He makes himself a "minister of God" producing goods and services of use to others: works of art, knowledge, bread, clothing, health services, transport, banking etc. etc.
  • Work is also a place where one learns to practice respect for others and solidarity with others. It is rare in work not to depend on one or several other persons: suppliers, colleagues etc.
  • Work is a socially structured activity which requires respect for time-keeping, team working, and listening to the needs of the ‘customer’ in order to give him, at best, satisfaction.
Work enables us to serve the common good, and each of us does this according to the talents that we have been given, in order that these bear the best fruit possible.

Therein lies a certain inequality. But inequality is a fact of life. Our Lord affirmed this to Saint Catherine of Sienna in the Dialogues: "I do not give all the virtues equally to everyone (...) I use the word temporal for the things necessary to the physical life of man; all these I have given indifferently, and I have not placed them all in one soul, in order that man should, perforce, have material for love of his fellow. I could easily have created men possessed of all that they should need both for body and soul, but I wish that one should have need of the other, and that they should be My ministers to administer the graces and the gifts that they have received from Me. Whether man will or no, he cannot help making an act of love. It is true, however, that that act, unless made through love of Me, profits him nothing so far as grace is concerned. See then, that I have made men My ministers, and placed them in diverse stations and various ranks, in order that they may make use of the virtue of love.”

The inequalities which are condemned, however, are those iniquitous ones, which are contrary to equity and social justice. Most prevalent of these in our society today is widespread unemployment. Modern Western society, in particular France, has seen the emergence of an ever increasing number of people who are not working, several million people without work, and consequently deprived of all the benefits of work, except (when they meet the necessary criteria) the benefit of collecting a wage. There are those who even propose paying a universal income, that is, an income which would be paid whether one works or not! 

Saint Paul writes against this: “If any man will not work, neither let him eat” (2 Thessalonians 3, 10)  The lesson is clear. For man, there is no bread without work. Each one can however ask himself: Is my work a means of personal sanctification and of real benefit to the common good? Or is it simply a way to earn money and at best, ensure the subsistence of my family, or at worst finance a life of holidays and parties, dubious privileges of squanderers, the selfish, and the immature, who are failing to pass on the precious heritage they have received?

But there is another, less widespread, pitfall and that is disregarding Sunday as a day of rest; turning it into a workday just like any other. This pitfall makes work into an idol, sacrificing everything to it: family life, intellectual life, spiritual life, relaxation etc.etc. In this regard we turn to the teaching of Our Divine Master, who, when observing Martha becoming stressed about the meal she was preparing, said to her: "Martha, Martha, thou art careful and are troubled about many things: But one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her." (Luke X,42).

Although God has commanded man to work, the essential is not there. Work permits man to be free of material constraints so that he can ensure his condition as a child of God in the different states of life in which he finds himself. It is this condition of being a child of God which is the essential, because we are made for God. Work itself should serve this quest for eternal life with Him.

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