I’m three days late mentioning the Memorial of Saint Joseph the Worker, which occurs in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar on May 1. But, this morning, checking out on of the blogs I read from time to time, Whispers in the Logia, I noticed that Mr. Rocco Palmo posted a lovely quote from Pope Benedict XVI about the Jesus’ earlier years under the care of St. Joseph, the carpenter. I suggest bopping over to the site and checking out the post “Quote of the Day” posted on May 1, 2012.
I usually comment at the Mass of the day that I don’t claim this St. Joseph feast as my patronal feast day. (March 19 is the day I claim, Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary). I have a tenuous relationship with the concept of work. I’d much rather be at rest. Yet, I don’t really consider what I do “work.” It’s a vocation, not a job. Priesthood is my way of sharing in the saving work of Jesus, carrying on his mission in the particular role of priest. In that sense it is “a work” in which I am privileged to participate.
One of my memories of grade school at St. Dominic Catholic Church in Breese, IL, my home parish, is a religion class in 8th grade where we did collages about “the dignity of work.” This was immediately after the changes in religious education that came about after Vatican Council II and the catechisms of my primary and middle grades had disappeared. It seems like a lot of religion classes involved art projects. I am sure that I really didn’t get the concept of work having a “human dignity” and “religious meaning” at the time. We just cut out pictures of people doing some sort of work and pasted them on roles of newsprint. Then again, maybe I did get something out of the exercise if I still remember it so many years later.
That religion class collage making project was probably my first exposure to the teaching of the church that all human activity can and should be directed toward the building up of the human community into a place of mutual respect and concern. Work is not just for work’s sake, or for the growth of the gross national product index. All human activity is a sharing in the work of creation and building of the Kingdom of God on earth until Jesus brings our work to fulfillment in the second coming. This is what gives work dignity, be it working in a factory or caring for children in the home. All forms of work have the potential of revealing the grandeur, the love and purpose of God for humanity.
The memorial of St. Joseph the Worker established by Pius XII was, on some levels, a response to the May Day celebrations of Marxist countries that supposedly exalted the worker’s place in the social order. There are other civil realm celebrations of the worker on May 1st in other parts of the non-comunist world, too. The day seems to be tied up with the movement to shorten the working hours of employees and worker’s rights. The Church, through this feast, proclaims that humans are not tools of the civil state or economic systems, but sharers in the very “work of God” revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, the redemption and reconciliation of the human community restored to its original state of harmony with God and in the human race. That’s true human dignity.
And, remember, one of the ways we share in the work of salvation is to offer the liturgy of the Church. The Greek word, Liturgia, that is the root of our English word “liturgy” means “work of the people.” Liturgy is work! A sharing in the sacred work of Jesus Christ, whose body we are. The body of the church embodying the Body of the Christ reveals Jesus continuing to offer to the Father the saving work of salvation, his death and resurrection, in every Mass and other celebration of the sacraments. Think how much the Father thinks of us, mere human beings, to permit us to share in the work of the Son!
So while I may not claim the memorial of May 1 as my patronal day, I do celebrate the gift of sharing in the work of salvation both in the everyday life of meetings, pastoral care, administration, feeding the poor, doing the laundry, all those other “mundane chores” and in the ability to preside at the Church’s liturgy. I hope you do, too.
Blog reading work break’s over. Let’s get to work, brothers and sisters.
Thanks be to God we are judged worthy to share in the work.