The Final Word
Each year on 1 May we celebrate the feast of St Joseph the Worker.
In 1955, Pope Pius XII instituted this wonderful feast as the Church’s response to May Day celebrations for workers sponsored by Communist organisations.
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).
Our current Holy Father Pope Francis also has a great devotion to St Joseph and encourages us to pray to St Joseph.
A while back he explained why:
I have great love for Saint Joseph because he is a man of silence and strength. On my table I have an image of Saint Joseph sleeping. Even when he is asleep, he is taking care of the Church!
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.
Apparently, Francis’ devotion to Jesus’ adoptive father has spread to all those who work in and around the Pope’s residence, including the Swiss Guards!
The Holy Father has such a great devotion for St Joseph that he keeps his special statuette of the saint in a marble-topped dark wooden chest of drawers just outside his room (Room 201) in St Martha’s House. The Pope slips prayer requests he has written under the pedestal and as the pieces of paper grow in number (the Holy Father really makes the saint work!) the statuette slowly rises. Pope Francis advises people to leave a note under an image of the saint for help whenever they have a problem.
The quiet strength and dignity of this humble man Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, should inspire us all today. 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—a man who protected others as he lived out his faith in an ordinary job just like any worker.
The Feast of St Joseph the Worker therefore is always a timely reminder of the dignity of human labour and each worker. Let’s never forget those crucial statements by St John Paul II in his encyclical, Laborem exercens: ‘In the first place, work is for man and not man for work’. As Catholics we have a special duty to remind our political and community leaders that ‘the economy must serve people, not the other way around’.
Yes, 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’.
This May let’s especially pray for and act in solidarity with those thousands of people 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.
† Denis J Hart
Archbishop of Melbourne