[re-post from 2016]
It is your duty, dear priests, to make the church’s wish come true … That workers’ figure and situation be reconsidered, to allow them to be more human and to recover their true greatness as collaborators with God’s creative work … So that the gap between church and factory begins to fill, and that the fumes of incense mix with those of industries in rising up to heaven. — St. John Paul II
Today’s Feast of St Joseph the Worker was instituted in 1955 by Pope Pius XII as a Catholic liturgical response to the Communist version of the May Day celebration.
Today is the day that workers, who also happen to be Catholic, should celebrate the gift of labor. Work presents an potent opportunity for public witness to Christ. Whether we find work joyful and fulfilling, or arduous, tedious and boring; whether we find our co-workers dedicated to excellence and integrity, or inefficient, incompetent and irritating, we have an opportunity to join Jesus’ redeeming work. And this because Jesus the Worker’s supremely “productive” action was carried out while hanging helpless on the Cross. His internal disposition of faithful obedience to the Father and of love for the wreckage of humanity around Him (all working hard to destroy Him) transformed every labor condition into an opportunity for building an imperishable Kingdom.
Work allows Christians to demonstrate concretely the “hard” virtues. Work reveals the costliness of grace in the commitment to excellence instead of mediocrity, integrity amid lies, patience in the face of failure, kindness in response to asinine behavior, courage in confronting injustices. Christians reveal to others the way God Himself deals with us, his co-workers — and THAT is a high bar! God loves his inept, uncooperative, lazy, deceitful co-workers tirelessly, never ceasing to call them again and again and again to join in his work. Surely God could be FAR more efficient if he just did it all alone, or eliminated all the dead weight. But, for God, the ultimate goal of labor is never simply efficiency and productivity, but merciful love that builds a holy communion of saints out of a rabble of sinners.
Without such Christian witnesses in the workforce, how can we say be believe in the “word of the Cross” we say is our model for working in a fallen world? We may not be able to present people with persuasive apologetics or theological reasoning, but we can present in our daily work words and deeds consistent with the hope that is within us.
One time, I was having a conversation with a woman who insisted that we tell Catholics that their secular professions are a “ministry.” I objected, arguing for a more limited use of the word ministry that relates directly to works of service directed toward building up the inner life of the Church. She objected, “then what word will let people know what they are doing is holy?” I said, “Well, there’s a really ancient and revered word used throughout the whole Bible, that’s even used to describe all of God’s doings. Work. Let’s not replace it, let’s redeem it.”