St. Joseph the Worker

Source: the author.

Today is the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker. For much of the world, May 1 is also International Workers’ Day. Saint Joseph the Worker offers an example for working people, dignified by their labour, who bring Christ into the World. The dignity of human labour has long been a major theme in Catholic social teaching.

All of us who strive to find God in our labours find something of help in looking to Joseph. That ability is not limited to any one category of person. Many committed lay Catholics are able to see their labours as being rooted in God’s desires for them. There are some tasks that are less obvious sources of finding and bringing God to the world. It might be challenging to find God in certain mundane tasks.

One of the positive aspects of our current global pandemic is that those who were previously seen as at the lower end of the totem pole are now seen as essential workers: supermarket employees, hospital cleaners, personal support workers, and so on. They are suddenly as essential as doctors and nurses, and much more essential that those in the corporate world.

How wonderful it would be if their remuneration matched the new realization of the life-saving role they play on the front lines of the efforts to keep us safe. May we never forget our indebtedness to them, even when this crisis is behind us!

Our Church offers some examples of individuals who offer a good illustration of recognizing the dignity of those who labour. I wrote on this day last year of Dorothy Day and the ways in which this feast and International Workers’ Day merged in her work, especially in establishing the Catholic Worker movement.

Older Catholics may remember the Worker Priest movement of the 1940s. The French Church initiated it. It involved priests experiencing the everyday life of the working class, for example by labouring in places such as docks or car factories. The priest was indistinguishable in appearance from ordinary labourers.

The movement spread to places such as Belgium and Italy. The Dominican priest, who is seen as the founder of the movement, was sent by his superiors to study the condition of the working classes (not necessarily to join the workers). It was primarily an effort to be with workers who had moved away from their faith.

The movement had reluctant approval from the Pope for a few years, but it was out of favour by the 1950s, partly because the movement was becoming too political and was moving away from the traditional priesthood.

That being said, it is true that the movement revealed a great deal about the alienation of the Church from the modern world, a theme which lies behind the Second Vatican Council.

It is somewhat common, though not the rule or norm, for religious brothers and sisters, and for some religious order priests, even some in contemplative life, to have learned and to practice, to a greater or lesser degree, some trade or profession besides the sacred sciences like philosophy or theology.

We are blessed to have a community of Xaviere Sisters in Toronto. I’ve been privileged to get to know a few of them over the years. They are engaged in creative works, not necessarily related in an explicit way to traditional Church-related work.

The one I know best is a professional engineer. During the years I have known her, she has worked in the Greater Toronto Area, and is now working in Paris.

This is how Toronto community describes themselves.

We are Catholic religious women in a community founded in France in 1921, with the purpose of being a missionary in the midst of the world: living in small communities in a regular house or apartment, and working as professionals, involved in the Church as lay people, without a specific habit…

 The community in Toronto, our first in an English-speaking context, was opened in 2007. Passionate about Christ and passionate about the world, we want to listen to how God is calling us to praise, respect and serve in this city and this country Canada.

 (They make the connection between their vocation and Ignatian spirituality.)

Ignatian spirituality invites us to look for God in all things. We believe that God is at work every day in our lives and in our workplaces. Working is our way of serving Christ and others. We are engaged in a wide variety of organisations: private companies, non-profit organizations, public organisations, Church-related groups… Through work we share in a fundamental aspect of human life. Doing so, we share the achievements but also the difficulties and pains of every working life.

Let’s pray today for all those who share in the labour of God, that each of us may grow in recognition of the dignity of the work of others.

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

  • Nancy
    Posted at 02:49h, 01 May Reply

    Great insight Thankyou Father Phil

  • Richard Grover
    Posted at 07:07h, 01 May Reply

    Never knew about the priest-worker movement or the Xaviere nuns.Thanks Phil. Liberation theology also was criticized by the Red Scare vigilantes. Hope you are right that the world will up the salaries for the heroic people who kept our society alive during the C19 pandemic.

  • Peter Bisson SJ
    Posted at 09:03h, 01 May Reply

    Thank you Philip!

  • Bernice Dookhan-Khan
    Posted at 09:04h, 01 May Reply

    Thanks Fr. Shano. God bless.

  • Paul Baker
    Posted at 10:49h, 01 May Reply

    Thanks Philip. I very much appreciate your referencing the Xaviere Sisters. Went to their website and found an excellent four minute video, Praise Song for the Pandemic written and read by Christine Paintner.

  • John Meehan SJ
    Posted at 11:00h, 01 May Reply

    Wonderful reflection, Philip. Thanks for mentioning the Xavieres sisters!

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