Saint Joseph the Worker, and Why He Would Never Make an Ikea Shelf

May 1st in the Communist world is ‘International Workers’ Day’, even if in Marx’s disordered view, ‘work’ is a commodity to be used by the ‘state’, to which man is entirely subordinate. For all their talk of the ‘working ‘man’, communist regimes believe far more in slavery than in human dignity.

It was to combat the errors of Communism, particularly their erroneous view of human labour, that Pope Pius XII instituted this feast in 1955, alongside Saint Joseph’s principal feast day on March 19th.

Workers of the world should unite, but around the true principle of work:  Not as a materialistic endeavour, whose sole purpose is to produce ‘goods’ for the State or the marketplace in some sort of Hegelian dialectic; hence, in their view, once a worker fails to produce what the state considers valuable, he can be cast aside like a useless machine, and treated as a machine until then.

Rather, in the true and Catholic view, work is seen a free and ennobling activity by an immortal being whose primary purpose is to perfect the worker himself.

This is what Pope John Paul II in Laborem Exercens (1981) his masterful meditation on human labour, calls the ‘subjective’ dimension of work, making the worker himself better, and more apt for heaven, by exercising his talents, which exceeds in importance the ‘objective’ dimension, the production of goods themselves, which is where most of our energy and focus currently goes. We should value quality over quantity, and being over having.

As the Holy Father put it:

the primary basis of the value of work is man himself, who is its subject. This leads immediately to a very important conclusion of an ethical nature: however true it may be that man is destined for work and called to it, in the first place work is “for man” and not man “for work”

And he continues:

Through this conclusion one rightly comes to recognize the pre-eminence of the subjective meaning of work over the objective one. Given this way of understanding things, and presupposing that different sorts of work that people do can have greater or lesser objective value, let us try nevertheless to show that each sort is judged above all by the measure of the dignity of the subject of work, that is to say the person, the individual who carries it out.

Before concluding:

in the final analysis it is always man who is the purpose of the work, whatever work it is that is done by man-even if the common scale of values rates it as the merest “service”, as the most monotonous even the most alienating work. (#6)

It matters not so much what we do, but who is doing the work:  All labour – prescinding from dehumanizing, degrading and even sinful work – is dignified by the very fact that it is a human person, made in the imago Dei, who is working.  Yes, some should be remunerated more than others based on the objective value of their work (we ‘value’ the work of neurosurgeons more than baristas, or most do).  But every worker deserves a just wage, dignified work conditions, and for their work to be valued.  Everyone has a right to work, in some way, shape or form, which is why the Magisterium can truly call the plague of widespread unemployment a ‘scourge’, recalling of course that this right also implies a duty on the worker’s part to work well, with excellence, diligence and greatness of soul.

Further, the more we can impress our own personality upon the work we do, the more the work will perfect us and, in general, the more perfect the work will be. That is why craftsmanship, producing goods that we make with our own perfected talents, is much more fulfilling than mass-produced, assembly-line factory goods, slapped together by machines, or workers forced to work like machines, in faceless factories. Far better a hand-made cabinet than pressboard imitation from Ikea. This is why Saint Joseph would never build such a piece of ‘furniture’- if we may term it so – obsolescent and already falling apart as it rolls off the assembly line, for it would not reflect who he really is.

And who would not rather a home-baked apple pie or a hand-crafted Bavarian dessert – made with care, devotion and even love – than a microwaved, frozen doughnut from Tim Horton’s?

We may pay more, but is not the worker, and the value of good produced, worth the cost?

We can safely surmise that this is how the foster father, the nutricie, of the Christ worked, and he taught his divine Son to wok, in the deep, metaphysical meaning of human labour, which is far more than ‘making stuff’.  And this is what Saint Joseph teaches all of us in today’s feast/memorial.

As Saint Paul wrote to the Colossians:

And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

Sancte Joseph, ora pro nobis!