The feast of St Joseph the Worker was established on 1 May by Pope Pius XII after the Second World War to associate the Catholic Church with Labour day, which had become an important celebration of workers’ rights throughout the world (and still is). The Church is conscious that Our Lord grew up in the household of a carpenter, so we see Joseph as an inspiration for what we believe about the value and dignity of human work. Next year will see the 130th anniversary of the papal encyclical of Leo XIII known as ‘Rerum Novarum’ which spoke out for the rights of industrial workers and since then the Church has allied herself strongly with those working for good working conditions, acceptable standards of safety at work, the right to join Trade Unions, the right to strike, the right to employment and other issues. What we teach about human work also relates to the efforts in the world to end slavery and human trafficking. Christianity, certainly unlike many religions in the ancient world, teaches that work is a good thing, part of God’s will for us: idleness is not something to be sought, but a sin.
Moreover the current Covid-19 crisis has raised very quickly, all over the world, big questions about the nature of human work. Many people have lost their jobs or have had their income cut through being ‘furloughed’, and many more face real uncertainties about their future. For those who are able to work from home, which carries its own challenges, there are other questions: might we carry on like this after the virus is over? Most of us have only begun to reflect on this, but as we do it’s important to be guided by the social teaching of the Church; and we need St Joseph’s prayers today, especially for those who’ve lost their jobs in the current pandemic.
Take care and God bless