Claiming Work -- and Its Feast Day -- for God

Director of the Josephite Movement Speaks of St. Joseph the Worker

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By Jose Antonio Varela Vidal

ROME, APRIL 30, 2012 (Zenit.org).- May 1 in nearly every country is Labor Day. More than 50 years ago the Church saw this feast as an opportunity to reflect on the figure of St. Joseph, who was a model worker as support of his family. 

ZENIT spoke with Father Tarcisio Giuseppe Stramare of the Congregation of Oblates of Saint Joseph, director of the Josephite Movement, about Tuesday's feast of St. Joseph the Worker.

ZENIT: How did we move from the feast of workers on May 1 to the feast of St. Joseph the Worker?

Father Stramare: The feast of St. Joseph the Worker, established on May 1, 1955, is recent. It was Pope Pius XII who wished to claim for work and for this “feast” its true meaning and Christian value. Work, in fact, doesn’t belong to an ideology or to a party, but to man: that is why it was especially redeemed by Jesus, so much so that John Paul II, in the encyclical Laborem exercens, used the weighty expression “Gospel of work.”

ZENIT: What does “Gospel of work” mean?

Father Stramare: “Gospel” is the Good News that refers to Jesus, the Savior of humanity. Well, despite the fact that in general we see Jesus as someone who teaches and does miracles, he was so identified with work that in his time he was regarded as “the son of the carpenter,” namely, an artisan himself. Among many possible activities, the Wisdom of God chose for Jesus manual work, entrusted the education of his Son not to the school of the learned but to a humble artisan, namely, St. Joseph.

ZENIT: But St. Joseph was a descendant of King David.

Father Stramare: Certainly, and this origin retains all its importance in the register to claim for Jesus the title of Messiah, which is also important. From the social point of view, however, Jesus wished to be catalogued as “worker,” born of Mary, spouse of Joseph, who was a “worker.” In addition to the Davidic title, essential for his recognition as the Messiah, Jesus received from Joseph the human dimension of worker.

ZENIT: With the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, Pius XII highlighted the importance of Jesus’ social dimension, perhaps too hidden behind his activities as teacher and healer, no?

Father Stramare: Work, in fact, was an integral part of Jesus’ “existence”; it is also part of Christian revelation. The Gospels stress especially the fact that “he, being God made himself similar to us in everything," dedicating the greater part of his earthy life to manual work, close to the carpenter’s bench. This circumstance is of great importance for the theology of the Incarnation, which teaches that Jesus united himself to earthly realities, not only to show his humanity, but to “sanctify them” through himself.

ZENIT: Can we say that work was “redeemed”?

Father Stramare: Yes, this is exactly what the above-mentioned definition says of the “Gospel of work.” Human work and, in particular, manual work finds a special accent in the Gospel. Together with the humanity of the Son of God, it was incorporated in the mystery of the Incarnation, which has also been redeemed in a particular way. The Creator of the universe really “worked with man’s hands,” directly sanctifying human work.

ZENIT: So St. Joseph's role was important?

Father Stramare: In the plan of Divine Providence, Saint Joseph was the necessary instrument of the redemption of work, which took place precisely in his humble workshop, through the mission he carried out not only with Jesus, but even above Jesus, who “lived subject to them.” “This ‘submission,’ or Jesus’ obedience in Nazareth, is also understood as participation in Joseph’s work. He who was called “the son of the carpenter” learned to work from his putative ‘father.’ If in the order of salvation and sanctity, the Family of Nazareth is the example and model for human families, by analogy so is Jesus’ work next to Joseph the carpenter.

ZENIT: Then it is clear that together with the Redeemer of work, who cannot be other than Jesus, the paternal presence of St. Joseph should not be ignored?

Father Stramare: Precisely. After Mary, no human being was as close to the hands, mind, will and heart of Jesus as St. Joseph. Pius XII stressed this, when proposing the example of St. Joseph to workers. Keeping in mind, in fact, that the spirit of the Gospel flows from the heart of the Man-God in all men, the fact is that no worker was so perfect and profoundly penetrated as Jesus’ adoptive father, who lived with him in the closest intimacy and community of life and work. Hence the invitation that the same Pontiff addressed to workers: “If you want to be close to Christ, Ite a Ioseph,” go to St. Joseph! Therefore, as model of workers, St. Joseph is also their special patron.

[Translation by ZENIT]