In 1955, Pope Pius XII instituted the feast day of Saint Joseph the Worker. This day corresponds with the day of labor that is commemorated in many countries across the world. The importance and dignity of work are ideas that have formed and shaped the Catholic Church for many centuries.
In the Sacred Scriptures, we read that Jesus Christ is referred to as “the son of a carpenter.” Sacred Tradition teaches that Jesus was trained as a carpenter under his foster-father, St. Joseph, however, in reality, we believe him to more than just a carpenter, but also someone that worked with hard materials (tekton) – wood would have been a hard material, but also stone, iron, masonry, and even potentially an engineer of types.
Human work, no matter how extraordinary or ordinary the labor, can be sanctified. Sanctified work can assist us increase in holiness and virtue as well as increase the work of Jesus’ passion and redemption, which in turn increases good work and holiness among the Body of Christ.
Since today is the feast day of Saint Joseph the Worker, I wanted to provide for you 7 quotes from St. Paul VI, St. John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI on the importance of work in four of their documents. The documents where the quotes come from are also listed below –
1. “As the Church solemnly reaffirmed in the recent Council, “the beginning, the subject and the goal of all social institutions is and must be the human person.” All people have the right to work, to a chance to develop their qualities and their personalities in the exercise of their professions, to equitable remuneration which will enable them and their families “to lead a worthy life on the material, social, cultural and spiritual level” and to assistance in case of need arising from sickness or age.”- St. Paul VI, Octogesima Advenias (A Call to Action)
2. “The obligation to earn one’s bread by the sweat of one’s brow also presumes the right to do so. A society in which this right is systematically denied, in which economic policies do not allow workers to reach satisfactory levels of employment, cannot be justified from an ethical point of view, nor can that society attain social peace.” – St. John Paul II, Centesimus Annus (The Hundredth Year)
3. “I would like to remind everyone, especially governments engaged in boosting the world’s economic and social assets, that the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity: “Man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life.” – Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth)
4. “The economic sphere is neither ethically neutral, or inherently inhuman or opposed to society. It is part and parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be structured and governed in an ethical manner.” – Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth)
5. “Work is, as has been said, an obligation, that is to say, a duty, on the part of man…Man must work, both because the Creator has commanded it and because of his own humanity, which requires work in order to be maintained and developed. Man must work out of regard for others, especially his own family, but also for the society he belongs to, the country of which he is a child, and the whole human family of which he is a member, since he is the heir to the work of generations and at the same time a sharer in building the future of those who will come after him in the succession of history.” – St. John Paul II, Laborem Exercens (On Human Work)
6. “All these rights, together with the need for the workers themselves to secure them, give rise to yet another right: the right of association, that is to form associations for the purpose of defending the vital interests of those employed in the various professions. These associations are called labor or trade unions.” – St. John Paul II, Laborem Exercens (On Human Work)
7. “Work is a good thing for man-a good thing for his humanity-because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillmentas a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes “more a human being.” – St. John Paul II, Laborem Exercens (On Human Work)
For further reading on the importance of work, I would encourage you to read my article from my Quick Lessons from the Catechism series.
Saint Joseph the Worker…Pray for Us