At the start of Mass in the Casa Santa Marta on May 1, the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker, Pope Francis prayed for workers around the globe.
Today, on the feast of St. Joseph the Worker and the day dedicated to workers, let us pray for all workers, so that no one might be without work and all might be paid a just wage. May they benefit from the dignity of work and the beauty of rest.
A special statue of St. Joseph the Worker was present in the chapel as the Pope celebrated Mass.
In 1956 the same image – blessed on May 1 by the then-Archbishop of Milan, Giovanni Battista Montini (the future Pope Paul VI) – left for Rome by helicopter on May 2 to be blessed also by Pope Pius XII at the audience granted that same day to ACLI (Christian Association of Italian Workers). The audience took place 12 months after the Mass in which Piux XII had dedicated the liturgical feast celebrated by workers around the world to the Spouse of Mary and Jesus’ foster father.
Continuing God’s work of Creation
In his homily, Pope Francis reflected on the day’s reading (Gen 1:26-2:3) which recounts the creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God.
He focused his attention on God’s “work” of Creation. God, he said, entrusted mankind with the task of continuing that effort.
Work is exactly the continuation of the work of God. Human labor is the vocation that mankind received from God ever since the creation of the universe. It is work that makes us similar to God, because through work men and women act as creators, and are capable of creating many things, even of creating a family.
The Pope said the Bible describes God surveying what He had done and finding it “very good”.
“Work contains goodness within itself, creates harmony between things – beauty, goodness – and involves every part of the person,” he said. “This is man’s first vocation: work. This gives dignity to mankind. Dignity makes us similar to God.”
Pope Francis went on to tell a story about a man who visited a local Caritas center to find food for his family. One Caritas employee told him: “At least you can bring some bread home.” The man replied: “But it’s not enough to bring food home. I want to earn my daily bread.”
The Pope said this man was lacking dignity, the “dignity to ‘make’ his own bread through his work.”
The Pope added that the dignity of work has been widely trampled upon throughout history. Examples range from the African slaves dragged to the Americas, to the modern “slave” who toils for just enough to get by on.
Today there are many slaves – many men and women who are not free to work: they are forced to work for enough to live on, nothing more. They are slaves to forced labor… and poorly paid.
He specifically mentioned day laborers who toil 12 to 14 hours a day for a miserable stipend. “This doesn’t happen only in Asia,” he said. “It happens here.”
Every injustice inflicted upon a person who works means trampling upon human dignity, even the dignity of the person who carries out the injustice… On the other hand, the vocation God gives us is much higher: to create, re-create, work. But this can be done only when the conditions are just and human dignity is respected.
Concluding his homily, Pope Francis urged everyone to unite ourselves to all those who work, to those who fight to achieve justice in their work, and to businesspeople who treat those in their employ with justice.
We ask St. Joseph – with this beautiful image with the tools of work in hand – to help us fight for the dignity of work, so that there might be work for all and that it might be dignified work, not the work of a slave.
A lesson from Eden: We were made to work