Psalm 90:2, 3-4, 12-13, 14 and 16
Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker on May 1, 1955. Today’s Liturgy invites us first to contemplate the work of God in creating the world. God labors for six days, creating the spaces of creation and then filling them with the sun and moon and stars, with the sea creatures and birds of the air, and with brute animals and mankind. On the seventh day, God finishes his work and rests from all the work he had undertaken. As the story of Genesis continues, God will invite man to share both in his work of creation and in his Sabbath rest.
Before his fall, God commands man to till the garden of Eden and keep it (Genesis 2:15). Work was not a burden for man, but rather a way of exercising his dominion given by God (Genesis 1:28). It was his share in God’s creative work. Work is proper to man; toil, however, is a consequence of sin. On breaking the covenant of creation, Adam brings upon himself the curse of death and the curse of toil: “cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground” (Genesis 3:17-18).
In the introduction to his encyclical on human work (14 Sept 1981), Saint John Paul II points out that work is one of the characteristics that distinguishes man from all other creatures. From the beginning, man is called to work and only man is capable of work, through which he earns his daily bread and contributes to the advancement of society.
John Paul remarks that Christianity introduced a change in the idea of work. In the ancient world, the work requiring physical strength was given to slaves and not free men. The Gospel, however, tells us that God became like us in all things and devoted most of the years of his life on earth to manual work at the carpenter’s bench (John Paul II,Laborem exercens, 6). Jesus, as the Son of God, imitates and carries out the work of his heavenly Father (John 5:17) and, as the Son of Mary, learned how to work from Joseph, his foster-father. The apostles will earn their living for a time by fishing (John 21:3); Paul will continue to make tents so as not to burden those with he stayed (Acts 18:3). In his parables on the Kingdom of God Jesus Christ constantly refers to human work: that of the shepherd, the farmer, the doctor, the sower, the householder, the servant, the steward, the fisherman, the merchant, the laborer (John Paul II, Laborem exercens, 26).
God continues even now to work by sustaining all creation in existence and by saving those he has destined for rest in his heavenly home (See John Paul II, Laborem exercens, 25). As a share in God’s work, man’s work requires a rest every seventh day. Though his work, man prepares himself – by becoming more and more what in the will of God he ought to be – for the rest that the Lord reserves for his servants and friends (John Paul II, Laborem exercens, 25). We sweat and toil in the present condition of life; yet by enduring the toil of work in union with Christ crucified, we work with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity. We are true disciples of Christ when we carry our daily cross in the activity we are called to perform (John Paul II, Laborem exercens, 27). The Cross leads to the Resurrection, and so, in our work, we see the glimmer of new life, an announcement of the new heavens and the new earth. The expectation of a new earth simulates our concern for cultivating this earth in accord with God’s command. Work as earthly progress can contribute to the better ordering of human society. And this is part of the development of the Kingdom of God (John Paul II, Laborem exercens, 27).
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