In his encyclical, Laborem Exercens, Pope John Paul II said, echoing the sentiments of the Second Vatican Council, “The word of God’s revelation is profoundly marked by the fundamental truth that humankind, created in the image of God, shares by their work in the activity of the Creator and that, within the limits of their own human capabilities, they in a sense continue to develop that activity, and perfect it as they advance further and further in the discovery of the resources and values contained in the whole of creation.” (25)
The Christian idea of work is that through the toil of work, the Christian joins her or himself to the cross of Christ, and through the effects of work, the Christian participates in the creative activity of our Creator God. Today we celebrate the feast day for all Christian workers, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. This feast recalls that Jesus himself was a worker, schooled in the drudgeries and the joys of the vocation of carpentry by his father, St. Joseph, who worked hard, as many do today, to support his family.
In today’s first reading, Saint Paul, newly Christian, works hard at the task of proclaiming the Gospel. But we also know that, in order not to be a burden to those to whom he was preaching, and thus not to be an obstacle to their faith, he worked at the trade of tentmaking. In other places, St. Paul elevates human labor to a virtue, demanding that those who do not work should not eat, and decrying the inactivity of those who are idle, and busybodies. If work is a share in the activity of the creator and a share in the cross of Christ, woe to those who turn away from it!
Sometimes, it is true, work is far from blessed. There is, of course, a responsibility of the employer to provide a workplace that upholds human dignity. But often work seems less than redemptive. To that, Pope John Paul said, “Sweat and toil, which work necessarily involves in the present condition of the human race, present the Christian and everyone who is called to follow Christ with the possibility of sharing lovingly in the work that Christ came to do. This work of salvation came about through suffering and death on a Cross. By enduring the toil of work in union with Christ crucified for us, humankind in a way collaborates with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity. They show themselves true disciples of Christ by carrying the cross in their turn every day in the activity that they are called upon to perform.” (Laborem Exercens, 27)
And so we all forge ahead in our daily work, whether that be as a carpenter, a tentmaker, a homemaker, a mother or father, a laborer, a white collar worker, a consecrated religious or ordained person, or whatever it may be. We forge ahead with the joy of bringing all the world to redemption through creation, through the cross and Resurrection of Christ, and through our daily work.