Friday, 1 May 2015

St. Joseph the Worker: A Reflection for International Workers' Day

Today is 1 May, the 125th International Workers' Day.

Today is also the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.

The feast was decreed by Pope Pius XII in 1955, specifically to counteract International Workers’ Day, a day
 originally declared to commemorate the Haymarket tragedy in Chicago in 1886, which came out of the fight for the 8-hour working day, and now a day of international solidarity for workers, trade unionists, and activists struggling for safety, security, and justice for all working people everywhere.

Unfortunately, Pius’ decree had little to do with commemorating the struggles of the past or those of his own day; as ever, this was about controlling, regulating, directing.

Joseph, from the hierarchy's point of view, needed to serve as the ‘patron of workers’ the ‘model of workers’.

And what was that model? 

Teachings and stories tend to stress patience, persistence, the value of hard work.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but if Joseph- or Christ, Mary, or any other saint- simply becomes a cipher for dogma and social control, the true meaning of their lives are lost. 

Joesph was a worker, yes.

He was also, like many other workers before and since, a victim of organized state terror who became a refugee with his family- as do many workers today,

the same people drowning daily in the Mediterranean,

or dying of thirst in the Southwestern deserts of Mexico and the US,

Politicians and populists demonize them, raving to ‘their’ workers about how ‘these’ workers will steal 'their' jobs and rob 'their' taxes.

One slogan of the international labour movement declares, ‘An injury to one is an injury to all’;

In the biblical text, Jesus declares, ‘if you have done it- or not done it- to one of the least of my brothers, you have done it- or not done it- to me.’

Jesus spent the vast majority of his life- over 90%- as a worker, a tradesman, living in a small village.

What most of the anti-immigrant (should I say ‘anti-worker’?) rhetoric fails to consider is that most people want just that; 

to live in their own country, in their own community, working in safety, security, free from state terror, war, and poverty.

Just what Jesus and his father did for most of their lives…

Does the wealthy West really have the ego to think that people uproot themselves, pay exorbitant fees to traffickers, and take long, potentially- deadly journeys because they are lazy?! 

Because they want 'our' jobs, 'our' benefits', 'our' livelihoods?

The tendrils of domineering foreign policy, global economics, and environmental collapse all work to make life where they are un-liveable for many...

Joseph is the patron saint of these people. He is not the calm, quiet, patient, dutiful, compliant ‘worker’ of the Church hierarchy;

He is the uprooted worker, the fleeing worker, the worker from a small village, occupied by a foreign power;

The worker seeking to raise his family in peace, yet always at the mercy of the whims of governments and officials;

The worker who is part of an empire and an economy he did not create, and over which he has little or no influence.

The Church has very often fostered a theology of regulation and control, but the majority of the world- Catholics, other Christians, other religious groups, and secularists- have rightly rejected such theology.

We owe it to Jesus and Joseph to foster theologies of solidarity and resistance;

Theologies not just of work, but of workers.

Holy St. Joseph, pray for us…

1 comment:

  1. I still remember the thrill when Indiana Jones finds the real, simple, plain, rough Holy Grail - 'the cup of the Carpenter' he murmurs to himself, contradicting the stereotype of what too many thought the Grail might really be like.