St. Joseph the Worker and Rerum Novarum

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To all you working Catholic women out there – away from home, in the home, part-time, full-time, PRN, shift work, nights, days, and everything in between – happy feast day! The feast of St. Joseph the Worker was established in 1955 by Pope Pius XII in a time when labor conditions around the world were being experiencing upheaval and revamped to become fairer to workers. The promulgation of the feast was inspired by the need for workers to look to St. Joseph as a heavenly friend and intercessor for needs related to their work. Additionally, the Catholic Church has historically been quite vocal on workers’ rights throughout the modern age, as agrarian and trade economies slowly gave way to industrialization and the ensuing changes we’ve seen over the past 150 years. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that a day was set aside to honor this saint, who was the breadwinner for the Holy Family and exceptional example of sanctification through the simple embrace of his labor and state in life.

In fact, as far back as 1891, Pope Leo XIII took a thoughtful look at the impending rise of global socialism, and in response, issued the encyclical Rerum Novarum (“On Capital And Labor”). In this document, he lays out expectations for both business owners and workers, and the rights, duties, and responsibilities that each owes the other. Seems like common sense, right? Well, it was controversial, and the Pope surmised his letter would be interpreted as a pot-stirring missive:

“The discussion is not easy, nor is it void of danger. It is no easy matter to define the relative rights and mutual duties of the rich and of the poor, of capital and of labor. And the danger lies in this, that crafty agitators are intent on making use of these differences of opinion to pervert men’s judgments and to stir up the people to revolt.” — Rerum Novarum, 2

There are plenty of great nuggets in this encyclical, which I encourage you to read sometime this week. In a nutshell, the Holy Father summarizes the rights and duties of the working class and the business owners as such:

“Of these duties, the following bind the proletarian and the worker: fully and faithfully to perform the work which has been freely and equitably agreed upon; never to injure the property, nor to outrage the person, of an employer; never to resort to violence in defending their own cause, nor to engage in riot or disorder; and to have nothing to do with men of evil principles, who work upon the people with artful promises of great results, and excite foolish hopes which usually end in useless regrets and grievous loss. The following duties bind the wealthy owner and the employer: not to look upon their work people as their bondsmen, but to respect in every man his dignity as a person ennobled by Christian character. They are reminded that, according to natural reason and Christian philosophy, working for gain is creditable, not shameful, to a man, since it enables him to earn an honorable livelihood; but to misuse men as though they were things in the pursuit of gain, or to value them solely for their physical powers – that is truly shameful and inhuman. Again justice demands that, in dealing with the working man, religion and the good of his soul must be kept in mind. Hence, the employer is bound to see that the worker has time for his religious duties; that he be not exposed to corrupting influences and dangerous occasions; and that he be not led away to neglect his home and family, or to squander his earnings. Furthermore, the employer must never tax his work people beyond their strength, or employ them in work unsuited to their sex and age. His great and principal duty is to give every one what is just. Doubtless, before deciding whether wages axe fair, many things have to be considered; but wealthy owners and all masters of labor should be mindful of this – that to exercise pressure upon the indigent and the destitute for the sake of gain, and to gather one’s profit out of the need of another, is condemned by all laws, human and divine. To defraud any one of wages that are his due is a great crime which cries to the avenging anger of Heaven. “Behold, the hire of the laborers… which by fraud has been kept back by you, crieth; and the cry of them hath entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.”(6) Lastly, the rich must religiously refrain from cutting down the workmen’s earnings, whether by force, by fraud, or by usurious dealing; and with all the greater reason because the laboring man is, as a rule, weak and unprotected, and because his slender means should in proportion to their scantiness be accounted sacred. Were these precepts carefully obeyed and followed out, would they not be sufficient of themselves to keep under all strife and all its causes?”

Wow.

I’ll admit that while I studied key points of Rerum Novarum during my homeschooled years, I didn’t sit down and read the whole thing until today, when I began this blog post. So much richness in this letter, and so much is still very much applicable today! Because I’d love to share with you some of the wisdom of St. Leo the XIII, I’m giving away a Kindle copy of Rerum Novarum over on Instagram! Head over to http://instagram.com/cajuntexasmom to get the deets and enter. No IG? No problem! Comment below with your favorite prayer when things get tough at work, and share this post on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest – then drop the link to your post at the end of your comment. Contest ends at 11:59pm Central on 5/5/18. Good luck!

Faith in Action – Make this prayer a part of your routine at the beginning of each workday:

O Glorious St. Joseph, model of all those who are devoted to labor, obtain for me the grace to work conscientiously, putting the call of duty above my natural inclinations, to work with gratitude and joy, in a spirit of penance for the remission of my sins, considering it an honor to employ and develop by means of labor the gifts received from God, to work with order, peace, moderation and patience, without ever shrinking from weariness and difficulties, to work above all with purity of intention and detachment from self, having always death before my eyes and the account that I must render of time lost, of talents wasted, of good omitted, of vain complacency in success, so fatal to the work of God. All for Jesus, all through Mary, all after thine example, O Patriarch, St. Joseph. Such shall be my motto in life and in death. Amen.

Written by Pope St. Pius X

Additional reading on Rerum Novarum:

On the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum by Pope St. John Paul II

On the Eightieth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum by Pope Paul VI

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