Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee
Today is May 1, “May Day.” World communism celebrated this day as the day of the worker. Its false sense of equality led many to believe that communism was a means to bestow equal treatment on the laborer. In fact, the only thing that communism did for the worker was to subject them to enslavement by the ruling class of the government. Those who, unfortunately, lived under communist rule, the “workers’ paradise,” experienced firsthand the oppressiveness of the regime. Workers gave up their personal freedoms, control over the products they produced, and were allowed no private ownership. There was little incentive for progress, creativity or personal accomplishment. The problem with communism was a false sense of equality that denied freedom and truth. Ultimately, that truth has its foundation in God, who is denied by Karl Marx.
The wisdom of the Church addressed the challenge of May Day workers’ paradise with the celebration of St. Joseph the Workman. There is a dignity to work, and it is found in fulfilling the purpose of God, the Father. Work provides sustenance; it contributes to the well-being of the family, and it helps form a person’s character as a contributing member of society.
My first real job (I say “real” because I made my way to the entrance gate with men who were supporting a family through working at the U.S. Steel Mills of South Chicago), I was made a laborer in the sintering plant of the steel mills. The sintering plant was as hot as the blast furnaces, and as dirty as the foundry. It was not a desirable place of work. You could not leave the plant without a shower because of the dirt that accumulated on your body. And, to this day, I am told that I probably have material embedded in the pores of my skin.
The first time I received a paycheck, I was proud of my earnings. But, I started to calculate how this money would be divided if I had to support a family. I realized it was not enough. However, it was a sure incentive to continue striving for the next level of success.
I grew to have an appreciation for the worker and his or her struggles. But, even more so for the dignity that surrounded those who labored to provide for their families. St. John Paul II, himself a laborer in the Polish quarries, joined human toil to a religious understanding. In his encyclical, Laborem Exercens, he states, “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 the suffering and death on a Cross. By enduring the toil of work in union with Christ crucified for us, man, in a way, collaborates with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity. He shows himself a true disciple of Christ, carrying the cross in his turn every day in the activity that he is called upon to perform.” (27.3)
The Church, in Her wisdom, reclaims the dignity of the worker by holding the model of St. Joseph as one who labored on behalf of Mary and the child, Jesus. It was Joseph’s work as a carpenter that fed the child and His mother. Jesus assumed His foster father’s role, understanding the importance of work and using His experience as fodder for his preaching, “My yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
As Bishop of La Crosse, my cathedral was St. Joseph the Workman. It is a beautiful cathedral, embodying and anticipating the best of Vatican II changes. It reminds all that we contribute to the body of the Church through our labors, and accept our ultimate task to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
Note: This blog originally appeared as the May 1, 2018 "Love One Another" email sent to Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki. If you are interested in signing up for these email messages, please click here.