Work is a fundamental human right, says Pope Francis

Pope Francis has frequently discussed the dignity of work and its important place in human society as a right to be protected and extended to all. This week, continuing his weekly catechesis on Saint Joseph, he spoke about St. Joseph as a working man, a carpenter, who reminds us that work is about more than just a paycheck.

Ashley Noronha, our Relevant Radio Rome Correspondent, said in her Relevant in Rome podcast that the Holy Father spoke specifically about work “as a way to grow in sanctity. He spoke about a dignity that is attached to labor and that dignity is essential for human development because work is a place that one can express him or herself and make a contribution.”

What does St. Joseph know about work? Quite a lot. One of his titles is St. Joseph the Worker, after all.

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“The Greek term tekton, used to specify Joseph’s work, has been translated in various ways. The Latin Fathers of the Church rendered it as ‘carpenter,’” explained Pope Francis. But he went on to say that during Biblical times, wood was used to make more than just chairs and tables. It is possible that Joseph could have worked in construction, building homes or other wooden structures.

The work he did was labor-intensive, working with his hands and hauling heavy materials. And though Joseph was skilled in his trade, it wasn’t a very lucrative business. The Holy Father pointed out, “it did not ensure great earnings, as can be deduced from the fact that Mary and Joseph, when they presented Jesus in the Temple, offered only a couple of turtledoves or pigeons (cf. Lk 2:24), as the Law prescribed for the poor (cf. Lv 12:8).”

Yet Joseph, who also taught Jesus his trade, is a reminder of the dignity that work gives to all of us. For Pope Francis, the hard work that Joseph exemplifies, makes him think of all those who are exploited in their work, who do difficult jobs with little pay or recognition, and those who are out of work, especially due to the current pandemic.

The Holy Father asked the faithful to take a moment to pray for all those “who are desperate because they cannot find work”, even to the point of taking their own lives.

Noronha explained that Pope Francis “invited all the faithful to ask themselves some important questions.” 

Perhaps you will ponder them yourself today: “With what spirit do we do our daily work? How do we deal with fatigue? Do we see our activity as linked only to our own destiny or also to the destiny of others?”

Jesus and Joseph saw the value in work, and Pope Francis asks that we, the faithful, consider what we can do to “recover the value of work” and see that work is “redeemed from the logic of mere profit and can be experienced as a fundamental right and duty of the person, which expresses and increases his or her dignity.”

Remembering all those who are victims of exploitation in the workplace, those without work, children who are forced to work, undocumented workers, and those who serve in hidden or dangerous professions, we pray: St. Joseph the Worker, pray for us!

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Lindsey is a wife, mother, and contributing author at Relevant Radio. She holds a degree in Journalism and Advertising from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Lindsey enjoys writing, baking, and liturgical living with her young family.