"Man Is Subject and Protagonist of Work"
Benedict XVI's Homily on Feast of St. Joseph
March 19, 2006
Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered today
during a Mass dedicated to workers, in anticipation of Monday's
feast of St. Joseph.
Dear Brothers and
We have heard together a well-known passage of the Book of
Exodus, in which the holy author recounts God's giving of the
Decalogue to Israel.
A detail causes an immediate impression: The enunciation of the
Commandments is introduced by a significant reference to the
liberation of the people of Israel. The text says: "I am the
Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of
the house of bondage" (Exodus 20:20). The Decalogue, therefore,
is a confirmation of the freedom won.
In fact, if the Commandments are examined in depth, they are the
means the Lord gives us to defend our freedom both from the
internal conditionings of the passions as well as from the
external abuses of the malicious. The "noes" of the Commandments
are as many "yeses" to the growth of authentic freedom. There is
a second dimension in the Decalogue which must also be
emphasized: Through the Law given by Moses' hand, the Lord
reveals that he wills to conclude a covenant with Israel.
Therefore, more than an imposition, the Law is a gift. More than
commanding what man must do, the Law manifests God's choice to
all: He is on the side of the chosen people; he has delivered
them from slavery and surrounds them with merciful kindness. The
Decalogue is a testimony of a love of predilection.
Today's liturgy gives us a second message: The Mosaic law has
found fulfillment in Jesus, who revealed the wisdom and love of
God through the mystery of the Cross, "a stumbling block to Jews
and folly to Gentiles," as St. Paul says to us in the second
reading, "but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks,
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians
1:23-24). The Gospel page just proclaimed makes reference
precisely to this mystery: Jesus drives the vendors and money
changers from the temple. The evangelist gives the key to the
reading of this significant episode through the verse of a
Psalm: "Zeal for your house consumes me" (Psalm 68:10).
It is Jesus who is "consumed" by this "zeal" for "God's house,"
used for purposes other than those for which it was designed. In
response to the request of the religious leaders for a sign of
his authority, amid the astonishment of those present, he
affirms: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it
up (John 2:19).
Mysterious words, incomprehensible at the moment, but which John
reformulates for his Christian readers, observing: "He spoke of
the temple of his body" (John 2:21). That "temple" would be
destroyed by his adversaries, but, after three days, he would
rebuild it through the resurrection. Christ's painful and
"scandalous" death will be crowned by the triumph of his
glorious resurrection. While in this Lenten season we prepare to
relive in the Easter triduum this central event of our
salvation, we already see the crucified one perceiving in him
the splendor of the risen one.
Dear brothers and sisters: Today's Eucharistic celebration,
which unites the meditations of the liturgical texts of the
third Sunday of Lent with the remembrance of St. Joseph, gives
us the opportunity to consider, in the light of the paschal
mystery, another important aspect of human existence. I am
referring to the reality of work, situated today at the center
of rapid and complex changes.
In various passages, the Bible shows how work belongs to man's
original condition. When the creator made man to his image and
likeness, he invited him to work the earth (Genesis 2:5-6). It
was because of the sin of our fathers that work was transformed
into effort and pain (Genesis 3:6-8), but in the divine plan it
keeps its value unaltered. The Son of God himself, making
himself similar to us in everything, dedicated himself for many
years to manual activities, so much so that he was known as the
"son of the carpenter" (Matthew 13:55).
The Church has always shown, especially in the last century,
attention and concern for this realm of society, as attested by
the magisterium's numerous social interventions and the action
of many associations of Christian inspiration, some of which are
gathered here today to represent the whole world of laborers.
I am happy to welcome you, dear friends, and to each of you I
address my cordial greeting. I address a special thought to
Bishop Arrigo Miglio of Ivrea and president of the Italian
episcopal Commission for Social Problems and Work, Justice and
Peace, who has made himself interpreter of your common
sentiments and manifested kind expressions of congratulations
for my name day. I am very grateful to him.
Work is of primary importance for man's fulfillment and the
development of society, and this is why it is necessary that it
always be organized and developed in full respect of human
dignity and at the service of the common good. At the same time,
it is indispensable that man not allow himself to be subjected
to work, that he not idolize it, intending to find in it the
ultimate and definitive meaning of life.
In this connection, the invitation contained in the first
reading is timely: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh
day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God" (Exodus 20:8-9). The
Sabbath is a holy day, namely, consecrated to God, in which man
understands better the meaning of his existence and also of his
work activity. Therefore, it can be affirmed that the biblical
teaching on work finds its coronation in the commandment to
In this regard, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the
Church observes opportunely: "To man, bound to the necessity of
work, rest opens the perspective of a fuller liberty, that of
the eternal Sabbath (cf. Hebrew 4:9-10). Rest allows men to
remember and relive God's works, from the creation to the
redemption, recognize themselves has His work (cf. Hebrew 2:10)
to give thanks to him who is their author for their life and
their existence" (No. 258).
Work activity must serve the true good of humanity, allowing
"man, as individual and member of society, to cultivate and
fulfill his full vocation" ("Gaudium et Spes," No. 35). For this
to occur, the necessary technical and professional qualification
is not enough; neither is the creation of a just social order
attentive to the good of all sufficient. A spirituality must be
lived that will help believers to sanctify themselves through
their work, imitating St. Joseph, who every day had to provide
for the needs of the Holy Family with his hands, and who because
of this the Church indicates as patron of workers.
His testimony shows that man is subject and protagonist of work.
I would like to entrust to him the young people who have
difficulty in entering the world of work, the unemployed and
those who suffer the inconveniences due to the widespread
occupational crisis. Together with Mary, his spouse, may St.
Joseph watch over all workers and obtain serenity and peace for
families and for the whole of humanity. Contemplating this great
saint, may Christians learn to witness in all labor realms the
love of Christ, source of true solidarity and stable peace.
[Translated by ZENIT]
© Copyright 2006 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana