Despising the manual worker

“Isn’t this guy the carpenter’s son?”
Matthew 13: 55

All too often the world looks down on manual work and on those who work in our fields and factories, those who clean our buildings or service our cars. White collar work, intellectual work, and business savvy are valued more than the sweat of those who clean our schools and hospitals or grow and harvest our food.

joseph

St. Joseph, by Ade Bethune

Even Jesus experienced this dismissal of the value of manual work. They tried to dismiss him and his wisdom since he is only “the carpenter’s son.”

Yet today, as the world celebrates the Day of the Worker, a national holiday here in Honduras and other countries, the Church celebrates Saint Joseph the Worker.

I see this around me here in Honduras. Shortly after I got here I read the president of the National Congress referring to the people who work in the countryside in our part of the country as “gente del monte,” which (because of the ambiguity of the word monte as either hill or weed) can be translated as “hillbillies” or “hayseed.”

But this is not only here. I remember how the university students who came from the farm or were studying agriculture seemed to be seen as less important than those studying engineering who came from a big city. And this was at a land-grant university.

But it was only a few years ago when I realized why I am so sensitive to this. My parents were blue collar workers. Though my dad eventually worked in the office, he began working on the floor of a steel fabrication plant. My mom had several jobs in offices but also spent several years working in a supermarket distribution center, candling eggs and going through fruit and vegetables.

There is a dignity in manual work that it is so easy to ignore. There is also a tendency to over-value intellectual work, to esteem thinking over doing.

Thus it is interesting that today is also the anniversary of the death of Thomas A Kempis who wrote in The Imitation of Christ:

“A humble countryman who serves God is more pleasing to Him than a conceited intellectual who knows the course of the stars, but neglects his own soul.”

Today is also the anniversary of the initiation of the Catholic Worker, distributed at the May Day rally in 1933.

Today I also recall the death of Monsignor George Higgins, a strong advocate of the worker and of unions, in 2002, and the death on the same day of Ade Bethune, the artist whose work has appeared prominently in The Catholic Worker for decades.

It is good that today we honor Saint Joseph the Worker by honoring all those who work, especially those who work with their hands. Where would we be without them?

 

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