Today the Church asks us in a special way to turn our attention to the plight of the worker. On this day dedicated to St. Joseph the Worker in 1991 Pope John Paul II published an encyclical marking the 100th anniversary of what is considered the first of the social encyclicals Rerum Novarum.
In 1991 he drew special attention to the events of 1989 which seem to some to be ancient history. But it is worth looking back and remembering the transformation that was possible, the transformation which seemed impossible, the transformation that was carried out without war and bloodshed.
As we look around us almost 25 years later we see the signs of the continuing struggle to balance to fundamental truths. On the one hand there is the fundamental human right to private property and this includes that property which is part of businesses. On the other side is our belief in the universal destination of goods. All these things are created by God, and destined for the benefit of all.
All human beings have a right and obligation to work. In exchange for that work they have the right to a just wage, and the right to use that wage to obtain property that is rightly theirs. The state has a duty to assist its citizens to protect the rights of all.
As we look at a situation like Baltimore, the warning of St. John Paul rings true. We see what happens when morality is pushed from the public sphere, when at every level the fundamental truth of the human person is disregarded, when people loose faith in the power of non-violent change. From the most basic unit of society, the family, to the multi-national cooperation we must recover or basic understanding of human dignity, work, and the proper ordering of a society.
The events of 1989 did not bring perfect societies into place, and many gains were followed by losses because no earthly society will be the Kingdom of God. Nevertheless this Feast of St. Joseph the Worker calls on us all to renew our efforts to insure that every human being have dignified work from which they can build up their part of the larger human family.