19th March, the day on which the church traditionally remembered Joseph, the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Accorded the status of the patron saint of workers, there are moments in the Gospel story when one might wonder how this working man would have seen the church. Would he have recognised the organisation as having any empathy with working people?
Saint Luke records the words of the Song of the Blessed Virgin Mary and it is hard to imagine that the Judean carpenter to whom she was married did not share her perspective.
“He has put down the mighty from their seat and exalted the humble and meek”, sings Mary. An unmarried, pregnant teenager, Mary would have known what it meant to be humble and meek. Look at the medieval paintings and the plaster statues of Mary now, the submissive, pale white Caucasian woman depicted seems a far remove from the young Palestinian who proclaimed a social revolution whose husband was a working man.
Of course, Mary’s words were not fulfilled, the mighty were not put down, and the gap between them and the humble and meek has grown ever wider. Perhaps the mistake was the confidence placed in human nature, the naive belief that, given enough money, people would become altruistic; there would be a generosity that had not been anticipated; that the bonds of humanity would be so strong that the thought of hundreds of millions living in destitution would be unacceptable. Perhaps Joseph the worker would say that it was ever thus.
Perhaps the failing was the confidence placed in democracy. Democracy was seen as Christian, it posited the constitutional equality of every person, consonant with the idea of equality before God. But for democracy to work, for democracy to fulfil the aspirations of the Blessed Virgin Mary, it depended on the humble and meek having the power to effect change. Advocates of democracy as the avenue to justice saw society as pyramid-shaped; if the bulk of the people were at the foot of the pyramid, then they could exercise their democratic rights and bring reform.
But society is not pyramid shaped, it is diamond-shaped; the bulk of the people are in the middle. The middle will not act against their own interest, they will not act to empower and enrich those in the lower socio-economic groups, particularly when the democratic strength of the middle is combined with the economic power of those in the elite groups. Christians are part of the middle, they do not question a system that leaves some with nothing.
How many Christians would take a stand for rights and dignity alongside a working man like Joseph? How many working men like Joseph are Christians?