With flowers blooming and the snows of winter finally coming to an end, the month of May brings with it, signs of rebirth, and the realization of the promises of spring. Because of the warmer weather, in many cultures May 1st, or May Day, has long been a day of celebration by the peoples throughout the world, as they rejoice in the good things of the earth. Unfortunately, most of these celebrations were pagan in nature and held God in no esteem. May 1st was also chosen for these celebrations because on the calendar, it fell at approximately the halfway point between the spring equinox and the summer solstice.
By the nineteenth century, in 1955, Pope Pius XII established May 1st as the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. Both as a response to these pagan celebrations and as a response to the growing tide of communism that had been spreading its errors throughout the lands. He felt he needed to reestablish a Christian celebration that would remind the faithful of their dignity as workers. He wanted to set Saint Joseph, the most humble of all saints, as an example for the working man. He felt that by honoring St. Joseph the worker, the faithful would be reminded of their true dignity as children of God, and also be reminded of the value of their work as human beings. He wished that man would see that they could use their work…their labors, in a sanctifying way, a way that would bring glory to the God Who created them. He wanted to Christianize the concept of labor, to remind man that they were more than just a ‘cog’ in some giant work machine. He wanted to reaffirm for man, that there was more value to his being, than the sum of his wage. Pope Pius XII, wanted to re-instill in men, the sense of Christianity in their daily labors, and who better to set as a role model than Saint Joseph, foster father of Jesus, and chaste husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
St. Joseph never shirked his duties to his family. He worked as a carpenter and served his vocation as husband and father with a most humble heart, approaching his work with his heart full of love for his family. He is a perfect example for all who work to fulfill a vocation or provide for their family. He was humble and obedient to the Lord and his vocation. And even though he was a poor carpenter, he was entrusted by God to watch over and care for Jesus and Mary while here on earth. Unlike Mary, who was spotless from the stain of original sin, Joseph had his moments of fear and anxiety. He had his doubts which led to moments when he wished to ‘throw in the towel’ and be free from the things he did not understand. But he was also a man of great faith, and he trusted in the Lord. And when he was overcome with these anxious feelings, he did what all of us should do, he prayed and gave his fears to God, trusting in the Lord, dutifully fulfilling his vocation with humility and grace.
By establishing this feast, Pope Pius XII wanted to remind man that this daily work was his duty, and rightly so. We read in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “If any one will not work, let him not eat.” The Church has always taught that work honors the Creator’s gifts and the talents received from Him. The Church also teaches that work can be redemptive. By enduring the hardships of work, and uniting these hardships with Jesus, the carpenter, and Jesus the One crucified on Calvary, man is able to collaborate, in a certain sense, with the Son of God in His redemptive work. Man, by uniting himself on a daily basis, shows the world that he is a disciple of Christ, carrying his cross, by completing the work he is called to accomplish. Looking at the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we find in paragraph 2428:
” In work, the person exercises and fulfills in part the potential inscribed in his nature. The primordial value of labor stems from man himself… Work is for man, not man for work.”
As we honor Saint Joseph the worker, let us ask his intercession in our day to day life, so that we may face our labors, knowing that each of us has a special calling for God. Each of us has a job to do…no matter how grande…or no matter how small. We are all called to work to bring glory to God and His Church…the Body of Christ on earth. So let us pray:
Glorious St. Joseph,
model of all those who are devoted to labor,
obtain for me the grace to work conscientiously,
putting the call of duty above my many sins;
to work with thankfulness and joy,
considering it an honor to employ and develop,
by means of labor,
the gifts received from God;
to work with order,
peace, prudence and patience,
never surrendering to weariness or difficulties;
to work, above all,
with purity of intention,
and with detachment from self,
having always death before my eyes
and the account which I must render of time lost,
of talents wasted,
of good omitted,
of vain complacency in success
so fatal to the work of God.
All for Jesus,
all for Mary,
all after thy example,
O Patriarch Joseph.
Such shall be my motto in life and death.