Today, May 1, in the Roman Catholic Church we celebrate the feast day of “St. Joseph, the Worker.” Pope Pius XII gave us this day back in the early 1950’s as a response to the “May Day” celebrations of Communist and Socialist governed countries. In those societies founded on the ideology of Marxism the worker was seen as contributing to the good of the state, essentially a cog in a vast equalitarian economic system. The dignity of the human person was subordinated to the good of the state. A person was important and valuable only in the sense they contributed to the collective.
Pius XII wanted to stress that there is a basic human dignity given by God to the individual as created in God’s image. Further, he was advocating the Church’s teaching that all human activity is a sharing in the creative nature of God and is directed toward building up the human community, not the state, awaiting the day completes the work begun in Christ of creating the new heavens and new earth.
I’ve discovered a couple of nice summaries about the feast and it’s meaning at these sites:
The Feast of St. Joseph the Worker and the Catholic View of Human Work at Catholic Online
St. Joseph the Worker, Saint of the Day at American Catholic . org (St. Anthony Messenger Press, the Franciscans)
St. Joseph Reminds Us that Workers Deserve Justice, an editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that reminds us of the Catholic teaching that workers have a right to organize. (cf United States Catholic Conference of Bishops at Catholic Social Teaching).
The meaning of the feast day took on particular significance for me today, because I have been “supervising” (also known as watching) a new concrete drive being constructed next to our parish church and my rectory. For the couple of weeks, weather permitting since we’ve been having a lot of rain in Trenton, work has been progressing on the project. As I watched the crew doing what to me seems like back-breaking work of pouring, shaping and finishing concrete I realized a couple of things. One: I was watching the teaching of the church in action; men sharing in the work of creation of something new that will enhance the lives of others since there will be new handicapped parking spaces and safer access to the church. Two: I am definitely not the manual labor type and that I’m privileged to be called to the “work” of building up the community of faith into the City of God in the midst of the city of humanity. That’s why I’ve never claimed this day to be my patronal name day; I’m just not into manual labor and work that much!
God bless those who work with their hands, who teach, those who protect us as first responders and in the military, moms and dads who do the work of raising children and all the laity who are the majority of the church whose work is to bring the Kingdom of God into the world. I pray that my work as pastor and preacher helps them do their work as members of the Body of Christ and affirms their dignity as partners with Jesus in the work of salvation.
O God, Creator of all things,
who laid down for the human race the law of work,
graciously grant that by the example of Saint Joseph
and under his patronage we may complete the works you set us to do
and attain the rewards you promise.
Through our lord Jesus Christ, your son, who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the holy spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Taken from the Roman Missal, Third Edition
Prayer for May 1, Feast of St. Joseph the Worker