Holy Family

Holy Family

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker

Good morning. The first day of May, "May Day" is dedicated to labor and the working man. It is fitting that as Christian people we should honor the life of Saint Joseph, a working man who became the foster-father of Christ and it is certainly fitting that he should be honored on this first day of May—May Day. It is likewise fitting that the Gospel for today notes an exchange between the Jews and Jesus, with the Jews questioning whether Jesus is God. His response to them is “I told you and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father's name testify to me.” So too it is for us, the work we do testifies to who we are.

This idea of work being a source of identity and a source of fulfillment is one which has been written about repeatedly by various Popes dating back to Leo XIII in 1891. Pope Leo XIII was the primary author of Catholic social doctrine. Prior to his papacy, the idea of Catholic social teaching was given little consideration. For Pope Leo, and for every successor to the chair of Peter since, the importance of work and its connection with how we come to see ourselves is part of why we celebrate the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker today. The world of commerce, labor, and theology rarely are spoken of together, nevertheless, they have been topics of discussion by every Pope since Leo XIII and his Encyclical Rerum Novarum. The Church has always considered it her responsibility to draw attention to the dignity and rights of those who work, but beginning with Pope Leo XIII this has been of particular concern, especially where workers’ dignity and rights are jeopardized. 

The origin of May Day surrounds the labor movements struggle for the shorter workday, but for Pope Pius XII and the Church the importance of work was far more reaching. Pope Pius XII in declaring May 1st to be the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker felt important that we not, in the face of growing secularism and materialism, lose sight of and appreciate the relationship between ourselves and work and its intrinsic goodness. From the beginning we have been called to work. It is one of those actions which separate us from other creation. We are reminded in Gaudium Et Spes of the words of the Psalmist, “What is man that you should care for him? You have made him little less than the angels, and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him rule over the works of your hands, putting all things under his feet” 

We are likewise reminded that in Jesus’ becoming like us in all things but sin, He worked like us along side his foster-father Joseph, and like us He toiled and sweat just as we do in whatever work we are called to. Jesus, prior to becoming an itinerant preacher, worked in a carpenter’s shop the same as many who take time today to celebrate May Day. There are many who view work as a necessary evil and look upon it as but a path towards consuming those things which they believe will bring them happiness. For those who view work and the intended fruits of their labor as an end in itself fail to appreciate its capacity for transcendence of self and its capacity for uniting ourselves with others. Those who take this view of work lose the essence of work, and deprive themselves of a large part of their lives. As Blessed Pope John Paul II noted throughout his numerous writings and specifically in Laborem Exercens “work is a good thing for man-a good thing for his humanity.” Unfortunately we live in a society which suggests the capacity to purchase and to possess things is what is ultimately important and it is stuff which makes the man. This is contrary to what the Gospels and the Church tells us; it simply is the wrong reason to work. 

For those of us who are married and who have family work is very important. In fact, it is in work that family is made possible and it is where our children come to know and appreciate the importance of work. It is important as we celebrate this Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker that we recall that it is through our example as parents that our children come to know and integrate the value and meaning of work in their lives. Another aspect of work and the fruit of our labors which should not go unnoticed is its relationship with the common good. As parents do we reflect an awareness of our work as being gifts from God and the benefits of our labor being likewise for His glory. As parents let us help them come to value work as being something intrinsically good—it’s more than just a job. Make a great day! 

Today we recall the good life, gifts, and work of Saint Joseph.

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