Sunday, May 2, 2010

May Day and the Patron Saint of Workers

O 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 natural inclinations, to work with gratitude and joy, in a spirit of penance for the remission of my sins, considering it an honor to employ and develop by means of labor the gifts received from God, to work with order, peace, moderation and patience, without ever shrinking from weariness and difficulties, to work above all with purity of intention and detachment from self, having always death before my eyes and the account that 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 through Mary, all after thine example, O Patriarch, St. Joseph. Such shall be my watch-word in life and in death.

-- Composed by St. Pius X

As you probably remember, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi ironically invoked the aid of St. Joseph the Worker on March 19 to help pass Obama's Health Care Bill. While March 19 is in fact the feast of St. Joseph, husband of Mary, May 1 is the actual feast of St. Joseph the Worker. Why two feasts for St. Joseph?

St. Joseph was an amazing man. Scripture calls him a just man. Because he was the husband of Mary and the foster father of Jesus, we honor his various roles. Though the Church could have given this saint a number of feasts, the liturgical year is given us two main ones that define the life of this humble man. 

The feast of St. Joseph, husband of Mary, on March 19 should cause us to look at Joseph's role as husband and head of the Holy Family. He is an example of how to have holy relationships and a model of how to be a good spouse and father figure. He had a respect for Mary and God's plan for all of us through her. Joseph could have left Mary, yet he followed the will of God and stayed by her side to give her love and support.

On May 1, we find the feast of St. Joseph, the Worker. In addition to being a father and spouse, St. Joseph was a laborer. This feast was instituted in 1955 by Pope Pius XII as a response to May Day celebrations by Communists, who promoted labor as a means to strengthen the regime. The intent of the Church was to emphasize the dignity of the laborer to Communist states that controlled the economic and social activities of their people.

And yet the history of devotion to this saint by workers has a much longer history. The Church has always emphasized the livelihood of Jesus as a carpenter which probably included working with stone as well as wood. Joseph would have taught Jesus about ordinary human life and how we are made in God's image. Whether making a table or a building a synagogue, Joseph would have taught Jesus that God blesses the fruits of well done and that whether made for the family or for the synagogue, the work of His hands would build up God's people.  

The feast of St. Joseph the Worker should call us to look at the dignity of work and to St. Joseph as a model laborer. In his encyclical letter, Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer), Pope John Paul II says, 
..."submission" or obedience of Jesus in the house of Nazareth should be understood as a sharing in the work of Joseph. Having learned the work of his presumed father, he was known as "the carpenter's son." If the Family of Nazareth is an example and model for human families, in the order of salvation and holiness, so too, by analogy, is Jesus' work at the side of Joseph the carpenter. In our own day, the Church has emphasized this by instituting the liturgical memorial of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1. Human work, and especially manual labor, receive special prominence in the Gospel. Along with the humanity of the Son of God, work too has been taken up in the mystery of the Incarnation, and has also been redeemed in a special way. At the workbench where he plied his trade together with Jesus, Joseph brought human work closer to the mystery of the Redemption.

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