Saint Joseph the Worker

May 1

Today is the feast day of Saint Joseph the Worker.  Ora pro nobis.

Today is the  feast day of Saint Joseph the Worker, Our Mother’s husband, and foster-father to Our Lord and Savior, Jesus. This second feast day of Saint Joseph was instituted in 1955 by Pope Pius XII. Celebrated on May 1—a day in which labor and those who labor are celebrated in many countries across the world—the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker reminds us of why in the Gospels of our Lord, Jesus was referred to as “the son of the carpenter.”  (7)

It was on the Feast of St. Joseph, March 19, 1937, that Pope Pius XI issued his Encyclical on “Atheistic Communism”. Perhaps he chose this particular day because of St. Joseph’s patronage over the Church. At least, in the Encyclical, the Holy Father named St. Joseph heavenly patron of the “vast campaign of the Church against world Communism.” Why St. Joseph?

The Holy Father wrote: “To hasten the advent of the ‘peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ’ so ardently desired by all, we place the vast campaign of the Church against world Communism under the standard of St. Joseph, Her mighty protector. He belongs to the working class, and he bore the burdens of poverty for himself and the Holy Family, whose tender and vigilant head he was. To him was entrusted the Divine Child when Herod loosed his assassins against Him. In a life of faithful performance of everyday duties, he left an example for all those who must gain their bread by the toil of their hands. He won for himself the title of the ‘Just’, serving thus as a living model of that Christian justice which should reign in social life.”

This paragraph indicates the Holy Father’s thinking on the menace of Communism; for although it counts many intellectuals among its dedicated proponents, it is largely the working classes and the poor whom it enslaves. There is no doubt that Communism still offers an immense threat to the entire world in our day. Formerly it had overrun many countries, and though it has lost part of its grip, it seeks like a giant octopus to regain and extend its power. The problem of combating it grows ever more complex, because of its cunning and deceitful methods and the untiring zeal of its agents. It requires more than human skill to outwit and undo the “masters of deceit,” who plan and direct its operations and carry them into execution with ruthless barbarity. The wisdom of appointing St. Joseph the heavenly patron of those combating this diabolical movement is clearly evident.

In 1955, Pope Pius XII further indicated St. Joseph’s role in the fight against Communism when he proclaimed May 1st as the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. This day had been set apart by the Communist Party as a day of worldwide public demonstrations on a grandiose scale, to proclaim the “glories” of Communism and to flaunt its claims of tremendous progress and power. By dedicating this day to St. Joseph, the Holy Father, so to say, Christianized it as a holyday for workmen, and thus offered a powerful challenge on the part of the Church to counteract the influence of Communism. In this decree, Pope Pius wrote: “The Church, always moved by religious considerations, has condemned the various systems of Marxist socialism and She condemns them still, for it is ever Her duty and right to save men from movements and influences that endanger their everlasting salvation.” He continued: “We…hereby do institute the liturgical Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.” He stressed the fact that this Feast was to be an opposing current to the discord, hatred and violence with which Communists had marked the celebration of their May-day.

The Feast of St. Joseph the Worker is intended to focus attention on work and the worker from the viewpoint of Christianity. Much is written on labor and its problems from an economic and social angle, with not the least intimation that religion has any part to play in this basic aspect of life. Pope Leo XIII, Pope St. Pius X, and Pope Benedict XV had already pointed to St. Joseph as the Church’s “labor leader.” Pope Leo XIII wrote: “By special right the needy and the laborers, all of lesser influence, ought to fly to the protection of St. Joseph and learn to imitate him.” St. Pius X composed a most meaningful prayer to St. Joseph, Model of Laborers, which he often used. Pope Benedict XV wrote: “With great solicitude we place St. Joseph before those who work for a living, in order that they may follow him as their special guide and honor him as their heavenly patron.” As the diabolical forces of Communism attempt to reclaim, to spread, and to deceive huge numbers of the gullible, the intercession of St. Joseph to save the world from Marxist enslavement is still very much needed. (2)

This is the last we hear of St. Joseph in the sacred writings, and we may well suppose that Jesus’s foster-father died before the beginning of Savior’s public life. In several circumstances, indeed, the Gospels speak of the latter’s mother and brothers (Matthew 12:46; Mark 3:31; Luke 8:19; John 7:3), but never do they speak of His father in connection with the rest of the family; they tell us only that Our Lord, during His public life was referred to as the son of Joseph (John 1:45; 6:42; Luke 4:22) the carpenter (Matthew 13:55). Would Jesus, moreover, when about die on the Cross, have entrusted His mother to John’s care, had St. Joseph been still alive? According to the apocryphal “Story of Joseph the Carpenter”, the holy man reached his hundred and eleventh year when he died, on 20 July (A. D. 18 or 19). St. Epiphanius gives him ninety years of age at the time of his demise; and if we are to believe the Venerable Bede, he was buried in the Valley of Josaphat. In truth we do not know when St. Joseph died; it is most unlikely that he attained the ripe old age spoken of by the “Story of Joseph” and St. Epiphanius. The probability is that he died and was buried at Nazareth. (1)

Image:  Crop of St Joseph with the Infant Jesus, artist: Guido Reni, circa: 1620. (8)

Research by REGINA Staff



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