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St. Joseph the Worker

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For more than 65 years, the Church has observed May 1 as the Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker, established by Pope St. Pius XII in 1955. On this day, we reflect on the example that St. Joseph gave us with his time on earth as well as his intercession from heaven. Because St. Joseph is the patron saint of workers, May 1 also provides the opportunity to deepen our understanding of the meaning and dignity of human work, as well as to take action to contribute to a more just society.

The connection between St. Joseph and the dignity of human work was emphasized in Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 social encyclical “Rerum novarum.” Pope Leo’s letter challenged injustices confronting laborers at the time, such as unjust wages and degrading working conditions, by recognizing that each person is created in the image and likeness of God. He recalls that Jesus was a poor carpenter and the son of a carpenter, which we hear proclaimed in the Gospels: “Is he not the carpenter’s son?” (Mt 13:55). Jesus did not disdain such work, and, what is more, “Christ’s labors and sufferings, accepted of His own free will, have marvelously sweetened all suffering and all labor” (“Rerum novarum,” No. 21).

St. Joseph is the patron of workers because he taught Jesus the trade and craft of carpentry, and, with that, the child Jesus engages in skilled, physical labor with his earthly father. As St. John Paul II summarizes, “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” (“Redemptionis custos,” No. 22).

While work is an important part of our spiritual walk with Christ, recall that rest is important, too. When “God was finished with the work he had been doing, God rested … So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Gen 2:2-3). Recommit to resting on Sundays whenever possible. Sunday — the day of the Resurrection — is an opportunity to celebrate the “first day” of being a new creation in Christ and the “last day” when we will rest eternally in him. On Sunday, we seek healing in our relationship with God and with others. There is no better way to find this healing than through receiving Holy Eucharist at Mass.

Another source of healing in our lives comes through a proper balance of rest, recreation and quality time with family or friends. Work has an inherent goodness to it, as we labor in support of our families and producing something of value in society. In today’s world, however, it is easy to become overworked and forget this necessity of rest and time with loved ones. By resting and enjoying time with our families or friends, we are better disposed to recognize God’s blessings. If we are exhausted, we may miss the gift before our eyes.

The memorial of St. Joseph also calls us in a special way to be close to those who do not have access to dignified work or just working conditions and to petition God for the strength and courage to pursue such work. This is all the more important during the novel coronavirus pandemic, during which many have gone without dignified work. In addition to supporting Catholic Charities and other organizations that actively help the unemployed find work, please first unite with them in prayer. Pray that those without work will find a dignified way to support their families and that, through their work, they be drawn closer to Our Lord the way St. Joseph drew closer to his son, Jesus.

May all in the Diocese of Arlington carry out their labor with joy and thanksgiving for the gifts the Lord has given them, and may they, through their work, be able to demonstrate the peace, joy and love of St. Joseph who always directs us to his son, Jesus.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021