On May 1, 1955, Pope Pius XII introduced the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker. It’s a special day to mark the dignity of work and to appreciate workers the world over for their contribution to society. The Church wants to encourage all those who are working to make a living, and in giving work to others, to do so with charity and with the intention of building the Common Good. This will result in a society that is structured in accordance with the message of the Gospel. We look to St. Joseph as a model worker and father. Viewed this way our labor should never become a profit, selfish or an exploitative driven enterprise, but a special mission of service and of love for God.
A very appropriate reading for today is Blessed John Paul II Apostolic Exhortation, Redemptoris Custos. Here’s a brief selection that can help all workers, in Canada and the rest of the world, celebrate and reflect on this special day when the Church wants its faithful to consider the true value of their labor:
“Work was the daily expression of love in the life of the Family of Nazareth. The Gospel specifies the kind of work Joseph did in order to support his family: he was a carpenter. This simple word sums up Joseph's entire life. For Jesus, these were hidden years, the years to which Luke refers after recounting the episode that occurred in the Temple: ‘And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them’ (Lk 2:51). This ‘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.
“In the human growth of Jesus ‘in wisdom, age and grace,’ the virtue of industriousness played a notable role, since ‘work is a human good’ which ‘transforms nature’ and makes man ‘in a sense, more human.’ The importance of work in human life demands that its meaning be known and assimilated in order to help all people to come closer to God, the Creator and Redeemer, to participate in his salvific plan for man and the world, and to deepen...friendship with Christ in their lives, by accepting, through faith, a living participation in his threefold mission as Priest, Prophet and King.
“What is crucially important here is the sanctification of daily life, a sanctification which each person must acquire according to his or her own state, and one which can be promoted according to a model accessible to all people: St. Joseph is the model of those humble ones that Christianity raises up to great destinies;...he is the proof that in order to be a good and genuine follower of Christ, there is no need of great things-it is enough to have the common, simple and human virtues, but they need to be true and authentic.” (22-24)