May 1, or “May Day,” was celebrated throughout the Communist world as a way of supposedly honoring the role and importance of laborers in Marxist countries. The Communist conception of work as almost an end in itself was, of course, very different from the Christian understanding, and in 1955, to highlight this difference, Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of St. Joseph the Worker.
Joseph, the husband of Mary and the foster-father of Jesus, spent a lifetime laboring as a carpenter. His primary motivation for working wasn’t a quest for riches or status, but a desire to serve God and to care for his family in a loving way. Joseph never worked any miracles; he never made any important speeches; he wasn’t a public figure, but was known only as a humble carpenter (Matthew 13:55). Joseph labored in obscurity, but was nonetheless given an important part in God’s plan.
1. Work is not intended to be an end in itself or a path to earthly riches; rather, it’s meant to glorify God and to help us prepare for eternity. As Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Matthew 6:20-21).
2. Honest and humble labor is a source of true human dignity. Though St. Joseph worked as a simple carpenter, he achieved great holiness, and his example influenced Jesus, Who — though the eternal Son of God and the Source of all creation — Himself learned from Joseph and for a time followed in his footsteps as a carpenter (Mark 6:3).
From Johnnette Benkovic’s Graceful Living: Meditations to Help You Grow Closer to God Day by Day
St. Joseph is the best protector to help you in your life, to penetrate the spirit of the Gospel. Indeed, from the Heart of the God-Man, Savior of the world, this spirit is infused in you and in all men, but it is certain that there was no worker’s spirit so perfectly and deeply penetrated as the putative father of Jesus, who lived with him in the closest intimacy and community of family and work. So, if you want to be close to Christ, I repeat to you “Ite ad Ioseph”: Go to Joseph!
— From an address of Pope Pius XII to Italian workers
How are my labor and my leisure fruitful for my salvation and that of others? What can I do in each to make them more so? How can St. Joseph’s example and intercession aid me to do so?
Other Saints We Remember Today
- St. Peregrine Laziosi (1345), Religious, Patron of cancer sufferers