St. Joseph the Worker
St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus and the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is one of the most loved saints of the Church. As the guardian and protector of the Holy Family, St. Joseph was entrusted by God with the greatest of responsibilities – earthly provision for the Son of God Incarnate and the Immaculate Conception — a very noble task indeed! Because of his faithfulness to this responsibility he is one of the greatest intercessors in heaven, a supreme model for doing God’s will in humility, faith, and obedience. His mission continues in heaven as the patron and protector of the Universal Church.
The Catholic Church officially celebrates St. Joseph twice in the liturgical year. March 19th commemorates his vocation as the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and May 1st his vocation as a worker and provider.
Why this second feast day? Why is his role as a humble carpenter something to be celebrated over 2,000 years later?
St. Joseph’s most obvious mark in salvation history was his role as foster father to Jesus and husband to Mary. In this vocation he served those he loved with all his heart and strength. His humility and loving diligence as a hardworking yet poor provider serves as an example to all who work to fulfill a vocation or provide for a family.
He is also a model of trust in God. In spite of the fact that he could not completely understand God’s will, we know that he listened to God’s voice. In taking the pregnant Mary as his wife and later in abandoning his home to flee into Egypt, he shows us the importance of pure obedience to God’s call. (Imagine where we would be had he not listened!)
Pope Pius XII declared the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker in 1955 as a response to the increasingly communist climate of the time. It served as a reminder to the faithful of the true dignity and value of work for human beings, and the role of our labor in sanctifying us and in glorifying God. Among other things, St. Joseph is also the patron saint of workers/laborers and of social justice.
Work is something we can all relate to, whether that work is at home with children, at a carpenter’s bench, or in the office. To learn more about Catholic teachings on labor and work ethics, see Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum: On Capital and Labor and Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Laborem Exercens: On Human Work.
Last but not least, the newly canonized Pope St. John XXIII wrote the following prayer to St. Joseph the Worker:
O glorious Joseph!
Who concealed your incomparable and regal dignity of custodian of Jesus and of the Virgin Mary under the humble appearance of a craftsman and provided for them with your work, protect with loving power your sons, especially entrusted to you.
You know their anxieties and sufferings, because you yourself experienced them at the side of Jesus and of His Mother.
Do not allow them, oppressed by so many worries, to forget the purpose for which they were created by God.
Do not allow the seeds of distrust to take hold of their immortal souls.
Remind all the workers that in the fields, in factories, in mines, and in scientific laboratories, they are not working, rejoicing, or suffering alone, but at their side is Jesus, with Mary, His Mother and ours, to sustain them, to dry the sweat of their brow, giving value to their toil.
Teach them to turn work into a very high instrument of sanctification as you did.