May 1 is the feast day in honor of St. Joseph the Worker. This year, this feast takes on special significance here in the Diocese of Green Bay since we are celebrating a special year of prayer in honor of St. Joseph. Many people are praying the diocesan prayer and the Litany to St. Joseph at home, especially appropriate since part of our diocesan effort is dedicated to St. Joseph as pillar and protector of the family.
The feast of St. Joseph the Worker was initiated in 1955 by Pope Pius XII. May 1, or May Day, had been a day to recognize workers, especially amongst socialists and communists. Pope Pius wanted to elevate the dignity of work beyond the secular ideas of it. By connecting this celebration to St. Joseph, who has traditionally been an example for and patron of workers, Pope Pius drew attention to the fact that work is not simply about the material world; there is a spiritual dimension to it.
The dignity of work is one of the core principles of Catholic social teaching. Work is part of what it means to be human. In the story of Creation, work was part of the original design as Adam and Eve were told to care for and cultivate the earth. It is only after the Fall that work becomes a source of frustration and toil, but in and of itself, work is good. It is through our work that we participate with God as co-creators. What a beautiful image, us joining with God in the divine act of creation! Because of this, our work is a way that we can honor God.
The celebration of this feast this year has a unique dimension to it. Many people have lost their jobs or their jobs may be at risk because of the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on employers and their employees. This is a serious issue that I pray will be resolved soon.
Not only does being out of work create economic challenges, it also attacks our sense of who we are. If work is part of what makes us human and a way to co-labor with God, a person out of work might feel tempted to think that she or he is not fully human. While not true, this is a serious temptation and we must pray for people who have lost their jobs. Pray that they not give into despair or lose their sense of themselves.
Yet, in this Easter season of hope, we can find hope in our current situation, too, even for those who have lost their jobs. First of all, the dignity of work is not just about employment, it’s about any work done in a spirit of service. So while some may currently be without a job, they can still co-labor with God by serving their family and community. This is very much in the spirit of St. Joseph.
In addition, the current circumstances offer us an opportunity to serve each other. In particular, those who have a job and a regular source of income have a responsibility to reach out in support of those who have lost their job. This is not only a matter of charity. It is a matter of justice. May all of us with the means do what we can to support those who are struggling right now.
Finally, the pandemic gives us the opportunity to recognize that the dignity of work comes not from the wealth, power or fame it brings, but from the good it provides to our community. Grocery workers, truck drivers, nurses, farmers and civil servants, among others, are essential to a healthy society, and our current situation is making that clear. I pray that we will not forget the critical services they provide and work to ensure a living wage for all workers.
On this day and in the coming weeks, I encourage you to turn to St. Joseph and ask for his intercession for all workers, but especially for the unemployed. Ask him to pray, too, for all employers as they are being asked to make difficult decisions that will impact their lives and the lives of their employees. Those who are devoted to St. Joseph the Worker through prayer report experiencing extraordinary answers through his intercession. May we all turn to him, confident that we will receive similar miracles.
St. Joseph, pray for us!
Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter at @BpDavidRicken.