St. Joseph the Worker
Fr. Scott A. Haynes
It was on the Feast of St. Joseph (March 19, 1937), that Pope Pius XI issued his Encyclical on Atheistic Communism (Divini Redemptoris). With the Church fighting against these evil influences, the Holy Father entrusted the Church to the protection of St. Joseph. The Spouse of Our Lady was named as the heavenly patron over what Pius XI termed as:
“...the vast campaign of the Church against world Communism” [Divini Redemptoris, 81].
But why St. Joseph? The Holy Father explained the logic of his choice:
“To hasten the advent of the ‘peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ’ so ardently desired by all, we place the vast campaign of the Church against world Communism under the standard of St. Joseph, Her mighty protector. He belongs to the working class, and he bore the burdens of poverty for himself and the Holy Family, whose tender and vigilant head he was.
To him was entrusted the Divine Child when Herod loosed his assassins against Him. In a life of faithful performance of everyday duties, he left an example for all those who must gain their bread by the toil of their hands. He won for himself the title of the ‘Just’, serving thus as a living model of that Christian justice which should reign in social life.”
This paragraph from Divini Redemptoris indicates the Holy Father’s thinking on the menace of Communism; for although it has counted many intellectuals among its dedicated proponents, it is largely the working classes and the poor whom it enslaves. There is no doubt that Communism still offers an immense threat to the entire world in our day. Formerly it had overrun many countries, and though it has lost part of its grip, it seeks like a giant octopus to regain and extend its power.
The problem of combating it grows ever more complex, because of its cunning and deceitful methods and the untiring zeal of its agents. It requires more than human skill to outwit and undo the “masters of deceit,” who plan and direct its operations and carry them into execution with ruthless barbarity. The wisdom of appointing St. Joseph the heavenly patron of those combating this diabolical movement is clearly evident.
Pope Pius XII further indicated St. Joseph’s role in the fight against Communism when he proclaimed May 1st as the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. On May 1, 1955, Pope Pius XII established a new feast day in the Church’s calendar, dedicating May 1 to St. Joseph the Worker. He sought to affirm the rights of workers and to put forth St. Joseph as the supreme model. He wrote:
“[As] the Vicar of Christ, we wish to reaffirm highly, on this day of May 1 … the dignity of work, and [to] inspire social life and laws, based on a fair share of rights and duties … [We have determined to] establish the liturgical feast of St. Joseph the Worker, assigning it precisely on the 1st of May … because the humble craftsman of Nazareth not only embodies the dignity of the arm of the worker … he is also always the guardian of you and your families.”
May 1st (“May Day”) had been set apart by the Communist Party as a day of worldwide public demonstrations on a grandiose scale, to proclaim the “glories” of Communism and to flaunt its claims of tremendous progress and power. May Day originally honored the “Haymarket Affair” (May 4, 1886),  in which working-class protestors clashed with police in Chicago, resulting in the injury and deaths of scores of police officers and civilians.
Some of the demands of those early socialists and communists were legitimate and would resonate with us still today: a shorter workday, fair wages, and basic benefits. Yet, over time, May Day came to be closely aligned with global communism and its bellicose stance towards the democratic West. The Soviet Union held large military parades in Red Square, attended by top Kremlin leaders on May Day. It remains one of the most important holidays in the communist countries of China, North Korea, and Cuba.
By dedicating this day to St. Joseph, Pope Pius XII, so to say, Christianized it as a holyday for workmen, and thus offered a powerful challenge on the part of the Church to counteract the influence of Communism. In this decree, Pope Pius wrote:
“The Church, always moved by religious considerations, has condemned the various systems of Marxist socialism and She condemns them still, for it is ever Her duty and right to save men from movements and influences that endanger their everlasting salvation.”
“We...hereby do institute the liturgical Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.”
He stressed the fact that this Feast was to be an opposing current to the discord, hatred and violence with which Communists had marked the celebration of their May Day. The Feast of St. Joseph the Worker is intended to focus attention on work and the worker from the viewpoint of Christianity. This is the teaching of the Holy Pontiffs from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries:
• Pope Leo XIII wrote:
“By special right the needy and the laborers, all of lesser influence, ought to fly to the protection of St. Joseph and learn to imitate him.”
• Pope Benedict XV wrote:
“With great solicitude we place St. Joseph before those who work for a living, in order that they may follow him as their special guide and honor him as their heavenly patron.”
• St. Pius X composed a most meaningful prayer to St. Joseph, Model of Laborers, which he often used:
“Glorious St. Joseph, model of all who are devoted to labor, obtain for me the grace to work in the spirit of penance in expiation of my many sins; to work conscientiously by placing love of duty above my inclinations; to gratefully and joyously deem it an honor to employ and to develop by labor the gifts I have received from God, to work methodically, peacefully, and in moderation and patience, without ever shrinking from it through weariness or difficulty to work; above all, with purity of intention and unselfishness, having unceasingly before my eyes death and the account I have to render of time lost, talents unused, good not done, and vain complacency in success, so baneful to the work of God. All for Jesus, all for Mary, all to imitate thee, O patriarch St. Joseph! This shall be my motto for life and eternity.”
As the diabolical forces of Communism attempt to reclaim, to spread, and to deceive huge numbers of the gullible, the intercession of St. Joseph to save the world from Marxist enslavement is still very much needed. Today the evils of Socialistic Communism are combined with the immorality of this age, and these errors are becoming more widespread.
As we begin the month of May, the month of Our Lady, St Joseph has been placed here at the head of the month to guard and protect the entire Church. Let us pray that like St. Joseph we will not capitulate to the errors of communism, socialism, or the degradation of morality, but let us ever remain steadfast in promoting truth in charity. Since fools will always follow the “convenient” and “popular” course, let us pray that St. Joseph and our Lady will help Christians to follow the straight and narrow path to Jesus Christ, as St. Paul says:
“Be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine. For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears: And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables” .
St. Joseph remains an invaluable exemplar of masculinity and fatherhood for us. In an age overly anxious about “toxic masculinity” and obsessively antagonistic towards men serving in traditional roles in the family and society, Joseph shows us what manhood is really about. Patriarchal leadership was never intended to be about social status or relational domination, but service and sacrifice. Differences between the sexes, indelible to the human condition, are one of the means by which we fulfill our callings as men and women.
This May Day, let us recognize the dignity of man’s work. All who do an honest day’s work possess certain fundamental rights. What is the origin of these rights? They do not come from solely from man’s economic output, as Karl Marx held, but from man’s inherent dignity as a person created in image of God.
Before St. Joseph became the patron of the Universal Church, he was first the head of the Holy Family in Nazareth. St. Joseph worked quietly and diligently, even prayerfully, at his carpenter’s bench, with Jesus by his side. As we begin May (the month of Our Lady), we celebrate this feast honoring St. Joseph. St. Joseph’s feast is like a key that opens a treasury of grace in this month of Our Lady, because, in our veneration of Mary, it will be St. Joseph who can give us special insight on how to honor Our Blessed Mother. And, imitating St. Joseph,
“[W]e never take our eyes off Jesus, who was busily occupied with [St. Joseph] at the carpenters bench, in order that we in like manner may lead on earth a peaceful and a holy life, a prelude to the life of eternal happiness that awaits us in Heaven for ever and ever” (Pius XII).