Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Happy May Day... now get to work!

St. Joseph was the beneficiary of Holy Child labor.
Get it?.... Holy Child... child labor? ...Oh, nevermind.
In 1955, Pope Pius XII established a new feast day on May 1st for St. Joseph: "St. Joseph the Worker." It's more than a coincidence that in the 1950's the Church and the rest of Western society was in the midst of a heightening Cold War with the Communist Bloc and the philosophy of Communism and May 1st, celebrated since the late 19th century as "International Workers Day," was arguably the most important holiday in Communist countries.

Pope Pius was no dummy. He knew that the ideologies of atheistic Communism were not only incompatible with the doctrines of Christianity, but were even a very real threat to the free exercise of religion and the longterm health of Western society. In subsuming "International Workers Day" and injecting the holy example of St. Joseph as the "model worker," the Pope fired a spiritual shot over the bow of a dangerously pervasive anti-religious Communist ideology which sought nothing less than the repression of religion and the idolatrous elevation of Man's achievements.

Through the creation of this new feast day on the Church's calendar, the Pope took a small step in mitigating the influence of atheistic Communist ideas in countries such as Poland, which, despite repression, continued to foster generation after generation of strongly Catholic youth. In establishing this feast day, Pope Pius XII reminded the Church that the concept of work done well is pleasing to God, and a virtuous good which imbues men and women with dignity.

The idea was that societies could "Christianize" the recognition of workers and it reminded all who labor that St. Joseph is an appropriate, inspiring and powerful patron. These were powerful ideas that just happened to weave seamlessly into the growing realization among Churchmen and laypersons alike that everyday work is, in fact, a holy calling and, when done to the best of one's abilities, a pleasing sacrifice to our Lord. This idea was a hallmark of the writings of St. Thérèse of Lisieux and St. Josemaría Escrivá, who capsulated the idea perfectly in this passage from his work Friends of God:

"Professional work, whatever it is, becomes a lamp to enlighten your colleagues and friends. ... The sanctification of ordinary work is, as it were, the hinge of true spirituality for people who, like us, have decided to come close to God while being at the same time fully involved in temporal affairs." (61)

And, remember: "work" is not only digging ditches or having a J-O-B. It's anything we do in our particular station of life. Some of you are in the midst of studying for exams and finishing papers. That is your work at this time in your life. Others are changing diapers or wiping little noses. That is your work. Whatever it is, we are reminded today to do it to the best of our God-given abilities and offer the best "work" that we can to the Father. Because, just like a human father, our Father in Heaven is always pleased when his children do their best.