Let's Get to Work!

As we enter May, we celebrate the Church's second feast day of the year dedicated to St. Joseph. Yes, he's that great of a saint!

May 1, the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, provides a perfect opportunity for the Holy Souls Sodality to reflect upon our work in bringing souls to Heaven and to re-examine the degree to which we infuse our daily tasks with dignity, using St. Joseph as our model.

Such was the intention when Pope Pius XII established this feast day back in 1955. He specifically chose May 1 to counterbalance International Workers' Day, or May Day. That original holiday began in the 1800s as a rallying cry for workers' rights but was later subsumed by the atheist Soviet regime, which famously marked the day with a military parade in Red Square.

On behalf of the faithful, Pope Pius XII snatched the day back and put it into the rightful hands of St. Joseph, the patron saint of workers and craftsmen. In doing so, the Holy Father wished to instill in the faithful an appreciation that, in our work - whatever that work may be - we must seek opportunities to glorify God and sanctify ourselves.

Indeed, as we learn from Scripture, work is part of God's plan for the world. He formed us to labor in His Kingdom as His co-creators:

The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it (Gen 2:15).

We turn to St. Joseph as our model because in St. Joseph we learn to tap into our own capacity to do all things for the greater glory of God. This humble carpenter became husband of the Mother of God, foster father of Jesus, provider for - and watchful defender of - the Holy Family. In doing so, he fulfilled an essential position in the plan of our salvation.

When we model ourselves on St. Joseph, we declare that we wish to become better citizens in the Kingdom of God - more prayerful throughout our day, more eager to do God's will, more honest in our dealings with others, and more devoted to our family or loved ones. Nearly every vocation in life, nearly every job or task, provides opportunities for us to be like St. Joseph.

On that very first feast day in 1955, Pope Pius XII said:

Saint 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!

No matter what your job, you have a duty to do it well, to do it honestly, to do it in a way that benefits the people you are serving (and we're all serving someone). Saint Joseph's trade happened to be carpentry. Using his imagination and skills, he took the raw material of wood and transformed it into useful objects. Each of us in our own way, emulating St. Joseph, can take the raw materials of our lives and, by the exercise of our intelligence and imagination, bring about something good, something that didn't exist before.

Among the things we should always aim to create in our work environment is love itself. A waitress creates love when she establishes a welcoming atmosphere, makes people feel cared for, and treats them with the dignity that God intends for them. Same thing with a teacher, or a healthcare worker, or any office worker. Be the best person you can be in whatever vocation God has called you.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, "If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well."

When we do our jobs well, we have the opportunity to unite with Christ to help renew the world, as Pope St. John Paul II explained in his 1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens (Through Work):

Sweat and toil, which work necessarily involves the present condition of the human race, present the Christian and everyone who is called to follow Christ with the possibility of sharing lovingly in the work that Christ came to do. This work of salvation came about through suffering and death on a Cross. By enduring the toil of work in union with Christ crucified for us, man in a way collaborates with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity. He shows himself a true disciple of Christ by carrying the cross in his turn every day in the activity that he is called upon to perform (27).

Dear members of the Holy Souls Sodality, let us turn to St. Joseph, seeking his help that we may become the prayerful laborers that the Kingdom of God requires. In all that we do, let's seek to lift souls up to Heaven. Indeed, let's get to work.

Prayer to St. Joseph, Model of Workers

By Pope Pius XII

O glorious Patriarch, St. Joseph, humble and just artisan of Nazareth, thou hast given to all Christians and particularly to us an example of a perfect life through diligent labor and admirable union with Jesus and Mary.

Assist us in our daily work in order that we, Catholic artisans, may also see in it an effective means of glorifying God, of sanctifying ourselves, and of being a useful member in the society in which we live. These should be the highest ideals for all our actions.

O dearest Protector, obtain for us from the Lord humility and simplicity of heart; love for our work and kindness towards our fellow laborers; conformity to God's will in the unavoidable trials of this life together with joy in bearing them; recognition of our specific social mission and a sense of responsibility; the spirit and discipline of prayer; docility and respectfulness towards superiors; the spirit of brotherhood towards our equals; charity and indulgence with our dependents.

Accompany us in times of prosperity when the opportunity is given for an honest enjoyment of the fruits of our labors; sustain us in our hours of sadness, when Heaven seems to be shut in our regard, and even the very tools with which our hands toil appear to rebel against us.

Grant that, in imitation of thee, we may keep our eyes fixed on our Mother, Mary, thy dearest Spouse, who, as she spun silently in a corner of thy shop, would let the sweetest smile course over her lips. Besides, may we never take our eyes off Jesus, who was busily occupied with thee at the carpenter's 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 forever and ever. Amen.


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