Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005 and before that a regular correspondent for the paper. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in major newspapers. He is the author of Fruits of Fatima — Century of Signs and Wonders. He holds a graduate degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
May 1 is the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.
A worker produces something. A worker provides something. A father provides for his family. Provides not only food but something else. This St. Joseph did to the nth degree. But this is getting a bit ahead…let’s take a quick look at the When and the Why of this feast.
May 1 was the celebration of “May Day” by the Communists. To counter this secular celebration of what work meant to them, in 1955 Servant of God Pope Pius XII instituted this feast of St. Joseph the Worker. It also had another main purpose — to increase devotion to the saint who was the model of workers, providing for his wife Mary and foster son Jesus. It also reminded about the dignity of work.
In 2005 Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI noted: “It is necessary to live a spirituality that helps believers to sanctify themselves through their work, imitating St Joseph, who had to provide with his own hands for the daily needs of the Holy Family and whom, consequently, the Church holds up as Patron of workers.”
Then St. John Paul II focused on St. Joseph in Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer). He taught us: “If the Family of Nazareth is an example and model for human families, in the order of salvation and holiness, so too, by analogy, is Jesus' work at the side of Joseph the carpenter. In our own day, the Church has emphasized this by instituting the liturgical memorial of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1.”
Then John Paul II added, “Human work, and especially manual labor, receive special prominence in the Gospel…At the workbench where he plied his trade together with Jesus, Joseph brought human work closer to the mystery of the Redemption.”
Father Larry Toschi of the Oblates of St. Joseph, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Bakersfield, Cal., is author of Husband, Father, Worker. Looking at the Litany of St. Joseph, he noted the Latin invocation “Filii Dei nutricie is often translated as Foster Father but that does not capture the meaning at all.” He explained the better translation and more accurate way is “Nurturing Father of the Son of God. It means Joseph is the one who nourished and provided for Jesus, and fed him.”
Today, even though society makes the role of provider a touchy subject, “the roll of the husband and father as provider still has to be retained,” Father Toschi said. “He is the first provider.” He does that in one major way as a worker.
It’s good to keep in mind the provider role should not be seen as the only role. “St. Joseph teaches to integrate work with family, and fatherhood and family,” affirmed Father Toschi. “He teaches how to work with right emphasis. Work is centered on the Lord. The motivation and the purpose is to serve Jesus.”
St. Joseph was not a workaholic, he said. He worked with peace, moderation and patience. We should look to his example and above all work with pure intention and detachment from self. St. Joseph is not a “Look at me” person, but worked to serve God.
Another point, work should be integrated with family time, not just something isolated from family, but focused on providing and serving the family. St. Joseph’s work was “an expression of love for Jesus and Mary” as it was when he prayed with and conversed with them. And he helped his son be part of the providing too.
Father Toschi said the prayer of St. Pius X to St. Joseph the Worker is a wonderful prayer that “gives the whole context for providing” and is not only to fathers but for anybody. Work is to serve God and not be something isolated from family but focused on providing and serving the family.
Prayer reminds that a father provides for the body both food and protection, and works to provide protection from spiritual harm too. One way is to provide a model of spiritual leadership.
Pope Francis explained on St. Joseph’s March 2014 feast: “Joseph also quietly imparted to Jesus that wisdom which consists above all in reverence for the Lord, prayer and fidelity to his word, and obedience to his will. Joseph’s paternal example helped Jesus to grow, on a human level, in his understanding and appreciation of his unique relationship to his heavenly Father.”
A father, then, must work to provide an example of prayer for his wife, sons and daughters. And work guarding them from the spiritual harms so rampant today.
What a lesson St. Joseph gives to fathers and what a model he provides for them as a foundation for leading their families. Fathers today — and this goes for father figures whether they have biological children or not because they might have godchildren, or nephews and nieces — need to spend time with Jesus and Mary every day, modeling themselves after St. Joseph. Daily Mass if possible. A time reading the Bible.
By the way, if it had been around back then, surely St. Joseph would pray the Rosary. After all, wasn’t it eventually given to us by his wife? And does she not ask us to pray it daily? And doesn’t a loving husband want to please his wife in all things good, especially for their eternal salvation?
Don’t forget that St. Joseph the Worker and Provider is ever at work for us too. We must remember that and turn to him because he is expert worker and provider in all things.
Listen to St. Teresa of Avila who was a devotee of St. Joseph who provided for her. She told us: "It would seem that God has only granted the other saints power to help us in one kind of necessity; but experience shows that Saint Joseph can help in every kind of need."
St. Teresa reminded us, “To other saints our Lord seems to have given power to succor us in some special necessity,” she wrote, “but to this glorious saint (I know by my experience) he has given the power to help us in all things. Our Lord would have us understand that as he was subject to Joseph on earth — St. Joseph bearing the title of his father, and being his guardian could command him — so now Our Lord in heaven grants all his petitions.”
St. Teresa reminded us of the innumerable ways St. Joseph helps us through devotion to him.
“I have never known anyone who was truly devoted to him and honored him by particular services, who did not advance greatly in virtue, for he helps in a special way those souls who recommend themselves to him,” she said.
His great help is even more than asked for or expected. She explained, “[M]y father and lord delivered me, and rendered me greater services than I knew how to ask for. I cannot call to mind that I have ever asked him at any time for anything which he has not granted; and I am filled with amazement when I consider the great favors which God hath given me through this blessed Saint; the dangers from which he hath delivered me, both of body and of soul.”
St. Teresa was unwavering in inspiring others to become devotees of St. Joseph and not hesitate to approach this glorious saint for his help.
And if they doubted her? “But I ask for the love of God that he who does not believe me will make the trial for himself — then he will find out by experience the great good that results from recommending oneself to this glorious patriarch and in being devoted to him,” she advised.
On May 1 and every other day of the year, St. Joseph is the perfect example of worker and provider. Imitate him. Go to him.