This week we open the month of May. In some places May is associated with Spring, but here in central Texas it is pretty nigh on to Summer. In any case, Wednesday is the First of May. This is “May Day,” known as the International Workers Day. It is held on this day to commemorate the 1894 Haymarket Affair in Chicago, IL. The Chicago Police opened fire on a crowd demonstrating for the eight-hour workday, killing dozens of the demonstrators and several of their own number. The commemoration of this bloody event was taken up especially by socialists as a worker’s memorial. The International Workers Day became a popular holiday in all Communist countries, primarily marked by large military parades. May Day parades were ways for the red countries to show off their military might.
It seems that in response to this International Workers Day which was heavily socialist and communist, Pope Pius XII in 1955 instituted the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. The Pope wanted to show that not only communists cared about workers and their plight, but Catholics did, too. Today the communists are pretty well discredited, but we still celebrate St. Joseph the Worker and will do so this Wednesday.
There is good reason to do so. Work is still a very important part of our lives. For many it is how people spend most of their waking hours. Work provides us with the wherewithal to live, and by our work we support our families, advance society and add to the strength of the economy. Work is very important, and by celebrating the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, we recognize the spiritual significance of work.
Through work we exercise our God-given talents. We cooperate with God’s plan for building up the human family. So it is good for us to honor St. Joseph as a worker.
Traditionally Joseph has been viewed as a carpenter. More recently some scripture scholars claim that Joseph was not a carpenter in our sense of the word, but rather a “builder” who worked in stone and other materials as well as wood. Like other Palestinian peasants, he probably took any job he could get and was a jack-of-all-trades. His skills probably extended beyond carpentry.
So on Wednesday thank the workers in your family. Pray for all workers, invoking especially the intercession of St. Joseph. And perhaps reflect on how the feast you celebrate has its origins in the bloody suppression of a 19th century Chicago strike.