Editor’s note: Because of an editorial error, the correct author’s byline was not attached to this article when first posted. We regret the error and apologize to the wonderful Fr. Schultze, who has written several excellent pieces for CWR on this feast day and on Labor Day.
The Feast of St. Joseph the Worker strikes a chord that reverberates through the body and soul of every reflective Catholic boy or man. Without denying the contributions women have made in every era, Catholic men sitting in parish pews across the world invariably cast their gaze on the statue of St. Joseph because it communicates meaning and purpose.
St. Joseph’s gifts and vocation
The spouse of Mary and designated temporal father of Jesus connects our work-life efforts to the transcendent. Following Joseph’s lead, his son divinized our work efforts in the home, on the job, for ourselves and others.
Joseph’s sturdy, quiet image projects the authority of a father and the gentleness of a husband who wants what is true, beautiful, and good for his loved ones. Reflective faithful single men, husbands, and fathers hope to emulate Joseph’s love for Jesus and Mary within their own families.
Just as Mary points to her Son as the way—”Do what he says”—Joseph’s commitment and dedication point to Jesus as the ultimate, true guide for all of us. As the Gospels of Matthew and Luke attest, both Joseph and Mary traced their lineage to the patriarchs who lead the Israelites throughout their history, in good times and bad. Chosen by the Father and with the work of the Holy Spirit, Mary and Joseph became the earthly guardians and teachers of the Son.
Many statues depict St. Joseph holding a wooden staff or a long-stemmed lily that both represents a staff and a sign of Joseph’s purity. The blossoming lily/staff alludes to the blossoming staff of Aaron which signified God’s choice of the men of the tribe of Levi to serve as the chosen people’s priests (Num 17).
Recall Moses’s encounter with the burning bush (Ex 3-4). God told Moses to throw his staff to the ground. It became a serpent, but when God told Moses to pick it up by its tail it became his staff again. The Scripture later calls it the “staff of God.” Moses uses it to part the Red Sea (Ex 14). At Rephidim, Moses holds it up with the help of Aaron and Hur to defeat the Amalekites (Ex 17). He also uses it to strike a rock for the Israelites to drink water at Massah and Meribah (Ex 17).
David only had his staff, a sling, and five rocks when he slew Goliath (1 Sam 17).
The Ark of the Covenant held a gold jar of manna, the tablets of the Ten Commandments, and Aaron’s staff that bore buds and almonds (Heb 9:4). The image of Joseph and his staff reminds us of our salvation history.
Given our faith, the staff symbolizes the truth of God’s protection, guidance, and loving authority as opposed to our human frailty, waywardness, and self-indulgence.
In other depictions, St. Joseph adores the baby Jesus at the Nativity, holds the child Jesus in his arms, or works with the young Jesus at his side. St. Joseph’s quiet, steady, and loving presence offers every Catholic a source of inspiration.
The denial of the transcendent, the importance of St. Joseph
In the late 19th century, May 1 became a day for marches, demonstrations, speeches, and political efforts to rally workers and their families across the globe, especially with the demand for an 8-hour workday.
The impetus for the May 1 date came in the wake of the 1886 Hay Market Affair in Chicago, where policemen and demonstrators died from a bombing and an exchange of gunfire. Eight alleged perpetrators were found guilty of the bombing, four were executed, but others were ultimately pardoned. International socialist groups and labor unionists marked May 1 as a day for annual labor demonstrations and it remains a day to remember the needs and rights of workers across the globe.
The Church, however, had long recognized that Marxian materialism and determinism rejected God and, therefore, denied the transcendent character of faith-filled work and home life. In 1955, Pope Pius XII established May 1 as the feast of St. Joseph the Worker to remind Catholics and others that Jesus benefited from his parents’ efforts and toil, and his life sanctified work for all of us. Our spiritual nature and our capacity for self-transcendence make work meaningful and bearable.
The Church, moreover, teaches that every human being has equal dignity, while affirming the obvious fact that we are not all equal. Postmodernist activists and their enablers want the world to live by their “nonbinary” mantra, which is another attempt to stifle our spiritual nature and to live solely for immediate material ends.
The Scriptural accounts of Joseph and Mary continue to present and raise up their God-given gifts and vocations. By loving the Father, each other, and the Son, their example continues to manifest the sacred and spiritual to us.
The postmodern challenge to St. Joseph
Many postmodernists mistakenly want us to believe that women and men are biologically and physiologically the same (nonbinary), and therefore promote one’s freedom and will to “transition” from one sex to another. Thus, belying the obvious. Their embracing of “transitioning” requires their recognition and acceptance of the two sexes.
While we are made of the same flesh and bone, faith and reason point out the complementarity of men and women, as well as this complementarity’s importance for procreation and self-preservation. The iconic image of the Holy Family is eternal. To live it is to affirm one’s gifts and vocation by serving others, that is, to transcend oneself for the good of others. To be open to unconditional truth, love, goodness, beauty, and being, is to be a loving person.
If Catholics struggle to embrace the ethos of the Holy Family, then they need to continue to reflect and pray to the God who created them and loves them. With perseverance, patience, and trust in Providence, as modeled by Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, they will discover their meaning and purpose. But the discovery requires surrendering one’s liberty, memory, understanding, and will to God. This is the path to true happiness.
Today’s nonbinary moment and its distortions will not hold; vigilant and responsible parents, teachers, and communities must protect and defend children. The postmodern philosophical rejection of all narratives is a narrative—moreover, a godless narrative. The nonbinary advocates are pushing their peculiar and dangerous narrative on others, without calling it a narrative. To stand up to their bullying requires the love and fortitude of a St. Joseph, husband, father, and worker.
Faithful Catholics will acknowledge historical, social, and political injustices committed against people and will work for justice, with faith and reason. But they will always accept the Creator’s natural order in the complementarity of the sexes.
Postmodernism is a narrative of subjectivism and relativism. Nonbinary advocates champion a future society without rules and boundaries, but, in effect, they want to construct a society with their rules and boundaries. For example, they will establish boundaries that deny parents authority over their children. They live off of the convoluted thinking of Michel Foucault that made madness and sexual licentiousness new norms. They encourage a state of certain uncertainty (constant doubt) with the confusing language and text of Jacque Derrida. Yet, Derrida had to live his reality (day-to-day life) conceding to forms, concepts, and social conventions, including language.
The postmodernists have followed Friedrich Nietzsche’s so-called will to power to force their faithless “social construct” on the rest of us. This mistaken thinking, over time, will inevitably fail, just as the logical positivism of the 20th century met its logical end by the law of non-contradiction. Postmodernists are materialists, living in an affluent space and time, who mistakenly believe that promoting the sensual and eliminating the spiritual will bring people fulfillment.
Paul VI’s Humane Vitae was correct, procreation should not be separated from human sexuality. The nonbinary promoters are not responding to a God who created them, loves them, and only asks for love in return. Pope Francis has referred multiple times to genderism as a new form of “colonization.”
Masculinity and truth
Reflecting on St. Joseph the Worker, the Church presents a man with goodwill, discipline, and courage. In a gender-focused world, these characteristics are too often lost in the smear of masculine toxicity.
Women have made great strides and contributions to work life in the modern era. They have more opportunities than ever before, and their gifts are evident to anyone who thinks. Amid these successes, academics and social commentators are questioning the swing of the education and employment pendulum to a degree that significantly displaces males.
Almost 25 years ago, Christina Hoff Sommers wrote The War Against Boys: How Misguided Policies are Harming Our Young Men. She described the challenges they faced in school and life while underscoring their importance to America’s future. She concluded that academics, administrators, and teachers discouraged the competitiveness and exuberance found in boys, in essence deconstructing them. She cited literature reviews of scientific studies “showing a strong biological basis for many gender differences.” Hoff Sommers found that boys needed more discipline than girls. They needed “conventional male socialization” from her perspective but not a disregard for their manhood.
In 2022, Richard Reeves published Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do about It. In his analysis, the U.S. educational system is structured against boys, and traditional male jobs will continue to disappear. He points out that today 58% of bachelor’s degrees go to women. Although the traditional role of the “male breadwinner” will not return, society can find the means to support boys and men.
Commenting that men are not “toxic,” he argues for a “positive vision of masculinity that is compatible with gender equality.” Other recommendations include starting boys later in school because “chronological age and developmental age are different for boys and girls,” preparing males for higher-paying work in the growing fields of health care, administration, and education (especially hiring more male teachers), and increasing the number of technical schools. He argues for equal paid leave for the care of children, a “symmetrical contribution.”
Reeves says that a child’s life is improved when a father who lives outside the home stays in contact. But I would add that the cultural acceptance of divorce has made this a challenging and imperfect solution. I venture that in his heart and mind he recognizes the advantage of a culture that respects marriage and its relationship to the transcendent.
The example of St. Joseph the Worker remains valid and vibrant because a life committed to love and truth is timeless. The sanctity of a marriage between a man and a woman is the source of the vital cell of every society, the family. Priests, religious men and women, and Catholic laity have a responsibility to live and teach the truth.
St. Joseph, pray for us.
Christina Hoff Sommers, The War Against Boys: How Misguided Policies Are Harming Our Young Men, Simon & Schuster revised edition, (New York: 2000).
Maurice Mescheler, SJ The Truth About Saint Joseph: Encountering the Most Hidden of Saints, Sophia Institute Press, (Manchester, New Hampshire: 2017).
Richard Reeves, Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male is Struggling, Why it Matters, and What to Do about It, Brookings Institution Press, (Washington, D.C.: 2022).
Robert Spitzer, S.J., Finding True Happiness: Satisfying Our Restless Heart, Ignatius Press (San Francisco: 2015).
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Today, May 1, majority of the world commemorate Labor Day. In the U.S. this day is instead held on the first Monday of September. This is ironic that the U.S. does not synch with other nations in observing Labor Day on the same date. Even the Church instituted a feast of St. Joseph as the Worker today on top of his feast as the Husband of Mary on March 19. The irony is that the global Labor Day actually remembers May 1, 1886 when workers in Chicago started a strike fighting for an eight-hour workday. Three days later the strike was violently crushed by the police leading to the killing and wounding of several workers. To honor the Chicago workers and to raise awareness for labor rights and dignity worldwide, the international labor movement started commemorating May 1 as International Labor Day back in 1889. In this same era of surging labor consciousness, Pope Leo XIII in 1891 wrote the encyclical, “Rerum Novarum,” subtitled the “Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor.” This started the tradition called the Catholic Social Teachings (CST). Among the many matters related to capital and labor taken up by the Pope, one of most memorable teachings in the founding social encyclical was how Leo XIII showed that as a matter of faith and morals, workers are entitled to wages not merely sufficient to live on (living wages) but to that which is enough for the worker and family not only to live on but also enough to save for a better life (fair wages). Obviously vast portions of the world’s population do not receive such fair wages. Here in the U.S., most working class and middle class families do not have a single wage earner who has pay enough to be called a fair wage. Instead of a “living wage” or a “fair wage,” what we have instead is the legislated (often resisted and violated by business) “minimum wage” at a shameful $7.25 per hour confining many Americans to poverty. This “minimum wage” is utterly below the “living wage” or “fair wage” as first taught by Rerum Novarum. What is even more outrageous is today’s continued suppression of labor rights and dignity by big business like union busting, by the likes of Amazon, Wal-Mart, Starbucks and many of the fast food industry. Today, May 1, in the spirit of St. Joseph the Worker, may we remember the long-forgotten Chicago striking workers who shine as models in standing up for worker rights and dignity around the world. May we also consider starting to get familiar with and formed by CST by reading (now readily accessible online) this august and long line of papal social encyclicals from Pope Leo XIII’s foundational “Rerum Novarum” (1891) to Pope Francis’s latest “Fratelli Tutti” (2020).
All fine and good. But sometimes the devil is in the details…
The federal minimum wage is as reported: $7.25, but the state minimum wage is different: $13.18 in Vermont, $12.00 in Virginia and $15.74 in Washington. Something to be said here for a federated system of governance. Also, with regard now to unequal (!) exploitation by the abortion industry.
And, about wages, the cost of living varies across the country. And, it was found in Seattle that the minimum wage is vulnerable to the “law of unintended consequences”: reduced number of employees, or reduced hours, especially to drop below the half-time requirement calling for health coverage benefits. And, fewer opportunities for unskilled entry-level employees not yet responsible for supporting a family. And, offshoring which cuts jobs here but makes them available to low-cost labor and families overseas.
In a compact world, the calculus of “doing good” is nearly impossible and getting harder. But, yes, $7.25/hour is a form of cannibalism. So, yes, agreeing fully on the justice of “fair wages,” but also noting the part that prudential judgement plays in actually legislating the morality of CST principles in one place or another.
A clue can be found in Heinrich Rommen, “Natural Law,” who suggests that natural law does not often tell us what to do, but it does tell us what not to do. We can at least tell when things ain’t right, even if not always what to do about it—as in a nationally legislated minimum wage across all industries and locales.
International Labor Day was established by the Second International which was at least partly Communist. The feast day celebrated on May 1 was established under Pope Pius XII in 1955.
I don’t see unions as a good solution. Basically, striking is like using a nuclear bomb when a smart bomb would suffice. And the collateral damage of this nuclear bomb is the likely largely innocent customers. The smart bomb is the just discharge of immoral business leaders by means of swiftly executed criminal law.
However, the situation described in your comment is accurate enough. It is corruption and ignorance (e.g. because of information propagation suppression) that had maintained the reign of terror that is the current employment world.
I would add that the “economically just” (i.e. without consideration of household circumstances) minimum wage has been calculated to be $24, and that it is necessary to enact legislation that would require businesses to hire unemployed breadwinners. Legislation may not be necessary if the courts did their jobs, but, currently, they are AFAIK very corrupt and the police don’t seem to care about it.
Also, my understanding is that “Rerum Novarum” reasons out the natural right to earn a living. A related duty is that employers employ those in need of employment.
As such, I quote:
“To labor is to exert oneself for the sake of procuring what is necessary for the various purposes of life, and chief of all for self-preservation. “In the sweat of thy face thou shalt eat bread.” […] Hence, a man’s labor necessarily bears two notes or characters. First of all, it is personal, inasmuch as the force which acts is bound up with the personality and is the exclusive property of him who acts, and, further, was given to him for his advantage. Secondly, man’s labor is necessary; for without the result of labor a man cannot live, and self-preservation is a law of nature, which it is wrong to disobey. Now, were we to consider labor merely in so far as it is personal, doubtless it would be within the workman’s right to accept any rate of wages whatsoever; for in the same way as he is free to work or not, so is he free to accept a small wage or even none at all. But our conclusion must be very different if, together with the personal element in a man’s work, we consider the fact that work is also necessary for him to live: these two aspects of his work are separable in thought, but not in reality. The preservation of life is the bounden duty of one and all, and to be wanting therein is a crime. It necessarily follows that each one has a natural right to procure what is required in order to live, and the poor can procure that in no other way than by what they can earn through their work.”
-Rerum Novarum (Paragraph 44)
Pope Leo XIII (1891)
Chicago. That toddl’un town.The birthplace of Socialism,Marxisum and Progressivism.That is ripping America apart today.One only has to see where those three ideologies have taken us.
“Without denying the contributions women have made in every era…” is a completely unnecessary pre-apology. This author probably doesn’t realize it but the very fact that this statement was included is indicative of the woke society we live in. There’s zero need to caveat an article about St Joseph (and Catholic men) as if there is some implicit need to apologize for everything and anything remotely connected to masculinity.
Masculinity is good and as far as I can tell there’s been very few matriarchal societies in human history. Patriarchy is actually what is needed in modern times, right now. We have gone overboard in telling women and girls that they “can do whatever a man can do” which is an objectively false statement in and of itself.
It is provable in real life on a regular and tangible basis that no, actually women cannot do whatever a man can do. Sure there’s probably the tiniest percentage of women who could survive Navy SEAL training if held to the same standards the men have historically been held to, but that would merely be the exception that proves the rule.
Likewise, even if they start transplanting wombs to transgender men who believe they are women and they gestate via IVF, it is completely unnatural and again actually proves that men and women are very different things.
TLDR: don’t apologize for the good men or women bring to our world and yes, you can have an article about motherhood and our Blessed Mother without mentioning that no slight is meant toward men who obviously cannot bear children.
St Joseph never said a word in the gospels.
The Beloved One never mentioned him.
The great gap from finding the Beloved One in the temple at 12 years of age until the beginning of His ministry at 30ish? has always been very puzzling. Is this when St Joseph died?
It seems none of the Messiah’s friends and neighbors had any idea of His Divine Nature. Yet the Blessed Mother knew he could and would turn water into wine. What did St Joseph know? Did they work together for 18? Years at carpentry or house building? Many of His parables are agrarian in nature…no references to carpentry…. Some to building…. ‘ a house divided’… ‘cornerstone’…., St Joseph’s life seems obscured in mystery and perhaps it is too inventive to claim certain attributes for him. Better perhaps to heed the Words “Who is my Mother” in which the Beloved One was emphasizing His Divinity.
“Do what he says” He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”
St. Joseph is deceased…..he is unable to pray for anyone. Pray only to Jesus.
Important news related to labor:
This year Illinois started what looks to be a direct attack on the EVIL “doctrine” of at-will employment – with regards to discharge. It is called the Secure Jobs Act. https://trackbill.com/bill/illinois-senate-bill-291-secure-jobs-act/2351867/
New York major refuses to enforce $24/hr minimum wage law. Watching the first minute is enough to get an idea about what it is about.
“It has been Catholic teaching, particularly since the days of Pope Leo XIII, that social problems cannot be solved without the aid of the Church. These problems-regarding wages, industrial relations, etc.-are all connected in some way with ethical principles. The wages problem, for example, cannot properly be solved without reference to the moral principles of justice. Hence Pope Leo XIII, in directing his attention to this field said: “We enter confidently upon this question and in our full rights, since we are treating of a question that can find no solution worth anything without recourse to religion and the Church.”
“What is Catholic Action?” impr. 1958 p.96
“”The power of the Church is not bound by the limits of ‘matters strictly religious,’ as they say; but the whole domain of the natural law, its foundation, its interpretation, its application, so far as their moral aspects extend, are within the Church’s power. For the keeping of the Natural Law, by God’s appointment, has reference to the road by which man has to approach his supernatural end. But, on this road, the Church is man’s guide and guardian in what concerns his supreme end …””
ibid, p. 97
 Pope Pius XII, Address to Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops Rome, 2nd, November 1954
“It should be clear, therefore, that there are many economic and political questions which have moral aspects on which the Church can pronounce. So too in the case of social questions, in the narrower sense, such a matters relating to employers and employees.”
ibid, p. 98