St. Joseph the Worker

As a traditionalist-leaning (post-trad?) Catholic, I admit I “have issues” with today’s* Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. You can consult other blogs to see reasons why, which are reducible to three:

1.) It’s an imposition on the calendar, having evicted the Apostles Philip and James the Lesser from their traditional feast day. This ad hoc feast was whipped up from scratch in the 1950s.

2.) It smacks of political pandering. The Communists celebrated May 1 as May Day, so the Church in the most transparent manner possible tried to “baptize” this modern celebration. Also, it seems untraditional to cast a saint in such modern, Marxist terms; Joseph the Worker as opposed to carpenter, etc. When else has the Church ever celebrated a saint as patron of an entire social class, the modern undifferentiated proletariat?**

3.) I’ve read that the Latin texts for the feast are inferior. I really don’t know.

So, there’s that. Like I said, you can find any number of trad cranks and critics (the two categories don’t necessarily overlap, but they often do . . .) pointing this out. And I allow that there’s a lot to their arguments.

But in God’s Providence, such things as the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker do arise, and God can use them to His purposes. I know this from personal experience. Here’s my story:

My father died on April 15, 2001, of lung cancer. It was Easter Sunday, and he was a deathbed (or sickbed) convert. At the time, I was a freshman at Marquette University in Milwaukee. My friends and classmates organized a Mass in memory of my father on the evening of Tuesday, May 1, at St. Joan of Arc Chapel.

The Jesuit who offered the Mass gave a homily on how his father had been a handyman of some sort . He (the priest) was never handy, but his relationship with his father was a loving one. That’s about all I remember of the homily.

I don’t think it was an accident that the priest chose this as his theme. My dad was a construction worker. He had previously been a mechanic, and he was a trained electrician. And I inherited from him almost none of these skills. I am not completely inept at craftsmanship, but I’ve just always focused on intellectual pursuits. This was never a source of strife between my dad and me. I honored him, and he was proud of me, and that was it.

Of course, the homily also fit the feast day. Our Lord’s foster-father on earth, St. Joseph, was a carpenter, a tradesman. God Incarnate, the Maker of the Universe, grew up in a workshop. St. Joseph is also the patron saint of a happy death, and he died in the presence of Jesus and Mary. My mother and I were fortunate enough to be present when my dad died.

So, the liturgical celebration of St. Joseph the Worker provided me with some consolation at a time when I definitely needed it. Fifteen years later, I am grateful to my friends and classmates (some of whom I had been nasty or cold to) for having organized the Mass, and to the Jesuit who offered it, and to the Church for instituting the feast,  whatever the feast’s imperfections.

Since this blog is named “Driftless Catholic,” I’d add that St. Joseph the Workman is also the Patron of the Diocese and Cathedral of La Crosse, Wisconsin. My family is from the La Crosse Diocese, which lies almost entirely within the Driftless Area.

*The date for this post says May 2. I’m typing it on May 1.

**There are at least partial answers to all of these objections. For one, the Gospels themselves cast St. Joseph as a nondescript “craftsman.” All we really know for certain is that he was a worker. There must be Providence to that.


3 thoughts on “St. Joseph the Worker

  1. P.S. In case you want to see examples of the “other blogs” I reference at the beginning of this post (blogs critical of the institution of the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker), I would refer you to:

    –The Rad Trad ( Note the snarky, “Jerz the Werz.”

    –Fr. Hunwicke ( I would note that I’ve never been fond of referring to Sts. Philip and James the Lesser as “Pip’n’Jim.” Fr. Hunwicke notes in his blog post that this reference is “irreverent.” Seems so to me. For Fr. Hunwicke, the reference no doubt conjures up fond memories of Oxford. For other bloggers to pick it up, however, especially American bloggers (is there any American dialect where “Pip” is short for Philip?), is a grating affectation.


  2. On point 2, perhaps the English cognomen smacks of pandering more than does the Latin: S. Joseph Opifex. ‘Opifex’ seems different than ‘worker’ in its connotations. The focus is not on labor itself as the value in a worker’s work, but on the man who makes a final cause, the opus. Opificium mundi became a way to describe God’s creation. (Although, if I wanted to translate the English Marxist term ‘worker’ into Latin, I’m not sure how else I would do it. I don’t know what language the namer of the feast was thinking in… )

    Best of luck with the blog!

    Liked by 1 person

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