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The reason we celebrate St Joseph on May Day …..

May 1, 2014

Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker             Matthew 13: 54-58

Today, 1st May, is celebrated as the Feast of St Joseph the Worker. This is a modern example of the Church doing something that it had done 2,000 years earlier – declaring a Christian festival on a pagan feast day.

 In the 1st and 2ndcenturies there was a growing problem, with a new cult of Sol Invictus became popular amongst the Romans, a pagan feast which was actually celebrated on December 25th. So the Christian festival at Christmas was established by the Church to deliberately rival the false gods, celebrating the Nativity on the same day so that Christians were able to focus on their Faith rather than the false notions of this world.

Now, in 1889, Pope Leo XIII warned the world of the dangers of a new form of godlessness: communism – a political movement that had become very attractive in to many idealistic, often young, people. The Pope warned of the dangers of communism, because it was an ideology that rejected God and placed all its faith in the ability of humans to achieve what was a false idea of freedom. He warned that, ultimately being based on class war and envy, this communist ideology would enslave the very people it was meant to liberate. What a prophetic message! Pope Leo, sensitive to the growing secularization of the working classes in Europe because of the rise of atheistic ideologies, proposed St Joseph as a model for the underprivileged proletariat. The socialist movement had already seized on the popularity of the first of May, a day for spring festivals, and had dubbed it ‘Workers’ Day’. Sadly, we now know that the history of the twentieth century is one of godless ideologies of Communism and Fascism bringing untold misery to the world. After the Second World War, with the Cold War becoming a growing danger, in 1955, Pope Pius XII placed the Feast of St Joseph the Worker on that greatest of Soviet feast days, the 1st of May, saying it was in order “to bring to the attention of all the dignity of labour, so that this dignity may become the basis for a social order founded on a just distribution of rights and duties.”

Saint Joseph, despite being descended from the royal line of David, was living in humble obscurity as a carpenter when God did him the great honour and chose him to be the husband of the Virgin Mother, and therefore the man given responsibility for being the foster-father and guardian of our Lord.

The scriptures tell us that Joseph was a just man; and obedient to divine calls. When he was in the presence of angels – God’s messengers – he listened and did as he was told. Contrast that with the father of John the Baptist, who rather foolishly couldn’t believe that his barren wife would bear him a son. For his pains, Zecheriah was struck dumb for nine months. In contrast, Joseph accepted the truth he was being told without hesitation.

 After Jesus was born, and Herod was out to kill the divine Infant, an angel told Joseph in a dream to take his family and seek asylum in Egypt. Joseph at once obeyed, no doubt exposing him and his precious family to many dangers and difficulties. But he obeyed without hesitation. He knew who his son was. He knew he had to be obedient. Sure, Joseph could have tried to defy the angelic advice. Surely it would be safer to return home to Nazareth, somewhere he knew, somewhere he could hide amongst your own people, people who knew him and Mary? Sadly, we know how weak people can be. Some people are heroic. We know that from the stories of people who risked their lives and the lives of their families to save Jews from the Nazis. But so often, people are denounced, betrayed, denied, and handed over to their fates.

And we see this happening again in today’s gospel – Jesus is rejected in his own country. The congregation in the synagogue think that they know Jesus and his family, and they take offence at his words and deeds. They did not recognize his wisdom and his mighty works as the Spirit of God; they did not know that he was the Son of God, and they did not realise that his true brothers and sisters were his disciples, not his physical family. The people of stumbled in unbelief, and so Jesus did not perform many miracles.

In Saint Joseph we are given a role model of obedience to God. Faith in God. Despite the political correctness of our own modern society that denies all the evidence, there is no doubt that children need fathers just as much as they need mothers. Second only to Mary, Saint Joseph is the person that spent the most earthly hours and days with Jesus. Joseph would have been a major, major influence in the life of Jesus as He grew up – fashioning his attitudes towards society, towards woman, towards standing up for what is right and just, and how to do it. We thank God that there was a good man called Joseph who accepted his responsibilities and trusted in God in raising his foster son.

Saint joseph deserves to be recognised, although we know very little about the detail of his life. One of the first things Pope Francis did after his election was to ensure that Saint Joseph was mentioned by name at all masses, putting his name next to Mary in the eucharistic prayers. Thus we honour Saint Joseph, a good and holy man, who helped change the world.




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