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The Optional Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker

Today (May 1st) we celebrate the Optional Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker.  I stress the word “optional” because in the United States, depending on what resource one uses to look at for the daily readings, you won’t find it listed,  The reason for that lies in the basis for this memorial.  Pope Pius XII established this optional memorial in 1955 because several countries celebrate May 1st as their “labor day”.  Countries that do use this memorial to talk about the meaning of “work.”

Of course, in the United States we celebrate our Labor Day on the first Monday in September so this memorial on May 1st doesn’t get much attention.

What is our attitude towards “work”?  I know people who describe their work, meaning their paid job, as what they do just to have money to do what they really enjoy.  Work is just a necessity of life for them.

I think the first reading, Genesis 1:26-2:3, for this memorial helps us see “work” in a more positive light.  It is the story of the sixth and seventh day of creation.  Genesis 2:2 writes, “On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing; he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken.”  Clearly, God does work and all that God does is good.  So work is a good thing.

What good comes from work?  If God does it, the good can’t be the money made from work.  God doesn’t need money.  God has nothing to gain for himself from the work.  God created the world for us and gave us dominion over it.  God did this work because it was good for us.

As I was referring to this in the homily at Mass this morning, I was speaking to a congregation of mainly retired people.  If “work” is only the job we do, then it ends in retirement.  If we see “work” as the good we do to build up God’s Kingdom, it continues.  It can be bringing Communion to the homebound.  It can be helping open the church and set up for Mass or serving at Mass to help provide a reverent space and time for Mass.  Going beyond church, work in retirement can be watching the grandchildren or helping our ailing friend who is alone.

May the work we do bring God to the world and may the Lord “give success to the work of our hands.” (quote from the responsorial verse of this memorial Psalm 90).


Fr. Jeff

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