Cold, wet and miserable it may be, but it is the first of May the traditional day for us inhabitants of Merrie England to dress up as Morris dancers and dance around our Maypoles, in accordance with timeless tradition. Or something. For as I am sure people will rush to point out, Morris dancers date from the nineteenth century at the very earliest, though Maypoles must be somewhat older, having all been cut down by Cromwell.
I myself have taken part in the May Morning celebrations in Oxford, which entailed getting up very early in the morning to drink cheap prosecco. Wikipedia claims that his custom dates back 500 years though I have been told, on what authority I am not sure, that it was all invented by a chaplain of Magdalene College some time in Queen Victoria’s reign.
But what about the religious celebrations of today? Fr Hunwicke has an amusing, wise and well-informed piece about just how many feasts used to be celebrated at about this time. The feast (actually optional memoria) of St Joseph the Worker is a recent innovation, and as Fr Hunwicke observes, has never really caught on. SS Philip and James were moved to make way for it. I myself always try my best to celebrate St Joseph the Worker and I think his cult deserves attention.There are several reasons for this:
The first day of May, though much less than heretofore, is still celebrated in many parts of the world as International Workers’ Day. It is useful to remember, that long before the workers started to organise politically, the Catholic Church was interested in matters to do with the welfare of workers, and there exists a rich patrimony of thought and practice to do with the dignity of labour and the rights of workers.
Political parties have rather abandoned talk of workers and workers’ rights of late. Well, they need to be reminded that the workers count. The late Bob Crow was keen on doing this, and so is the great and good Lord Glasman, but the Church too should get involved and not leave it exclusively to the comrades and members of the Upper House.
There are many communities, in our own country, but also elsewhere, where men do not work, and the idea of a man with a job is an alien one. Children, especially in these circumstances, need to be reminded that a man who works is doing something natural and good, and is to be admired. St Joseph the Worker is an aspirational figure.
Did I mention natural law? Work is not a curse, it is something we are made for. A good job, working with nice people, for a good end, makes us happy. St Joseph was a happy saint, happy in his work, and we need to promote the idea of work as part of an ethics of beatitude.
St Joseph was, of course, the foster father of Our Lord. Our Lord needed a man in the house as part of his education. If that was what the Son of God humanly needed, so does every one else.
The gospels use the word tekton of St Joseph, which means carpenter, but also can mean a skilled worker in all wooden materials; St Joseph might have been something of an artist, a creative talent, though to translate tekton as “cabinet maker” seems a bit of a stretch. Devotion to St Joseph should remind us that we all have talents given to us by God and we need to use them, and we need to be allowed to use them. Employers who do not allow their workers to enjoy their work and use their creative skills are deforming God’s creation.
Finally, there are lots of things we all need to be doing in order to transform society, and to create a civilisation of love. Among these things are several matters which touch on labour and working conditions, such as the campaign for a living wage. We know we need to do these things, and devotion to St Joseph might just stir up our hearts a bit where they need stirring up. St Joseph the Worker, pray for us!
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