For him, the feast day shows the importance of family and the importance of rest, given that God spoke to St. Joseph in his dreams.
St Joseph gave dignity to work “because, as the one chosen to be the earthly father of Jesus, he taught the Son of God to do manual labor,” said Calloway. “He was entrusted with teaching the son of God a trade, to be a carpenter.”
“We’re not called to be slaves to a trade, or to find our ultimate meaning of life in our work, but to allow our work to glorify God, to build up the human community, to be a source of joy to everyone,” he continued. “The fruit of your labor is meant to be enjoyed by yourself and others, but not at the expense of harming others or depriving them of a just wage or overworking them, or having working conditions that are beyond human dignity.”
Oubre found a similar lesson, saying “our work is always at the service of our family, our community, our society, of the world itself.”
While some business owners and workers hope to see a speedy end to restrictions and business closures intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Oubre warned that opening a non-essential business to make money might not be prudent. He used the example of a football stadium, excessively focused on opening in August, even if it packs people into a situation that potentially spreads a dangerous disease.
“I don’t know if that’s the most prudent decision coming out of the spirit of service, at this particular time,” he said. “That’s not something we have to do right now.”
“St. Joseph gives us that image of humble service work,” Oubre emphasized. “If we want to go back to work right now, we need to make sure that it grows out of a spirit of humility and service and promotion of the common good.”
Some of those who have jobs are protesting work conditions they believe to be dangerous. They have organized May 1 protests and walkouts at Amazon, Instacart, Whole Foods, Walmart, Target, FedEx and others, citing health and safety concerns during the epidemic, the news and commentary site The Intercept reports.
Oubre said these protesters too must recognize the importance of the work in a spirit of humility, service and promoting the common good.
Calloway too reflected on the dueling positions of workers objecting to coronavirus protections, while other workers are protesting to seek improved protections.
“We’re in uncharted territory,” he said. “That’s where we move into the spiritual aspect of asking St. Joseph to give us wisdom to help us know what to do in this tricky situation. Be cautious, of course, we don’t want to spread this thing. But at the same time, people have to get their jobs back. We can't go on like this for long. We can’t sustain it.”
Calloway said no worker is meant to work in isolation and “just be selfish about his employment.”
“Work is meant to benefit himself and others,” he said. “It’s when we become stingy and selfish that we begin to hoard, and we take for ourselves gigantic salaries while your workers are getting pennies.”
St. Joseph is described as “the most just” in the New Testament, and would have been a just man in his labor as well, the priest said.
For Oubre, the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker is a time to remember “invisible workers.”
“No matter how humble work may be, and how much it may be considered low-skilled, or semi-skilled, it is absolutely essential to the quality of life of the nation,” said Oubre. “No matter how society looks upon the job, it becomes a very, very important task. If that task were not done, the more respected, prestigious work can’t happen.”
The coronavirus epidemic has drawn support and recognition to the risky work of doctors and nurses. Oubre noted that housekeepers and cleaners at the hospital may go unnoticed but are critical in keeping infections down and maintaining the safety of doctors, nurses and patients, while other hospital support staff also deserve their due credit.
Grocery store checkers, too, are “literally putting their lives on the line interacting with the public” so that people can continue to feed themselves, the priest said.
“All of a sudden the checkout girl at Kroger’s is not just some high school kid we’re going to deal with, and go on. She becomes an essential person helping people fulfill their needs,” Oubre said. “She’s putting her physical health on the line, by being in a public realm, interacting with hundreds of people a day.”
Calloway noted that many people will consecrate themselves to St. Joseph on the saint’s May 1 feast day, a practice encouraged by his book.