May 1 is observed as Labor Day in many countries, though not the United States. Calloway said that at the time of the declaration, communism was a serious threat that sought to take over a longtime celebration of work.
The observance originated in the late nineteenth century in the American labor movement’s May 1 protests against excessively long workdays.
“Workers complained that these long hours were punishing on the body and left them no time to tend to family duties or to improve themselves through education,” Clayton Sinyai, executive director of the Catholic Labor Network, told CNA.
Calloway reflected that most people in life are workers, whether outside or at a desk.
“They can find a model in St. Joseph the Worker,” he said. “No matter what your work is, you can bring God into it and it can be beneficial to you, your family, and society as a whole.”
Oubre said there is much to learn from reflecting upon how St. Joseph’s work nurtured and protected the Virgin Mary and Jesus, and so was a form of sanctification of the world.
“If Joseph did not do what he did, there was no way the Virgin Mary, a pregnant single maiden, could have survived in that environment,” Oubre said.
“We come to realize that the work that we do is not just for this world, but rather we can work to help build the kingdom of God,” he continued. “The work that we do cares for our family members and our children and helps build up the future generations that are there.”
Calloway warned against “ideologies of what work should be.”
“It can become enslavement. People can turn into workaholics. There’s a misunderstanding of what work is meant to be,” he said.
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.
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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.”