Bishop O’Connell stands before a statue of St. Joseph in the chapel of St. Joseph Parish, Toms River.
Bishop O’Connell stands before a statue of St. Joseph in the chapel of St. Joseph Parish, Toms River.
Editor’s Note: Following is the homily Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., preached during the Mass celebrated May 1, the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. The Mass was livestreamed without a congregation from the chapel of St. Joseph Church, Toms River. The Mass can be viewed on the Diocese’s YouTube channel.

The coronavirus pandemic that has gripped most of the world is a crisis on so many levels that very few parts of our society have been spared its impact. Our own state has been one of the regions in our country hardest hit, so much so, that the things that have been, and are, an ordinary part of our everyday life have been put “on hold” in virtually every sphere of endeavor, including our life in the Church. 

As Catholics, however, our faith has not been destroyed by this pandemic. Although concern for public safety has caused us to temporarily close our Churches, to livestream our Masses and prayers for the present, to postpone our sharing the sacraments for the time-being to prevent the spread of COVID 19 from harming more people, our faith in the Risen Lord Jesus keeps our focus upon him who “promised to be with us all days, even to the end of time (Matthew 28:20).”

We have faith in that promise! We hold on to the Lord’s words in John’s Gospel, “In the world you will have troubles but take courage, I have overcome the world (John 16:33).” We have faith in his encouragement, especially in times like these.

In the face of universal challenges and struggles, the Church offers us the opportunity today to look to its universal patron – St. Joseph – for guidance and courage … for grace and strength and hope. Today, May 1, is the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, and we celebrate his feast livestreamed from the parish that bears his name and special patronage, St. Joseph Parish in Toms River.

The Feast of St. Joseph the Worker was established in the Church by Pope Pius XII in 1955 to provide Catholics with a response and alternative to “May Day” celebrations for workers in communist Russia. The reach of communism, with its atheistic ideals, was posed as a very real threat to the recognition of God as Creator and Redeemer and Sustainer of the world and, as Creator, the source of the dignity of work and workers.

Pope Pius XII reflected, “The spirit flows to you and to all men from the heart of the God-man, Savior of the world, but certainly no worker was ever more completely and profoundly penetrated by it than the foster father of Jesus who lived with him in the closest intimacy and community of family life and work. If you wish to be close to Christ ... go to Joseph.”

When we search the Scriptures, we find St. Joseph present in the early life of Jesus: betrothed to Mary; present at the Nativity; in the home at Nazareth; at the temple in Jerusalem. He spoke no words quoted in the Gospel. He is called righteous and just. He was identified as a carpenter, a worker. And, yet, despite the fact that there is not an abundance of biblical references to him, Joseph’s prominent role in Jesus’ and Mary’s life as their guardian and protector and provider, earned him the Church’s attention throughout history. Two feasts are assigned to him in the Church’s calendar: one, as “Husband of Mary” on March 19; the other – today’s feast – as “the Worker.”

Although Joseph is silent in the Scriptures, his place as the one who provided for his family speaks volumes through the ages. It is fitting for us, as Catholics, seeking to be close to Christ in this time of need, to “go to Joseph” for his protection.  

The pandemic that has threatened the life and physical health of so many in these past few months has also taken its toll on our economy, exposing working people to significant risk to their livelihoods. Working women and men have also been a casualty of COVID-19, alongside of our sisters and brothers who have died or continue to suffer. Those who are fortunate enough to have retired, to have maintained their jobs are quite aware of those who have not been so lucky. Our country, our state, our community of faith cannot help but share and feel their pain.

On this feast of St. Joseph the Worker, I invite all Catholics in the Diocese of Trenton to “go to Joseph,” to pray for his intercession on behalf of all workers – keep them safe and healthy. With deepest compassion, “go to Joseph” and lift up all who have lost their jobs due to this virus and their families, praying that this pandemic might soon end, and that their safety and security might return.  

For all who labor or seek to return to work, let’s together offer this Eucharist on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. Let’s go to him and beg him, in turn, to approach Mary’s Son, whom he guarded and protected as he grew.  “Go to Joseph,“ so that Joseph, the quiet one, the righteous one, the carpenter, the patron of all workers, may lead us in our need to the heart of the Lord.