Written by Sr. Rosemary Finnegan, O.P.

Today is May 1st, often called May Day. In many places, it's a celebration of spring and the end of winter. In many countries, it’s a day for organized labor and is called Labor Day. In 1955, in response to the “May Day” celebrations for workers sponsored by Communists, Pius XII instituted the feast of St. Joseph the Worker to also be celebrated this day. This added a religious dimension to worker issues. St. Joseph was the perfect role model for workers and the dignity of human work. He did ordinary work, good work for God as a stepfather and as a carpenter, and accomplished no task half-heartedly. He was a compassionate and a caring man – always ready to protect Mary and Jesus from outside harm and disgrace. Joseph was a man of faith, obedient to whatever God asked of him without question, and without knowing the outcome. Now Joseph cares for and watches over the whole Church.

In our first reading, we hear of the work of Paul and Barnabas, both very important people in the foundation of the early Church and the spread of the gospel. The list of works they did in this reading alone is daunting:

  • they proclaimed the good news
  • strengthened spirits
  • exhorted people
  • underwent many hardships
  • appointed presbyters
  • travelled to Pamphilia and to Antioch “where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work they had now accomplished

Interestingly, Barnabas’ actual given name was also Joseph. The apostles gave him the Hebrew name Barnabas, which means "Son of Encouragement" because of his work in the Church.

Barnabas believed in the power of the gospel message to change people's hearts…case in point is St. Paul. After Paul had his conversion experience, it was Barnabas who defended Paul, persuading the apostles and the church in Jerusalem that Paul was no longer a persecutor and could now be trusted. Barnabas was also one of the first to understand that the mission of the church was universal and argued that Gentile converts did not have to follow all the strict Jewish customs in order to be Jesus’ disciples.

Barnabas’ leadership was well respected by all. He was a team player who knew the value of working with others, a collaborator in ministry, a reconciler.

St. Joseph and Barnabas…two witnesses, one a private person, one a public spokesman, two different personalities, two different callings, but both are powerful examples of people who do their work and the work of the gospel with enthusiasm and determination. May we be inspired by their lives to do the same. Sts. Joseph, Barnabas and Paul, pray for us this day.