History of the Feast
Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of St. Joseph the Worker in 1955 on the first day of May - chosen specifically to oppose the communist holiday on the same day known as "May Day" - which supposedly honored "the worker", the "proletariat".
The communist May Day was more than just a Soviet style Labor Day. The Marxist concept of "the proletariat" embodies the essence of the socialist ideology which subjects everything and everyone, including the worker, to the whim and will of the State.
In effect, the communist May Day, in the days of the U.S.S.R, was an "in your face" militaristic display of aggressive, expansionist, atheistic communism. The "worker" was but a prop for the communist hierarchy and their godless agenda.
Pius XII knew this. So, in the tradition of other Pontiffs who had previously christianized pagan holidays by inserting a Christian feast on or near a pagan one, Piux XII christianized a day devoted to atheism and the actual subjugation of "workers" to the man closest to Christ, St. Joseph "The Worker".
Today, with "the wall" down and the U.S.S.R. but a memory, it is easy to forget the threat Communism was in 1955. Stalin had already murdered an estimated 20 plus million of his own people. The Soviets had consolidated eastern Europe in their iron grip, and tanks were arrayed on the Hungarian border. All of mainland China had fallen to the Communists. And Communism was sweeping through Korea, Vietnam, and many other countries. The Soviets were amassing a nuclear arsenal and preparing to venture into space. It was a fearful time.
With an army of a couple of dozen Swiss guys dressed in bad pajamas, the Pope opted to deploy Heaven's most powerful male Saint to"sick" the Communists.
Thus, it was with some consternation that I listened to a sermon on this day which recounted the institution of the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker as the Church's response to "the extortionist of workers by the Capitalist" (actual words)!!
As we know, Communism grew out of the Marxist/Leninist rebellion against Capitalism. They are opposite economic systems. And, as history would have it, the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker was instituted precisely to COUNTER COMMUNISM - NOT CAPITALISM. But perhaps with the demise of the Soviet Union and eastern Europe now free, some feel the need to seek a new villain, and Capitalism is always handy.
However, though the USSR may be gone, communism is not. And while communism as an economic system has been severely discredited, its stepchild, atheism, is thriving. Communism isn't just the economic opposite of capitalism, it is the antithesis of Christianity, not just because it is atheistic, but because the basic disregard for the human person is inherent in communist ideology. In Communism, all, including every human person, is subject to the state.
Of course "state" is a euphemism for a self-serving elite whose rule has proven to be more ruthless and cruel than any bourgeois czar or king. With Stalin's murderous purge just coming to light (in 1955), another 36 million dead in Communist China in the name of the "Great Leap Forward", and Russian tanks clanking at the Hungarian border, the Pope wasn't thinking just then about the evils of Capitalism.
So Why the Attack on Capitalism?
Capitalist "evil" is standard homiletic fare. Perhaps its simply an innocent ignorance of history. Perhaps its a purposeful attack on an economic system that some, if not many, believe to be inherently unjust. But most likely the revisionist history is a combination of the progressive emphasis on social justice in the Church since the 60's and the natural economic gulf that exists between clergy and laity. Allow me to explain.
Essentially, most priests and religious, embrace a life of what can be called Christian socialism. In short, socialism teaches that there are no private property rights, that all is "held in common." The priest or religious who takes the vow of poverty cedes his or her right to personal ownership to the community which he or she joins and where all is "held in common."
Even secular priests, who may not take the vow of poverty and are allowed to maintain some degree of personal property, still participate in a "common life" much different than the laity, particularly those who have families to raise. The key difference though, is that this life "in common", the ceding of the right to private property, is "voluntary", not coerced, as it would be under a socialist or communist system.
The laity, because of their God-appointed duty to produce, educate, and socialize the next generation, are naturally required to put the well being of that "first community" ahead of the needs of the larger community. In order to do this, the family, or at least its head, must have access to the means of wealth creation for which the right to private property is essential.The priest or religious, while there are still bills to pay, does not have the same need. While they may be tasked to feed the poor, it is not quite the same thing as a father having to face a table full of hungry children because "daddy lost his job".
Few priests and religious have to worry about the daily crushing realities of food, clothing, shelter, and health care, etc. to the same degree that the laity, especially those who are parents, must. Thus, priests and religious would do well to address economic issues with caution simply because, for the most part, they are not subject to the same financial realities, or at least to the same degree of those financial realities, as the people they are addressing.
St. Joseph the Capitalist
But back to the title of this post. Of course it is "tongue in cheek", but St. Joseph was more "capitalist" than he was proletariat or "union guy" - which the particular sermon I heard made him out to be.
Good St. Joe bought materials, fashioned them into things people were willing to pay more for than what the material itself cost (e.g. wood = table), and used the money to care for his family and buy more materials so that he could repeat the process. It's possible that he was even an employer. Sure, he had Jesus around to help, but it's quite possible, that as a successful carpenter, he had some other local Nazarenes on the payroll.
We can also reason from Scripture that he probably did pretty well. In order for him to just pick up and go off to Egypt as instructed by the angel, he had to have some means. And the fact that Jesus was born in a stable and not a "hotel" was not due to Joseph's lack of funds. He obviously had the money or he wouldn't have knocked on the hotel doors first.
Also, we do not hear about Mary in want for her material well-being after Joseph died, so he probably socked away some of that profit to provide for his wife and Son's financial future. He may even have helped financed the ministry of his foster Son. The Scriptures don't mention it much, but we don't see Christ begging and He seemed to have the bucks when needed. So, yah, it could be said that St. Joe was a capitalist, a successful one. (Scripture does mention women who provided for his material needs. But of course that money was "made" somewhere. No government grants in those days.)
Private Property: The Essence of Capitalism
The essential feature of capitalism (in contrast to communism) is the right to own private property. This right is rooted in the Judeo-Christian principles upon which the U.S.A. was founded. In case you're wondering, it's the Seventh Commandment: "Thou shalt not steal". Obviously a thing would need to be "owned" (i.e."private property) before it could be "stolen". Thus it is no coincidence that capitalism grew up on American soil and generated the wealthiest nation in history.
Prior to the founding of the United States and the experiment in democracy, a thing could be owned until some king, lord, duke, or whoever had more power (and weapons) than you, wanted it. In short, the history of the world is tyranny.
America, in contrast, was more than just an experiment in a new form of government, it was an experiment in the practical application of Judeo-Christian principles, as unashamedly attested to by many documents authored in the name of this country's Founding Fathers. The very idea of the equal dignity of persons ("All persons are created equal...") would have been, historically, unthinkable apart from Christianity.
So What's the Problem?
Capitalism and Christianity are essentially bound up with each other. Capitalism is a free system where people are free to do good or ill. As William F. Buckley once said, "The problem with Socialism is Socialism. The problem with Capitalism are Capitalists." Socialism inherently denies the Seventh Commandment because it coercively denies the right to private property.
Thus it is the system itself that is the problem. Capitalism embraces the Seventh Commandment and the right to private property. However, due to the personal freedom inherent in the system, bad guys are free to do bad things. Yet one can no more blame Capitalism for bad Capitalists than one can blame Catholicism for bad Catholics. Freedom is the essence of both.
But what to do about the obvious abuses in the Capitalist system? Can the Church just look the other way? No. As always, the mission of the Church is the mission of Christ, and that is: to call all men first to conversion. Then it becomes the mission of the laity, once converted, to "sanctify the temporal order", as did St. Joseph. Given the current economic crisis, perhaps the Church would do well to deploy the foster father of Jesus once again, as did Pius XII, as the patron saint of Capitalists. For what is needed is not a new economic system, but new men, which only the Church can make.