Recent sunshine befits the week of May Day, an ancient pagan custom to celebrate the beginning of summer. Seasonal change directs most pagan celebrations. Should the Church imitate them?
Before Christmas, the darkest time of the year was marked by the Roman Saturnalia and the Scandinavian Yuletide, including customary feasting and gift-giving. There’s no shortage of commentators who say that Christianity is an imitator, just co-opting what came before.
St. Joseph the worker or imitator?
This week we have one more example. May 1st was the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. The feast was established by Pope Pius XII in 1955 as a counterpoint to Communist May Day celebrations, called the International Day of Labor. Another imitation! Or is it?
Why Communism was nothing new
The late historian Arnold Toynbee has successfully argued that Communism couldn’t have existed without Christianity. He said that it was dependent on Christian ideas, but like any heresy, removed those ideas from balance of the whole and pushed them to extremes. So we could say that the impetus behind the Communist worker’s day is a yearning for justice and concern for the poor that is more adequately fulfilled in Christ. If this is true, then Communism is the real imitator.
Pagans in the dark
C.S. Lewis points out that even pagan myths reveal inchoate truths planted by God in the human heart. These truths became incarnate in Christ, who brought everlasting light to shadowy speculations. If this is true, then the Christmas feast is God’s fulfillment to pagan longing.
Back to Jesus and Joseph
In the Gospel reading for St. Joseph the Worker, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue, and the people are amazed at his wisdom. Matthew tells us that they were astonished and said, “Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds?” But then they convince themselves that since he’s just the “carpenter’s son” who grew up in town, he’s nothing special.
Likewise, modern man absorbs Jesus’ wisdom and mighty deeds but then, recognizing their familiarity, denies the miracle of redemption. And truly, you don’t need to be Christian to have your mood uplifted by spring weather. But how much better to know that God created the first spring with the foreknowledge that it would eventually become an analogy for Jesus’ resurrection.
This faith enables us, like Joseph, to bring supernatural perspective to all our work.