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St. Joseph the Worker


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,

The month of May is dedicated to increased devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Let us ask Jesus and St. Joseph to teach us to practice great love for the Immaculate Heart of Mary! This weekend I share with you a reflection on St. Joseph the Worker (Feast: May 1). I encourage you to read it through a few times this week!

“St. Joseph the Worker (May 1): The Memorial of Saint Joseph the Worker has been celebrated liturgically since 1955. On this day the Church, inspired by Saint Joseph’s example and under his patronage, commemorates in a special way the human and supernatural value of work. Work is a gift from God: By the labor of your hands you shall eat. (cf. Entrance Antiphon: Ps. 128:1-2)

The Church, in presenting St. Joseph to us… as a model, is not endorsing just one particular form of work, manual labor, but is testifying to the dignity and value of all honest human occupations. In… (Genesis 1:26; 2:3) we read the Genesis account of man’s participation in the work of Creation. Sacred Scripture also tells us that God placed man in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. (Gen. 2:15) From the beginning of man’s existence, work is for him a command of nature, a feature of his condition as created being, an expression of his dignity, and a means whereby he cooperates in the great overall task of Divine Providence. All that original sin did was to change the form of this cooperation, as we also read in the Book of Genesis: Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life… In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread. (Gen. 3:17-19)

After the fall of our first parents, what had been intended originally as something pleasant and agreeable has since become difficult, and very often exhausting; but there has been no change in the relationship of man’s work to his Creator and its role in the redemption of mankind. The conditions attached to work cause some people to look upon it as a punishment, or alternatively because of the malice of the human heart estranged from God, as a mere form of merchandise or an ‘instrument of oppression’, to such an extent that on occasions it is difficult to appreciate its very real grandeur and dignity. Others see work exclusively in terms of a means for making money, or as an expression of selfish personal affirmation, and fail to realize the value of work in itself as something Divine, whereby man collaborates with God and offers his Creator something in which all his natural and supernatural virtues come into play.

For many centuries manual work was looked down on as no more than a way of earning a living, and was considered to be something basically worthless or degrading. Nowadays materialistic societies tend to classify people according to ‘how much they make’ and to their ability to obtain a greater level of material well-being at more or less any cost. It is time for us Christians to shout from the rooftops that work is a gift from God and that it makes no sense to classify men differently, according to their occupation, as if some jobs were nobler or of less significance than others. Work, all work, bears witness to the dignity of man, to his dominion over creation. It is an opportunity to develop one’s personality. It is a bond of union with others, the way to support one’s family, a means of contributing to the improvement of the society in which we live and to the progress of all humanity. (J. Escriva, Christ Is Passing By, 47) St. Joseph was a tradesman who worked for his living, and the feast (St. Joseph the Worker) proposes him to us as a model and patron. (St. John Paul II, Redemptoris Custos, 15, August 1989, 22) We should have frequent recourse to him to ensure that the work we do never loses its innate dignity or value, for it is not uncommon that, when God is forgotten, from the factory dead matter goes out improved, whereas the men there are corrupted and degraded. (Pius XI, Quadragesimo A nno, 15 May 1931, 135) Our work, with St. Joseph’s help, ought to leave our hands as a prayerful and pleasing offering to God.

The natural and the supernatural meaning of work: In… (Matthew 13:54-58) we see once again how Jesus is identified in Nazareth by his occupation: Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary? (Mark 6:3) When He returned to His native town (sons here, as elsewhere, often following the same trade as their fathers), the neighbors remarked: Is not this the carpenter’s Son? Is not His mother called

Mary? (Matt. 13:54-58) In another place it says that Jesus practiced the same profession as St. Joseph, the man who occupied the place of His Father here on earth. Man’s work by being taken up by the Son of God, has been sanctified, and can now be something redemptive, through being united to Christ the Redeemer of the world. All the negative qualities that attach themselves to work as a consequence of original sin - weariness, toil, hardship and difficulties - become, in Christ, something of immense value for every individual and for all of mankind. Man is now associated with the work of redemption wrought by Christ, Whose labor with His hands at Nazareth greatly ennobled the dignity of work. (Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, 67)

Any honest occupation can be a task adapted to the perfection of the individual who carries it out, and indeed of the whole of society itself. Through the communion that exists among all the members of Christ’s Mystical Body - the Church - man’s work, in all its incidental detail, can become a means of helping others. But for this to be so, it is essential for us not to lose sight of the fact that every human enterprise, even the most arduous and difficult of achievement, has to have a supernatural as well as a human purpose. The galley slave is well aware that he rows in order to make the ship move; but for this to give meaning to his life, he needs to appreciate the meaning that suffering and punishment have for a Christian. That is, he has to see his situation as a means of identifying himself with Christ.

If, through ignorance or rejection, he doesn’t manage to see this, he will end up hating his ‘work’. A similar effect can be seen when the fruit of one’s labors (not the financial reward, but the actual product, the thing that has been ‘produced’ or ‘made’) is so alienated from its maker that it scarcely impinges on his consciousness. (P. Berglar, Opus Dei, Salzburg, 1983) Many people go to ‘work’ every morning as if they were going to the galleys, to row a ship to a destination they are neither aware of nor care about; all they look forward to is the weekend and the pay-packet. This sort of work, evidently, can do nothing to ennoble or sanctify man, and only with difficulty can it develop his personality and be of real benefit to society.

Let us meditate today, with Saint Joseph’s help, on various aspects of love and esteem for our job. How hard do we try to do things perfectly and punctually? What is our professional standing like? Do we have a methodical approach to things – which does not at all exclude having a sense of urgency about them? Do we always carry out every little detail of our work as carefully and considerately as we can? If our daily enterprise is engaged in as conscientiously as is humanly possible, we can say with the liturgy of today’s Mass: Lord God, fountain of all mercy, look upon our gifts on the feast of St. Joseph. Let our sacrifice become the protection of all who call on You. (Roman Missal, 1 May, Prayer over the Gifts)

Loving our work: Wor k well done is wor k done with love. To have a proper regard for the task we are engaged in is, perhaps, the first step in ennobling it and raising it to the level of the supernatural. We have to put our heart into the things we do, and not just do them mechanically, automatically, ‘because we haven’t any option’. My son, do you remember that man who came to see me this morning, the one with the brown jacket? He’s not an honest man… He works as a cartoonist for an illustrated magazine. It gives him enough to live on and keeps him busy. But he always talks disparagingly about his work and tells me: ‘If only I could be a painter! But I have to draw these stupidities in order to eat. Don’t pay any attention to them, old chap, don’t even look at them! It’s just pure commercialism!’ In other words, he’s only in it for the money. And he has let his spirit get separated from what his hands are doing, because he has very little regard for his work. But let me say this, my son. If my friend finds his task so repulsive, if his drawings can be said to be rubbish, the reason is precisely because he hasn’t put his heart into them. When the spirit is present, there is no job that doesn’t become noble and holy. This is as true of a cartoonist as it is of a carpenter or a dustman… There is a way of drawing cartoons, or of working with wood, or of emptying bins… which shows that love has been placed there, as well as attention to detail and proportion, and a little spark of something personal - what artists call individual style - and there is no human undertaking or task in which such a personal ingredient cannot flourish. That’s the way things have to be done. The other way, that of loathing one’s work and despising it, instead of redeeming it and secretly transforming it, is wrong and immoral. The visitor in the brown jacket is, therefore, an immoral person, because he doesn’t love his work. (E. D’Ors, Learning and Heroism: Greatness and Service of the Intellect, Pamplona 1973) St. Joseph teaches us to love the occupation in which we spend so much of our life: keeping the home, working in the laboratory, at the plough or the computer, delivering parcels or being a receptionist. The status of a job depends on its capacity to perfect us in a human way and supernaturally as well, on the opportunities it offers to provide for our family and collaborate in good works on behalf of mankind, and on the social contribution we can make in the world through its means.

St. Joseph had Jesus beside him while he worked. At times he would have asked Him to hold a piece of wood while he sawed it, and at others he would have shown Him how to use a chisel or a plane. Whenever he got tired he would have been able to look at his Son, Who was the Son of God, and his work would thereby acquire a new value because he would realize that through it he was collaborating mysteriously in the enterprise of salvation.

Let us ask St. Joseph today to teach us the awareness of the presence of God which he had while he was engrossed in his work. Let us not forget, either, our Mother the Blessed Virgin, to whom we lovingly dedicate the month of May that begins [May 1]. Let us not forget to offer daily in her honor a particular hour of work or study, each day better than the previous one, and more perfectly done.” (From: In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez) Through the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God, St. Joseph, St. Michael and St. Paul, may God bless us with great love for the Immaculate Heart of Mary!

In Christ through Mary,

Fr. Kasel