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St. Joseph the Worker

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Apr. 30, 2012

Today we celebrate St. Joseph the Worker.  The fifth mystery of the Chaplet of St. Joseph is meant precisely to call our attention to “the hidden life” of Jesus’ foster father.  This hidden life is marked with a surprising paradox, especially considering what we are told from the very beginning of St. Matthew’s Gospel, as well as St. Luke’s: that Joseph was of a royal bloodline, a descendant of King David (Matt. 1:1-17; Luke 2:4).      

Yet, we never see St. Joseph appear in a chariot, walking on red carpet or bedecked with jewels and splendor.  As a matter of fact, we hardly hear much testimony to his greatness in the words of Scripture, even.  He is a prince of the realm, yet works with his hands.  He labors and humbles himself, never complaining, but always obeying.  It is remarkable to see a man so devoted to his duty as was St. Joseph.  When we consider this, it is really no surprise that God would chose him be the foster father of His own Son!

So often in Scripture and throughout the life of Christ, we see Jesus illustrate the special dignity of common men and women, of outcasts, of criminal, tax collectors and prostitutes.  We see him exalt the lowly, love the despised.  We begin to see for the first time a hidden nobility in places we would likely never had expected—from the simple folks, to the industrious workers, to Mankind, including ourselves.  We are challenged to look beyond the filth and the toil in order to gaze upon sanctity.  Christ could see this most clearly, and He likely began to see it in the life of his own foster father, St. Joseph. 

Many men and women of today aspire to levels that keep them from getting their hands dirty, their clothes saturated with sweat, their futures tied to the day-to-day…but St. Joseph embraced this life.  He dutifully rose every day to hack the needs of the Holy Family from his own livelihood.  He was not a taker, not an exploiter, not a master, but a worker.  He welcomed sweat not so he could get ahead, but so that he could get by.  More diligent than ambitious, more paternal than managerial, more soiled than refined, St. Joseph’s life was hidden from the scene precisely because he was procuring the necessities that enabled Christ’s rearing by His Immaculate Mother. 

Today we celebrate humility, first hand.  We discover the privilege, the dignity, and the sanctity of sweat, of labor, of toil.  As we recall St. Joseph’s working stature, his common roots, his blue-collar mentality that led to his white-robed eternity, I can think of no better words than those put forth by Pope Leo XIII in Quamquam Pluries (On Devotion to St. Joseph):

For Joseph, of royal blood, united by marriage to the greatest and holiest of women, reputed the father of the Son of God, passed his life in labour, and won by the toil of the artisan the needful support of his family. It is, then, true that the condition of the lowly has nothing shameful in it, and the work of the labourer is not only not dishonouring, but can, if virtue be joined to it, be singularly ennobled. Joseph, content with his slight possessions, bore the trials consequent on a fortune so slender, with greatness of soul, in imitation of his Son, who having put on the form of a slave, being the Lord of life, subjected himself of his own free-will to the spoliation and loss of everything.  Through these considerations, the poor and those who live by the labour of their hands should be of good heart and learn to be just. If they win the right of emerging from poverty and obtaining a better rank by lawful means, reason and justice uphold them in changing the order established, in the first instance, for them by the Providence of God. But recourse to force and struggles by seditious paths to obtain such ends are madnesses which only aggravate the evil which they aim to suppress. Let the poor, then, if they would be wise, trust not to the promises of seditious men, but rather to the example and patronage of the Blessed Joseph, and to the maternal charity of the Church, which each day takes an increasing compassion on their lot.