May 2, 2021 - Pastor Message05/18/2021
THE YEAR OF ST. JOSEPH THE WORKER
“At the time when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens...the Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being...The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it” (Genesis 2:4, 7, 15).
“Jesus came to his native place and taught the people in their synagogue. They were astonished and said, ‘Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds? Is he not the carpenter’s son?’” (Matthew 13:54-55).
When we think of the many titles of Jesus, we usually think of the more exalted ones, like Christ, Lord, or Son of God. One we don’t often think of is carpenter’s son, which the people of Nazareth use to identify him in the above passage. They undoubtedly meant it as an insult, but I suspect Jesus accepted it with love and pride in his adoptive father, Joseph, and the hard work by which Joseph supported and cared for the Holy Family.
This weekend, May 1st, we celebrate the feast of St. Joseph, the worker. This feast day was established by Pope Pius XII in 1955 to counter the rise of atheistic socialism, especially in the Soviet Union, which transformed the ancient holiday of May Day into a secular celebration of labor and the socialist state. By establishing the religious feast day of Joseph, the worker, Pius XII celebrated the dignity of work in the Catholic tradition by restoring it to its proper place, not primarily in the service of the state, though we certainly do owe reasonable allegiance and support to our government, but rather in the service of God.
As our reading from Genesis above reminds us, from the beginning God created human beings to be his coworkers in creation, “to cultivate and care for it.” Work was not meant to be a burden but the joyful fulfillment of our Godgiven nature by which we shared in his divine image as creator. As it did to everything else, though, sin corrupted work, rendering it a drudgery: “To the man God said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat, cursed be the ground because of you! In toil shall you eat its yield all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you, as you eat of the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat, until you return to the ground from which you were taken’” (Genesis 3:17-19).
As he did for everything else, though, Christ redeemed human work, restoring God’s divine image within us and thus restoring work to its intended dignity. How special it must have been for Joseph to work side-by-side with a young Jesus, teaching Jesus his trade, all the while contemplating the saving work that Jesus was here to accomplish. Joseph participated in that saving work by his labor as a carpenter, supporting Jesus and helping him enter more fully into the human condition. In a similar way to how Mary foreshadowed the grace that Christ would pour into the world through his death and resurrection, Joseph’s work with and for Jesus foreshadowed the renewed dignity of human work done in union with and in service of Christ. Let us reflect this weekend on how our work, whether paid or volunteer, whatever it is, can also serve Christ and continue his saving work in the world today. St. Joseph, the worker, pray for us.
Fr. Marc Stockton