02 May 2021

Homily - 1 May 2021 - The Memorial of Saint Joseph the Worker

The Memorial of Saint Joseph the Worker

Dear brothers and sisters,

As I took my daily walk a few days ago through a neighborhood, I saw something that caught my attention: two houses on the same side of a block had their garage doors open. It was not, however, the open garage doors that intrigued, but rather what was inside the two garages. Both garages were filled with stuff – junk, I surmised – to such an extent that no cars could be parked inside the garage. This curious sight got me thinking.

By definition, a garage is “a shelter or repair shop for automotive vehicles.”[1] By etymology, this word is new to the English language, having been borrowed from French in 1902 from the verb garer, meaning “to shelter” (I did not know this during my walk). What got me thinking was the irony of these two garages. Two rooms, if you will, built for the purpose of sheltering cars were filled with so many unused – and likely unneeded – possessions that the cars had to be left out in the elements, as if the homeowners did not know the fundamental purpose of a garage.

Just as it is possible for us not to know the purpose of a garage, it is also possible for us not to know the purpose of human life and labor. Just as it is possible for not to use a garage for its purpose, it is also possible for us not to human life and labor for its intended purpose. Can you imagine working so hard to earn so much money that you simply buy so many things that you cannot even use or take with you beyond the grave? There are a great many people today who think the purpose of work is to acquire more possessions. In the end, they do not possess these things; rather, the things end up possessing them. Saint Joseph provides us with a remedy for such errors and shows us the purpose of human life and labor, which is why our remembrance of Joseph the Worker is so important. Saint Joseph can show us these remedies because he, too, was called “to be a disciple of Jesus, dedicating his life to the service of the Son of God and of the Virgin Mother, in obedience to the Heavenly Father,” just as we are called to be and to do.[2]

We often think of Saint Joseph’s work as that of a carpenter (cf. Matthew 13:), which, in our understanding, often makes us think of one who builds houses or some such other constructions. But the Greek work that we translate as carpenter, tekton, means something more. It is a word that more closely relates to our word artisan or craftsman. Saint Justin Martyr – who was from Samaria and was beheaded for his faith in Christ about the year A.D. 165 - tells us that Jesus

was considered to be the son of Joseph the carpenter; and He appeared without comeliness, as the Scriptures declared; and He was deemed a carpenter for He was in the habit of working as a carpenter when among men, making plows and yokes; by which He taught the symbols of righteousness and an active life.[3]

Jesus would have learned this trade from Joseph and so it is safe to say that Joseph, too, was in the habit or making plows and yokes and such objects used in domestic life. From this we can see that Joseph “earned an honest living to provide for his family” and that “from him, Jesus learned the value, the dignity and the joy of what it means to eat bread that is the fruit of one’s own labor.”[4]

Saint Joseph teaches us that, instead of being a drudgery, human work is intended to be “a means of participating in the work of salvation, an opportunity to hasten the coming of the Kingdom, to develop our talents and abilities, and to put them at the service of society and fraternal communion.[5] This is something our society has forgotten and needs to learn again. Human labor is not about acquiring more things, but about “cooperating with God himself, and in some way [becoming] creators of the world around us.”[6]

But there is yet a more important lesson to be learned from Saint Joseph the Worker. In his role as the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the father of Jesus, Saint Joseph “turned his human vocation to domestic love into a superhuman oblation of himself, his heart and all his abilities, a love placed at the service of the Messiah who was growing to maturity in his home.”[7] Saint Joseph devoted himself entirely to Jesus and those dear to him. Indeed, we might say that “more than carpentry, love is St. Joseph’s labor.”[8] Love should be our labor, as well, love of God and love of neighbor.

Just as love is the purpose of human labor, so is love the purpose of human life. We might, then, rightly say that the purpose of Saint Joseph was to be a place of shelter for the Son of God and his Blessed Mother, in a similar way that a garage is meant to be a shelter for a motor vehicle. In the same way, you and I are meant to be shelters for one another, refuges of love who receive love from God. This is the wisdom and the mighty deed that Jesus taught Saint Joseph and that Saint Joseph, if we learn from his school, will likewise teach us (cf. Matthew 13:54). 

Let us, then, never fail to sit at the feet of Saint Joseph, so that he might teach us the propose of human life and labor. Referring to the Saints of God, Saint Augustine once asked, “What they could do, can you not also do?”[9] Yes, we can learn from Saint Joseph that “entrusting oneself to God means emptying oneself of oneself, renouncing oneself, for only those who accept to lose themselves for God can be called ‘just,’ … that is, can conform their will to God’s will and so fulfill themselves.”[10] May Saint Joseph “guide us in the path of life, obtain for us grace, mercy, and courage, and defend us from every evil. Amen.”[11]

[1] Merriam-Webster.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Address, 5 July 2010.

[3] Saint Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 88.

[4] Pope Francis, Patris Corde, 6.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Blessed Pope Paul VI, Homily, 19 March 1966.

[8] Michael Heinlein, “A Labor of Love,” Simply Catholic, 1 May 2021. Accessed 1 May 2021. Available at https://simplycatholic.com/a-labor-of-love/.

[9] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, VIII.11.27.

[10] Pope Benedict XVI, Address, 5 July 2010.

[11] Pope Francis, Patris Corde, 7.