“Joseph was a craftsman from Galilee, just one man among many. What had life to offer to someone from a forgotten village like Nazareth? Nothing but work: work every day, with the same constant effort. And at the end of the day, a poor little house in which to rest and regain energy for the next day. But the name Joseph, in Hebrew, means “God will add.” God adds unsuspected dimensions to the holy lives of those who do his will. He adds the one important dimension which gives meaning to everything, the divine dimension. To the humble and holy life of Joseph he added — if I may put it this way — the lives of the Virgin Mary and of Jesus, our Lord.”1 – St. Josemaría Escrivá
There’s a saying that behind every great man there is a great woman, but I would argue that that saying goes both ways. Although May is the month set aside by the Catholic Church to honour the Blessed Virgin Mary, it’s no coincidence that this month begins with a special feast day in honour of her husband, St. Joseph. After all, Mary couldn’t have fulfilled the will of God without Joseph’s help. She might have been stoned to death had he not stepped forward to protect her honour. And if Joseph hadn’t spirited Mary and Jesus away to Egypt so quickly after the angel’s warning, Jesus might have died at the hands of Herod. Yet by all accounts, Joseph was an ordinary, faith-filled man. Although he lived a life of extraordinary holiness, he lived it in the everyday circumstances of his daily life. We honour St. Joseph not because he was rich, famous, or powerful, but because he was one of us: a humble man who provided for his family as best he could by the sweat of his brow and the work of his hands.
St. Joseph was a family man, and just like us, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus had their share of daily preoccupations and cares. Jesus learned the carpenter’s trade from St. Joseph in his workshop in Nazareth. Although it wasn’t an exciting or glamorous profession, it was honest work. Joseph and Jesus shared in the effort, the commitment, and the satisfaction of those days spent together. No doubt they also shared in the difficulties and the drudgery, for there are always challenges in any work that we do. But because of the love and support of Mary and Joseph – because they did their part in saying “yes” to God’s plan for their lives – Jesus grew up to be a faithful, hard working man, one who was ready and well prepared to undertake the mission that God had entrusted Him with.
Like St. Joseph, each one of us, without exception, is called to be that same kind of an example. We are all called to be holy – to do God’s will. Each one of us has a unique and irreplaceable part in God’s plan for our families and for all of humanity. As Pope Francis once observed, “The Book of Genesis tells us that God created man and woman entrusting them with the task of filling the earth and subduing it, which does not mean exploiting it but nurturing and protecting it, caring for it through their work (cf. Gen 1:28; 2:15). Work is part of God’s loving plan, we are called to cultivate and care for all the goods of creation and in this way share in the work of creation! Work is fundamental to the dignity of a person. Work, to use a metaphor, “anoints” us with dignity, fills us with dignity, makes us similar to God, who has worked and still works, who always acts (cf. Jn 5:17); it gives one the ability to maintain oneself, one’s family, to contribute to the growth of one’s own nation.”2
Today, however, many people in our country and throughout the world are unemployed or underemployed. Perhaps they would love to work and have looked long and hard for a job – but for whatever reason, they have not been given that opportunity. Recognizing the importance of work to society and for the dignity and fulfillment of each individual, Pope Francis extended an invitation to each one of us to stand together in solidarity with them – to encourage people in public office to make it a priority to do everything possible to reduce unemployment so that there will be meaningful work for everyone. “Above all,” he said, “do not lose hope. St Joseph also experienced moments of difficulty, but he never lost faith and was able to overcome them, in the certainty that God never abandons us.”3
Today, Pope Francis also has special words of encouragement for young people. “Be committed to your daily duties, your studies, your work, to relationships of friendship, to helping others; your future also depends on how you live these precious years of your life. Do not be afraid of commitment, of sacrifice and do not view the future with fear. Keep your hope alive: there is always a light on the horizon.”4
In closing, I share with you this beautiful prayer to St. Joseph the Worker composed by Pope St. Pius X.
A Prayer to St. Joseph the Worker
O Glorious St. Joseph, model of all those who are devoted to labour, obtain for me the grace to work conscientiously, putting the call of duty above my natural inclinations, to work with gratitude and joy, in a spirit of penance for the remission of my sins, considering it an honour to employ and develop by means of labour the gifts received from God, to work with order, peace, moderation and patience, without ever shrinking from weariness and difficulties, to work above all with purity of intention and detachment from self, having always death before my eyes and the account that I must render of time lost, of talents wasted, of good omitted, of vain complacency in success, so fatal to the work of God.
All for Jesus, all through Mary, all after thine example, O Patriarch, St. Joseph. Such shall be my watchword in life and in death. Amen.
– Sharon van der Sloot
1 St. Josemaría Escrivá, Christ is Passing By, 40. “Quotations from St. Josemaria – Praying with St. Joseph,” Saint Josemaria Escriva, Founder of Opus Dei; available from http://www.josemariaescriva.info/article/praying-with-st-joseph; Internet; accessed 29 April 2014.
2 Pope Francis, Audience, May 1, 2013; available from http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2013/documents/papa-francesco_20130501_udienza-generale.html; Internet; accessed 28 April 2014.