May 5, 2004
vol 15, no. 126

St. Joseph: Teach us always to labor for Jesus
By Father Lawrence Smith

God the Father chose a quiet, holy man from Nazareth, descended from the line of David, to guide His only-begotten Son in the human way, always focused on the eternal and to protect the Immaculate Mother Mary. To her and the humble Joseph the God-Man was obedient in all things. Should we do less?

    "Jesus spoke and did those things which gave glory, not to Himself, but to His Father. Both Jesus and Joseph knew that the dignity of work comes not from the raw act of labor, but from the end to which it is directed. Work meant merely for monetary or egoistic gain is impoverishing and demeaning to the laborer. Work done at the direction of God and for His glory alone bears fruit that nourishes the laborer in this life and unto eternal Life."

   Today we celebrate the Double Major Feast of the Octave Day of the Solemnity of Saint Joseph which the Church has long acknowledged on the Wednesday after Good Shepherd Sunday. In this feast and the Octave Feast a week later, we have the example and ideal of holy Joseph to guide us in all things.

    Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, chose to be born of the immaculate flesh of the Blessed Virgin Mary. God from God, the eternal Word begotten of the Father before all ages, Jesus took on the burden of mortality, dwelling in the flesh as a man among men. The Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity deigned in perfect humility to be received in the womb of His glorious Mother, who obediently cooperated in the divine plan of salvation at the message of the angel Gabriel. God's Holy Spirit overshadowed the Virgin, Christ was conceived, and the Word became man. His dwelling place among us was Nazareth, the home of a descendant of David, the chaste spouse of the Mother of God, Joseph.

    Jesus learned from Joseph to work honestly, to hearken to God in silence, and to rejoice in God's bounty in the midst of material poverty. The hands that lifted a dead girl from sleep, Whose touch gave sight to the blind, Whose strength cleansed His Father's House of thieves, sought never to create wealth or to indulge in frivolous comforts or to assert the desires of the flesh over the will of God. Joseph instilled in Jesus an awareness that sufficiency is a greater bounty than plenty, that God is heard best when all else is silent, that the craft of man imitating God's act of creation builds an edifice not of perishable matter but of imperishable spirit.

    Jesus was mistaken for "the carpenter's son". The people around Him are to be excused if in looking on Jesus they recognized in Him more of His foster-father than of God the Father. In merely natural terms it is likely that His physical mannerisms resembled the man responsible for teaching Him what it means to be a child of God. We hear His Mother's influence in Gethsemani when He submitted to the will of God: "Not My will, Father, but Thy will be done!" (cf. St. Luke 1:38). We "hear" Joseph echoed in the silence of Christ before Pilate (cf. St. John 19:9).

    But, of course, in all things Jesus came only to do the will of Him Who sent Him. Jesus had work to do: to enkindle a flame upon the earth, to preach the Good News to the lost sheep of Israel, to give sight to the blind, to overcome the world, to lay down His life for His friends. Joseph's work ethic proves invaluable in accomplishing God's plan of salvation. Joseph is the Hope of the Sick, Consolation of the Poor and Rescuer of Sinners.

    From the very first, both the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph sought to obey God. They submitted to Him the first-fruits of their loving obedience as prescribed in the law. It was their constant care to raise Jesus to be a man of righteousness and holiness.

    Modernity needs to learn from the example of St. Joseph in imitation of the humble willingness of our Lord. The work of the hands of St. Joseph was directed by his knowledge that they served the greater purpose of performing the work of faith. He did not labor as a carpenter for its own sake, but for the sake of his wife, his Child, and his obedience to God.

    Jesus spoke and did those things which gave glory, not to Himself, but to His Father. Both Jesus and Joseph knew that the dignity of work comes not from the raw act of labor, but from the end to which it is directed. Work meant merely for monetary or egoistic gain is impoverishing and demeaning to the laborer. Work done at the direction of God and for His glory alone bears fruit that nourishes the laborer in this life and unto eternal Life.

    Faith makes it possible for man to order his priorities properly. By faith man knows that his ultimate end is union with God; by reason man knows that all natural activities must then be placed at the service of this supernatural goal. By love is accomplished the task of submitting what reason teaches to the direction of what faith promises in the confident hope that God will perfect the work He has begun in man and in which man is called to cooperate.

    It is impossible to describe the scandal and shame in which the faithlessness of modern society now wallows. Lacking faith man has disordered his world such that work is no longer placed in the service of a greater end, but is become an end in itself. The family, once the beneficiary of work, has become the prime victim of employment. Where once rest was considered the appropriate reward for ample work well done, leisure is now confused with sloth. Once play was the province of children in neighborhoods, but now it is hyper-organized by adults enrolling children in leagues for athletic activities requiring hundreds of dollars' worth of fees and equipment, long hours practicing, and travel between cities and across states.

    Far from enfleshing the words of Isaiah repeated by Christ proclaiming liberty to slaves, the modern approach to work does not embolden the freedom of the children of God, but results in invisible chains and monstrous burdens. The arena where the faithful are permitted to exercise devotion to God is shrinking. The social stigma attached to seeking treasure that does not rust or rot is becoming harsher. The fruit borne of labor without reference to God is wicked, violent, and deadly. And rest, peace, and silence are being banished from the face of the earth.

    Jesus tells us that we can not serve both God and mammon. That He chose to be born in poverty in the house of the simple worker Joseph, tells us that God places a premium on work done by those satisfied with a minimum of worldly wealth and receptive of the bountiful grace of Christ. That so many of us would be hard pressed to describe our jobs as being in harmony with serving God alone tells us whom we actually serve.

    Modern economics, modern employment, and modern desires do not include a place for God. St. Joseph gives us an example of what happens when God receives pride of place in the human heart: "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and will make our abode with him" (St. John 14:23). In the hearts of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, Jesus found great love. In the home of Nazareth the Father's will was obeyed by all; the Son was the center of the life they shared; and the Holy Ghost filled their hearts with a passion for prayer, the willingness to sacrifice, and the power to live as children of God - on earth, laboring in the Lord's vineyard, and in Heaven, resting forever in the bosom of the Father.

    Jesus comes to dwell with us, Body-Blood-Soul-Divinity, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Of His fullness, grace upon grace, we are privileged to receive. We are called to set aside even that work which does not interfere with God's will in order to obey His Son's command to eat His Body and to drink His Blood, that we might have abundant life. At Mass we have a momentary foretaste of that Life with Christ no longer obscured by the trammels of mortal life. At Holy Mass we can see - and taste - the fruit of the work of God's salvation in us. No longer do we eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge and receive death. We eat of the fruit of the Tree of Life - Jesus Crucified - and receive knowledge of God!

    St. Joseph the worker reminds us to honor honest work. More than that, however, he illustrates that the laborer is to be valued more than his labor. Still more, St. Joseph guides us to the realization that Christ is the focus of all our efforts on earth. Holy Joseph is, after all, Model of Christian Workers, Solace of the Afflicted, Model of Righteousness and Protector of Children.

    If we live as Christ asks us and as Joseph guides us, we can be assured his fatherly love will be with us at the moment of our death, escorting us from this life into the next. Many forget that one of St. Joseph's greatest attributes is that he is the Patron of a happy death. There is nothing more consoling than a happy death where the soul, in sanctifying grace, is soon escorted by Joseph and Our Lady to the portals of Heaven.

    That very sanctifying grace is given to us by the Holy Ghost - the Sanctifier and in Christ we are given a Mediator by Whom God the Father is offered the work of our hands, the love of our hearts, and the whole of our lives. Jesus Christ takes away the sins of the world that those who believe in Him and in His Cross can find a dwelling place in His Father's House - as He dwells among us so shall we dwell with Him, now and forever.

Father Lawrence Smith
Sacerdos vagus

May 5, 2004
vol 15, no. 126
The Sanity of Sanctity

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