Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

Father of Fathers

St. Joseph the Worker (1 May)

In 1955, probably as a response to the Labor Day celebrations in communist countries, Pope Pius XII declared 1 May to be the memorial of St. Joseph, as a worker. In writing this piece, I came more and more to see how Joseph's work, marriage, and fatherhood were all deeply enmeshed with each other.

We can learn about Jesus and St. Joseph by considering St. Joseph's practical paternity of our Lord. While he was not our Lord's biological father, he was very much our Lord's father in other ways. He was foster father and protector, but also godfather and mentor to our Lord. Growing up, our Lord needed a trade, and like almost everyone else in the broad scope of history, he took the trade of his (foster) father. Our Lord was a construction worker, a carpenter. While our Lord would not have physically looked especially like St. Joseph, there is every reason to expect that he acted like St. Joseph. Jesus might not have had the same eyes as Joseph, but he had the same look in them, you might say. He might not have had the same physical structure, but he probably carried himself in very much the same way.

We can learn a lot about St. Joseph by looking at how Jesus turned out. For instance, our Lord was very terse in speech. Words mean things, and every word that our Lord used was handpicked, as it were, for its purpose. All the words of our Lord recorded in the Scriptures can fit onto a single newspaper page - but how filled with meaning! St. Joseph wasn't divine, and wouldn't have quite the natural ability for imbuing meaning into words, but we can expect that he would have something of the same as a gift. In fact, the Scriptures even point to this gift because they record no words of St. Joseph at all! Yet, each of his responses to Mary and to God are loaded with decision, purpose, and strength.

As another instance, we see our Lord unflaggingly at work for others' benefit. He wouldn't have learned that only by watching Mary working in the kitchen, but by watching Joseph in the woodshop.

Our Lord's defense of the poor and the weak, especially against the sophisticated wiles of the Pharisees and temple priests, is a blossoming of what was present in St. Joseph as well. Recall that St. Joseph took Jesus and Mary into exile in Egypt to protect them from Herod's wicked plan.

We can assume that our Heavenly Father, in selecting a spiritual father for His Son, would have picked a good one, the best available. St. Joseph raised another's Son, and did it with as much vigor and dedication as if He were his own. St. Joseph would probably have been muscular even if not big, with a solid work ethic, and a love of his family - putting them first under God. While Catholic tradition doesn't insist that he was a virgin, it does insist that he was chaste from the time of his betrothal to our Lady; this implies that he had some practice in chastity beforehand as well, even if he was a widower. His chastity, or "most chastity" if you will, implies a tremendous focus and purpose of character. As the vices dissipate our character, the virtues, especially the virtues related to temperance, tend to gather and collect our character, our energies, our attention. St. Joseph had a single, all-encompassing mission: to serve God. In his life's vocation, that meant protect, provide for, and nurture Jesus and Mary. In his daily circumstances, that probably mostly meant working hard, being home as much as his work allowed and whenever there was need, and spending lots of time with his Wife and Kid.

St. Joseph shows us that honest work, however lowly or boring, is not just a drudgery, but a calling from God. God has made us, alone among animals and angels, to aid Him in the work of creation, to create on his behalf. The most supreme case of this procreation, is of course the begetting of new human beings in the image and likeness of God. But St. Joseph, to our knowledge, never did procreated sexually (although he may have with a wife before his marriage to our Lady). Did his chastity render him sterile? Far from it. In his life's work, St. Joseph was far more fruitful, more procreative, than any husband and father before or since. In hammering and nailing, in teaching and guiding, in protecting and providing, St. Joseph prepared our Lord for His great work. Mary's virginity was essential to birthing our Lord, and Joseph's chastity must have been essential to bringing up our Lord. So it is that we, when working with grace, also join into God's great work. St. Joseph, the best human father who ever lived, shows us this fact: Every child is ultimately God's, and every human father is ultimately a foster-father, and even those without legal charges of their own can spiritually adopt the fatherless children that they meet.

St. Joseph has something to teach us all, whether one's paternity is biological or spiritual; whether one is married, presently single, or permanently celibate; whether one works with one's hands or mind. He is an excellent role model for priests and dads, and especially for foster-, step-, and adoptive-fathers. He is an excellent role model for fathers working for their families, and for the single and celibate who consciously work for God's family.

I once made a spiritual exercise of reading every mention of St. Joseph in the Gospels (they are all in the early parts of St. Matthew) and deduced from them a list of 19 character traits. I highly recommend the exercise. See how many you can discern in that discerning man. (Hint, hint!)

St. Joseph, Holy Worker, pray for us.

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