Today, we celebrate the memorial of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of all workers. The feast, which was established by Pope Pius XII in 1955, serves not only to honor the foster father of Jesus, but also to remind us of the dignity of workers and the value of honest work as a means to holiness.
Saint Joseph provided support for the holy family by the work of his own hands in a humble carpenter shop in Nazareth. Most likely, he taught the young Jesus not only the religious and social customs of the Jewish people, but also the carpenter’s trade, in which he was an expert. Jesus must have worked beside his father, and by listening and observing him, he must have learned the virtue of diligence, patience, dedication and hard work. The bible tells us that Joseph was a righteous man, which leaves no wonder why Jesus, who remained obedient to his parents, grew in age, wisdom and grace before God and men (Lk 2:51-52).
The person of Saint Joseph should inspire us to value and love our work. Work is not a curse, but humankind’s vocation from God. We are called to “subdue the earth”, meaning to cultivate it and to take care of it by working. In his Encyclical Laborem Exercens, John Paul II mentioned precisely that “through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes more a human being” (n. 9). To work, therefore, is a sublime expression of our having been created in the image and likeness of God. By working honestly and dutifully, we become more and more like God.
While we thank God for our work today, we also pray for all those who are unemployed and for those who are not happy with their work. Let us ask God to move the hearts of employers so that they will learn to love and respect their workers by providing them with just wage and humane working conditions.
Long ago in ancient Greece an aged sculptor was laboring over a block of stone. He carved with utmost care, probing the rock with his chisel, chipping away a fragment at a time, gauging the marks with sinewy hands before making the next cut. When it was finished, the piece would be hoisted high into the air and set on top of a towering shaft, and so would become the capital, or uppermost part, of a column. And the column would help support the roof of a lofty temple.
“Why spend so much time and effort on that section?” asked a government official who passed by. “It will sit fifty feet high. No human eye will be able to see those details.”
The old artist put down his hammer and chisel, gazed steadily at his questioner and replied: “But God will see it!” (William Bennett)