St. Joseph and the Gospel of Work, St. Joseph the Worker, May 1, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish Fall River, MA
Feast of St. Joseph the Worker
May 1, 2014
Gen 1:26-2:3, Ps 90, Mt 13:54-58

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, which was instituted in 1955 by Pope Pius XII both to give a spiritual context to “Labor Day” in many European countries as well as a spiritual response to the communist “May Day” days of the worker that distorted the meaning of human work and the human worker vis-a-vis society and the state. He had the whole Church look to St. Joseph in his hard work as a carpenter to show the dignity and salvific importance of human work. Jesus was known, as we see in today’s Gospel, as the “son of the carpenter” doubtless because St. Joseph was well known for that trade among his contemporaries. It was with St. Joseph in that carpenter shop, as a manual laborer, as a “construction worker”  (the Greek word tekton, in Mk 6:3, means is broader than “carpenter”) that Jesus spent the vast majority of his salvific life. Following his foster-father, Jesus entered into the world of human work, not as a “cover” until his “real work” of preaching, miracles, and the new and eternal Passover would begin, but precisely to redeem noble human work in his process of redeeming the human person. The early saints taught that whatever Jesus didn’t assume he didn’t redeem, and he assumed our human work in order that we might be able to participate in the work of redemption through our work. Today’s feast is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on the meaning of human work — and specifically our work — in God’s divine plan.
  • In the first command in the Bible, which we hear in today’s first reading, the Lord gave the human person the mission to co-operate (work together) with him in bringing His work of creation to fulfillment: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish … the birds … and every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28). God, who worked for the “six days” of creation and whom Jesus says “is still working” (Jn 5:17), made man and woman in his own image and likeness and called them to share in this work.
  • The first way we do so is through pro-creation, when in the image of the Trinitatarian communion-of-persons-in-love we “increase and multiply” that part of creation God deemed “very good.” The second way we cooperate in bringing creation to perfection is through “subduing the earth” and exercising “dominion” over all living things. Right from the beginning, before the Fall, the human person had received this mission, which shows not only the goodness of human work but how central it is for man’s dignity, vocation and mission. After the Fall, both aspects of man’s work became toilsome — procreation now would bring with it the “pangs of childbirth” for the woman and the work of subduing and having dominion would now bring “sweat” to one’s brow (Gen 3:16-19) — but work would remain fundamentally good — and in fact redemptive.
  • But the most important part of work is not its “transitive” function of perfecting God’s material universe, in cultivating the land, raising animals, and even, in modern times, making computer chips out of sand and life-saving medicines out of bacteria. As Saint John Paul II taught us in 1981 in his beautiful encyclical Laborem Exercens on the meaning of work, the most important part of work is the “intransitive” purpose of bringing God’s greatest work — the human person — to perfection. Work done well gives the human person the opportunity to cultivate all the various hidden talents and potentials God has implanted in him — physical, intellectual, and spiritual — which are far greater than those He has inscribed in the earth. As St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei and the great apostle of the importance of ordinary work in God’s plans taught last century, honest work well done is an opportunity for a triple sanctification: the sanctification of the work itself by offering it to God like Abel, St. Joseph and Jesus offered their sacrifices; the sanctification of the worker doing the work well; and the sanctification of others through the work via the friendships that are able to form and the example given of work done as a true act of love for those who will benefit from the work.
  • So great was Jesus’ appreciation for human work in God’s divine plan that he could not stop using it as the proper analogy for his preaching about the Kingdom. He favorably mentions shepherds, farmers, doctors, sowers, householders, servants, stewards, merchants, laborers, soldiers, cooks, tax collectors and scholars and many more. He compares the work of the apostolate to the manual work of harvesters and fishermen. He called all his listeners, of whatever noble profession, to be saints. A few he called to leave their fishing boats or tax-charts behind to proclaim the Gospel. The vast majority he called to proclaim the Gospel by living that good news right where they were in their work. That’s still what Jesus does today. Most of his followers are called to live out their discipleship and apostolate, their vocation and their mission, in the family and in the work-place. They are called to become saints and bring others to sanctity through this “increasing and multiplying” and “subduing” and “dominion.” One’s desk, or sewing machine, or kitchen, or chalkboard, or operating room, or workbench or boat, is meant to become an altar which sanctifies not only what is given to God in work, but the giver as well. It is there that the vast majority of men and women are called to be sanctified and sanctify others through showing the original dignity and meaning of human work. Work, this feast day teaches us, is not principally about earning a paycheck, but about serving and loving others. When work takes on this meaning, the perfection of the human person continues, the work-place is evangelized, and God’s work is advanced. In every age a diligent construction worker from Nazareth, together with his foster father, waves to each of us with calloused hands and says, “Come, follow me!”
  • And he does that in a particularly special way for us here at Mass. As the Second Vatican Council teaches us, the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of any life that is truly Christian. It’s supposed to be the starting point and the goal, therefore, of our work. We receive strength here to sanctify our work and all our work is meant to be placed on the paten to be offered to the Father with the work of Jesus’ whole life of redemption, including all he did for us in Nazareth. The very word “Liturgy” (Leitourgos in Greek) means “public work” of the Church. We learn by the way we pray the Mass how to pray our work so that the entire world becomes God’s work shop. Let us ask St. Joseph to intercede for us today with his foster son so that from here we can go out to do our work well today so that we may grow in holiness, help others grow in holiness, and do something beautiful for God and others.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

First Reading — Gen 1:26-2:3

Then God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground.”  God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.  God blessed them, saying to them: “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth.”  God also said: “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food;  and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground, I give all the green plants for food.” And so it happened. God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed — the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed.  2 Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing, he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken.  3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation.

Responsorial Psalm — Psalm 90

Response: Lord, give success to the word of our hands

Before the mountains were born, the earth and the world brought forth, from eternity to eternity you are God.

Humans you return to dust, saying, “Return, you mortals!”  Before a watch passes in the night,  you have brought them to their end; They disappear like sleep at dawn; they are like grass that dies.

Teach us to count our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.  Relent, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants!

Fill us at daybreak with your love, that all our days we may sing for joy.  Show your deeds to your servants, your glory to their children.

Gospel — Mathew 13:54-58

Jesus came to his native place and taught the people in their synagogue. They were astonished and said, “Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds?  Is he not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother named Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?  Are not his sisters all with us? Where did this man get all this?”  And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house.”  58 And he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith.