Gospel & Homily
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.”
And he did not work many mighty deeds there
because of their lack of faith.
St. Joseph the Worker Transcript
St. Joseph occupies a special place within the liturgical calendar and a special place for Christians. He is one of the rare Saints that gets two feast days in the calendar: March 19th, the Feast of St. Joseph and today’s feast, May 1st the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.
Joseph has been honored in the Western church as early as the 10th century. In the year 1870 Pius IX extended that feast day and made St. Joseph the patron of the universal church. In 1955 in response to the communist celebration of May Day, Pius XII establish this Feast day of St. Joseph the Worker to highlight the dignity of work from a Christian perspective.
Our gospel today speaks about Jesus coming back to his hometown of Nazareth and the people in his hometown being astonished at the wisdom because they saw him growing up in such humble ordinary circumstances. Joseph was a carpenter. Mary was his mother. Jesus would have learned from Joseph’s hands the trade and tool of the carpenter. If you stop to think about it, Jesus’ public ministry was only three years. The tradition, and what we assume from the Scriptures, is that up to the age of 30 Jesus worked as a carpenter. He would have learned that trade.
If you happen to see Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, there are some particularly moving scenes in the midst of Jesus enduring his passion—carrying the cross—there are these flashbacks of Jesus making a table and he shows it to mother Mary. That would have been the way Jesus would have supported himself.
The Feast Day lifted up of Joseph the Worker speaks to the dignity that we all are called to in our work; however it is that we’re laboring. There’s a dual-purpose here, whether we’re laboring in the most humble of circumstances or whether we’re CEO of the company, one purpose is to provide for our families, certainly, but in the daily work of our lives whatever it that is that’s where we work out our sanctification. It’s important for us to gather here day after day, week after week, year after year, explicitly to pray, to meditate on the Scriptures, but the majority of our time is not spent in prayer. The majority of our time is not spent in chapel. The majority of our time—40 hours, 50 hours, 60 hours a week—is spent laboring. For most that’s in the workplace; for many within the home raising children, providing for a family. Whatever the work is, that’s where we’re called to holiness. It’s the workplace and the home we’re called to sanctify by our labors.
That’s why I like this reading from Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. Paul says, “Over all these things put on love. That is the bond of perfection and let the peace of Christ control your hearts.” Wherever it is that we’re laboring, whatever it is that we’re doing there we’re called to bring the peace of Christ and to sanctify (not just by our thoughts and our words) but by the daily deeds of our lives to witness to the presence of Christ.
I’ve said so often if people are going to come to a belief in Jesus as Lord of their lives it will be because of the witness not just by our words but by our deeds that people see that there’s something different in us and they want that. Life has a way of beating us up and our work can beat us down. In many places in corporate America today it is not a happy place. It can be cutthroat. It can be dog eat dog. It can be just about the economic bottom line. We’re called to witness to the dignity of our labor; to say that there’s something more than the economic bottom line.
How we treat our fellow workers, how we treat our bosses, how we treat our clients, so that we bring a dignity to that work that is more than simply a paycheck will witness to the power of Christ. St. Joseph did that.
I often reflect on the fact of how difficult it would have been for St. Joseph, raising a son who was God and being married to a wife who was immaculate and without sin. Did you ever think about the fact that in the Holy Family the only person that ever committed a sin was Joseph. I’m sure there a lot of husbands that feel that way. That was the in the Holy Family and yet that was the circumstance in which Joseph grew to great holiness. He’s the silent Saint. We don’t have a single word attributed to St. Joseph. What we know is that he was a just man. He was a man that struggled to understand God’s will in his life.
I often reflect on the fact that mother Mary got a visitation from the angel Gabriel. Joseph just got a dream. We all dream every night but Joseph was able to discern that this wasn’t just an ordinary dream that God was speaking to him on a deeper level; calling him to stand against his own religious leaders and to trust the words of his wife: that something that had never happened in the history of the world— a virgin conceiving—was true.
Joseph and Mary both would’ve endured ridicule in the small town of Nazareth. We get some hint of the small town tongues wagging and criticizing when Jesus comes back to his hometown of Nazareth and here the people are saying, ‘Where did you get all this? You’re just too big for your britches.’
Well if they criticized Jesus then, they certainly would’ve criticized Mary and Joseph for they could count up to nine back 2000 years ago just as they could see Mary’s belly beginning to expand and knowing the time of the betrothal would’ve thought what anyone would’ve thought that Joseph and Mary could not control their instincts.
They endured that and in the midst of that their hearts did not grow bitter they grew stronger and holier. In the midst of the difficult circumstances of having to travel to Bethlehem for the birth of the child, Joseph enduring the insults of not even having his child born in a hotel room but in a stable. And then soon after the birth having to leave everything at a moments notice to protect the child to go into Egypt and there to be refugees; only later to return to their hometown to finish raising their child.
The circumstances of the Holy Family were difficult and ordinary. Sometimes in the ordinariness of our lives and the difficulties, we get beaten down and we seem to think that God has forgotten us. Joseph is the Patron Saint of Workers that in the ordinariness and the mundaneness of life, that’s where we’re called to grow in holiness.
We gather in church so often so that we have a perspective so that when we go out from the circumstances of the church that’s where we can live what we believe as to where we can proclaim not just by our words but by our daily needs the Christ is Lord of our life.
At the retreat house, we have a lot of different workers but I’m continuously edified sometimes by my brother priests, but often by the kitchen workers at the retreat house or the ladies that work in the office or the people who repair broken doors, the humblest of tasks. They sense that their mission is not just repairing a broken door or not just washing a dish, not just answering the phone, that’s how they perpetuate the work of sanctification of all those that come to the retreat house. Whatever it is that you do in your daily work, think of it as an opportunity to pass on Christ; to lift up that person; to strengthen them.
We’ve all heard the stories of you get on the bus and you got a crabby bus driver who complains to you and then you’re feeling bad and you elbow the person who’s standing next to you and then that person gets off the bus and then they kick the person the next person and you get home and then you kick the dog. It goes on and on and on and on and on.
If we can pass on bad feelings to one another, how much can we pass on those good feelings to one another—to brighten another person with a smile, with a kind word, just looking into their face and saying, “It looks like you’re having a hard day today. What’s going on?
And maybe they’ll choose to say something and maybe they won’t but at least you’ve taken the time to see them, to recognize their dignity. St. Joseph did that in spades. Mother Mary did that in spades. Let’s pray that through our prayer we may carry that awareness this day and every day. Amen? Amen.