Last week, in part 5, we used Pope Francis’ extended meditation on St. Joseph in Patris Corde to describe two ways in which this great Saint was a “father” to Jesus. In particular, we considered the Pope’s observations that Jesus would have learned human obedience and how a mature, just man or woman navigates the vicissitudes of human life from his earthly father.
just as we have throughout this series, the Pope takes, as his working assumption, the premise that Jesus lived in a normal family. That he experienced the ordinary highs and lows—mundaneness and crises—that any ordinary human family experiences as he grew to manhood. The only difference, of course, is he accomplished all of this without sin. In this final reflection, we will again borrow from the Holy Father as we consider a final aspect of St. Joseph’s life, reflecting on the last declarative verse of Bishop DuMaine’s prayer:
With honest labor you provided for your Holy Family.
St. Joseph, like most of us, had to work for a living. We know from the Gospels that Joseph was a poor man (Lv 12:8, Lk 2:24) and that he made his living as a carpenter (Mt 13:55, Mk 6:3). Economic life in Palestine for the poor was mostly subsistence-based. This meant that if he, Jesus, and Mary expected to eat, Joseph needed to earn enough money to buy their daily bread, every day. Here we again see elements of God’s original plan distorted by the horrible consequences of sin.
Genesis tells us that it was God’s plan that human beings should work. Adam was commanded by God to cultivate and care for the Garden (Gn 2:15). He and Eve were to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gn 1:28). Just as God had brought order out of chaos in the creation of the Universe, he delegated to human beings the role of bringing order to the earth, making it habitable for human life. In this way, we are called to extend the work of creation as co-creators with God. It was not God’s plan that people would live “hand-to-mouth” or that they would ever be unemployed and go hungry. These were the consequences of the fall and sin. Whereas work contributes, and is a sign of, the dignity of the human person, the lack of work and idleness are affronts to that dignity. We need only look at our inner cities to see examples of the ugly consequences of large numbers of men and women unemployed and idle. As Pope Francis writes:
Work is a means of participating in the work of salvation, an opportunity to hasten the coming of the Kingdom, to develop our talents and abilities, and to put them at the service of society and fraternal communion. It becomes an opportunity for the fulfilment not only of oneself, but also of that primary cell of society which is the family. A family without work is particularly vulnerable to difficulties, tensions, estrangement and even break-up. How can we speak of human dignity without working to ensure that everyone is able to earn a decent living? (PC 6)
From Joseph, Jesus learned both these human lessons well. The value, the dignity, and the joy of what it means to eat bread that is the fruit of one’s own labor and the personal and societal damage that ensues when there is no work.
What final words then can we say about St. Joseph as we conclude this reflection series? He was entrusted by God with a critically important role to play in the salvation of the entire world. He was a man of faith, a faith made visible through his trust in, and obedience to, God. He loved Mary. Not simply in the sentimental sense that dominates our culture’s impoverished understanding of this topic. He loved Mary in the manner God intended that a husband should love his wife, “as his own body” (Eph. 5:28); as pure, unselfish, self-gift. While not biologically, he was the human father of Jesus in every other sense. He taught the human Jesus what it was to be a man. And finally, he protected and provided for the Holy Family. A family much like any of ours, except for sin.
In truth, St. Joseph was one of those quiet, unsung heroes that often go unnoticed. Men (and women) in the shadows around which the entire world turns, although the world is largely unaware of their existence.
St. Joseph was a hero. The world needs more heroes. If you would like to be one, “Go to Joseph—“Ite ad Joseph (Gn 41:155)”— and he will teach you how to become one.