Saint Joseph the Worker

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate one of my very favorite saints, Saint Joseph.  You might be thinking, didn’t we already celebrate his feast day this year?  And the answer to that would be yes, absolutely!  The feast – or rather the solemnity – of Saint Joseph (it’s a solemnity because he’s a very special and important saint), is on March 19th.  But today we celebrate the memorial of the very same Saint Joseph, this time because he is the patron saint of workers – people who work!

And that, quite frankly, is all of us.  We all have work to do, don’t we?  We have our schoolwork and our chores.  We may have to work on a sport or a musical instrument or develop one of our talents in some way.  And then there are our parents.  They may go to work, so that they can earn money for the family, and so that people who depend on them can thrive.  They also work in our homes, taking care of you, and making the home a place that’s comfortable for the family.  They cook and clean and all those things that are part of a parent’s life.

So all of us work.  And sometimes work is great.  Maybe it’s exciting, maybe it helps us learn new things, maybe it allows us to use our talents in a special way.  But sometimes work isn’t so exciting: sometimes work is, well, work and it makes us wish we can do something else with our time – anything else!  For some people, work can also be oppressive: maybe it’s not work they like to do and maybe it doesn’t help them care for their families enough.  There’s all sorts of work out there.

But Catholic teaching on work is that it is always supposed to be part of the creative work of God.  Our first reading paves the way, doesn’t it?  This reading is from the end of the story of the creation of the world in the book of Genesis.  Here, God has just finished creating everything there is, and as his last, most splendid creation, creates human beings: male and female, famously, Adam and Eve.  Everything he has created is good, and now God gives that goodness to the man and woman and charges them to keep on creating with him: “Be fertile and multiply,” he says to them, “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.”

Our work, all of it is a sharing in the creative activity of God.  Our Gospel today shows us that even Jesus himself was a worker: he was the carpenter’s son (that carpenter would be Saint Joseph!), and Jesus was not ashamed to be known that way.  The people of the time took offense at this, because they thought the Messiah wouldn’t have to be someone who was a laborer.  But they had it all wrong, because work was something that God did in the beginning, and continues to do all the time.  When we work with faithfulness, we are part of God’s creating power!

So for all of this, we have the intercession and patronage of Saint Joseph, who was a worker, a carpenter, and knew all the blessings and drudgeries of labor.  We should always look to him when work is hard or when we don’t have work, so that he might intercede for us.  And when work is great, we should join with him in giving praise to God who gives us the blessing of work.  And so let us pray:

Almighty God,
maker of heaven and earth,
we praise you for your glory
and the splendor of all your creation.

Bless us as we continue to do our work,
and bless all that we do for you.
Help us to carry out all our activities
for your honor and glory
and for the salvation of your people.

Through the intercession of Saint Joseph the Worker,
guide us in all we do,
and help us build your kingdom
and one day, come together to eternal life.
Through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Labor Day

Today’s readings:   Genesis 1:26 – 2:3, Psalm 128; Matthew 6:31-34

Today, we’ve gathered to celebrate and bless human labor.  Human labor is a cornerstone of our society and our world, dating all the way back to the creation of the world, as today’s first reading shows us.  We know that, at the completion of the creation of the world and everything in it, God sanctified the whole of it through rest.  That’s an important point that I think we maybe don’t get the way we should.

We know that we don’t get enough rest.  We are sleep deprived, we take working vacations, we very often don’t take all the vacation we’re allotted, and some don’t take a vacation at all.  And so our lives are out of balance and I think, very often, we don’t do our best work when we’re working.

Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel that this kind of thing is just crazy.  Worrying about work isn’t going to add a single moment to our lifespan.  In fact, it will more likely reduce them.  We are told very clearly: “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.  Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”

We are certainly required to work hard and always give the best that we have to our employers or employees.  That’s a matter of justice.  It’s also a participation, the Church tells us, in the work of creation.  Work is sacred and always has been, because, as the Genesis reading today shows us, work was instituted by God who told us to fill the earth and subdue it, having dominion over every living thing.  We work because it is a sharing in what we were created for, the very imitation of God.

But there is that matter of balance.  And we do have to step back and realize that God did indeed sanctify the whole of creation by blessing it with that seventh day, with that day of rest.  And so we do our spiritual lives no favors when we ignore the commandment to observe the Sabbath through rest and worship.  So much of our lives is consumed in labor; may we never fail to sanctify that labor by observing rest and worship.

Saint Joseph the Worker

Today’s readings

In his encyclical, Laborem Exercens, Pope John Paul II said, echoing the sentiments of the Second Vatican Council, “The word of God’s revelation is profoundly marked by the fundamental truth that humankind, created in the image of God, shares by their work in the activity of the Creator and that, within the limits of their own human capabilities, they in a sense continue to develop that activity, and perfect it as they advance further and further in the discovery of the resources and values contained in the whole of creation.” (25)

The Christian idea of work is that through the toil of work, the Christian joins her or himself to the cross of Christ, and through the effects of work, the Christian participates in the creative activity of our Creator God.  Today we celebrate the feast day for all Christian workers, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker.  This feast recalls that Jesus himself was a worker, schooled in the drudgeries and the joys of the vocation of carpentry by his father, St. Joseph, who worked hard, as many do today, to support his family.

In today’s first reading, Saint Paul, newly Christian, works hard at the task of proclaiming the Gospel.  But we also know that, in order not to be a burden to those to whom he was preaching, and thus not to be an obstacle to their faith, he worked at the trade of tentmaking.  In other places, St. Paul elevates human labor to a virtue, demanding that those who do not work should not eat, and decrying the inactivity of those who are idle, and busybodies.  If work is a share in the activity of the creator and a share in the cross of Christ, woe to those who turn away from it!

Sometimes, it is true, work is far from blessed.  There is, of course, a responsibility of the employer to provide a workplace that upholds human dignity.  But often work seems less than redemptive.  To that, Pope John Paul said, “Sweat and toil, which work necessarily involves in the present condition of the human race, present the Christian and everyone who is called to follow Christ with the possibility of sharing lovingly in the work that Christ came to do.  This work of salvation came about through suffering and death on a Cross.  By enduring the toil of work in union with Christ crucified for us, humankind in a way collaborates with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity.  They show themselves true disciples of Christ by carrying the cross in their turn every day in the activity that they is called upon to perform.” (Laborem Exercens, 27)

And so we all forge ahead in our daily work, whether that be as a carpenter, a tentmaker, a homemaker, a mother or father, a laborer, a white collar worker, a consecrated religious or ordained person, or whatever it may be.  We forge ahead with the joy of bringing all the world to redemption through creation, through the cross and Resurrection of Christ, and through our daily work.  Let us pray.

Almighty God,
maker of heaven and earth,
we praise you for your glory
and the splendor of all your creation.

Bless us as we continue to do our work,
and bless all that we do for you.
Help us to carry out all our activities
for your honor and glory
and for the salvation of your people.

Through the intercession of Saint Joseph the Worker,
guide us in all we do,
and help us build your kingdom
and one day, come together to eternal life.
Through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Labor Day

Today’s readings: Genesis 1:26-31; Genesis 2:1-3; Psalm 90; Matthew 25:14-30

“Well done, good and faithful servant. Come share in your Master’s joy.” These are the words that we all want to hear one day, on that great day, the judgment day, when God gathers us all in to bring us to the reward for which he created us. This parable is Biblical evidence that just accepting the faith and having a relationship with Jesus aren’t enough for salvation. We have to work with God, using the talents he has given us, to help God create that “kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace” (Mass for Christ the King).

And so, like the man who received one talent, we cannot go hiding our talents away hoping that our Lord will ignore our fear and poor self-image. We have to be willing to invest our talents in the work of creation, doubling what we have been given, and bringing it back to the Lord.

So many people say, when they are asked to do some special project or take a place on a ministry “Oh, I could never do that. That’s for people with way more talent than I have.” I have two things to say about that. First, they might be right. Maybe they don’t have the ability, all by themselves, to do what God is calling them to do. But God never said they had to do it by themselves, did he? God can provide infinitely what we lack. Second, this kind of false humility isn’t praiseworthy. It is almost like spitting your talent out of your mouth, back at God, and saying, “God, what you have created is nothing.” God forbid that we should ever say that to the one who made us!

And so, on this Labor Day, we are asked to pause in the busy-ness of life and look at what God has created, and the talents he has given us. The Church teaches that our work is to be an active participation in God’s ongoing work of creation. Our work must build up the world in beauty and splendor, carefully using but protecting the rich gifts of the earth, caring for and loving the poor as God himself loves them, and making the world a better place than we found it. That is the nature of the talents with which we have been entrusted, and we must busy ourselves making good use of them, because we don’t know when our Lord will return in glory to gather everything and everyone back to himself.

Today we are commanded to “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.” We take up that call anew on this Labor Day, praising God for the goodness of creation and the blessing of our talents, and resolving to use all of that for his greater honor and glory. The Prayer after Communion sums up what we ask for on this day: “By doing the work you have entrusted to us, may we sustain our life on earth and build up your kingdom in faith.” Amen!

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