Feast Day: May 1st
“This simple word sums up Joseph’s entire life” says Pope St. John Paul II in Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer). That simple word that he references is not “guardian”, as the great pope described him, nor one of the words from scripture that defined Joseph’s vocation towards Jesus: “father”, “husband [of Mary]”, or “just [man]” … Nor is this word any of the titles upon which the Church calls upon St. Joseph: “most chaste”, “most prudent”, “most obedient”, “patron of the dying”, “terror of demons” or “protector of the Church.” That word is “carpenter”, tektōn in the Greek that the authors of the Gospels wrote, by which Joseph is remembered by Jesus’ friends and family when Our Lord returned to his synagogue in Nazareth: “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son?” (Matthew 13:54-55).
There is a spectacular humility to our spiritual father Joseph! As his son Jesus steps into His public ministry, we hear nothing more about him, even his great Old Testament name, Joseph, is left by the wayside as everyone simply remembers “the carpenter”. It points to the unimportance of Nazareth: there were not a dozen tektōn’s listed in the yellow pages for the village to enlist, nope, just “the” carpenter, who everyone knew was Joseph! And perhaps humility is the first lesson learned from good, honest, simple labor. There is something simple, in the end, unimportant, about the work we do. It comes and goes, a hundred years from now it probably will not matter too much, and in the big scheme of things, it does not even make all that much of a difference right now. And yet the greatest saint after our Lady was known as “the carpenter”, and that delighted him.
You and I – both of us entities destined-for-forever – put our day’s effort, attention, energy, and love into whatever work we are called to do today, which probably brings us into countless interactions with other human persons, and suddenly the smallest of labors takes on the importance of eternity. Furthermore, our work is done not just with others, but for someone. Well, it can be. Our work can be done with love, or not. Our work can be done for others, or just ourselves. Our work can strengthen, complete, and sustain us, or it can be a burden, a complaint, a worry, a fruitless, facile, futile expenditure of our energy. Your choice.
Back to Joseph: nothing brought our saintly Carpenter more delight than when he worked alongside his son. Watch a father and son mow the yard or paint a wall, and you will see a glimmer of the delight that flickered from the workshop in Nazareth. Beyond that was the love with which he worked. Even working alone late into the night, a supernatural fire propelled his heart and hands. But Joseph was brought to even greater happiness as Jesus Himself took on the role of tektōn. Mark passes on that little detail, when he narrates Jesus’s description not just as the “son of the carpenter”, but the carpenter himself. “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary…” (Mark 6:3) Could anything make a dad happier than when his son takes up the work that the father had done out of love for so long? Could anything move a mother more than watching her son learn the ways of manly work from her husband?
We begin this month examining the sacrament of marriage stopping to learn from St. Joseph, not generically, but specifically as a worker, a carpenter, a craftsman, a laborer.
The fact is that marriage depends fundamentally on one man giving himself to one woman. That takes place in the splendid moment of matrimony itself. It happens as they speak and begin to share a story together. Perhaps most supernaturally, it happens when they pray together and come to the sacraments together. Perhaps most splendidly, it happens when they join together body and soul and create a new life.
But the other 90% of the time, their self-gift is done by work.
We approach their cubicle, or car, their computer, or kitchen counter … and can choose love, and other, and spouse, and God. Or not. It is our choice. We choose one way or another with every work we do. Let us labor with love.
– Fr. Dominic Rankin has stripped many drywall screws trying to help his dad around the house. He has broken a lot of cutting disks off the Dremel tool, and blades off the reciprocating saw. He might have sliced a 100-foot extension cord down to something much shorter while trimming the bushes out front… And he definitely pushed the limits that a lawnmower blade can handle. And he learned of his father’s love as he did it, and learned how to love like a father as he did it.