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St. Joseph the Worker and the Sanctification of Human Work

Apr 30, 2021 by

Since the dawn of creation, it has been the will of God that we share in His creative work. 

This call to work came from the Author of All Life, from the very beginning of Creation, when the Lord instructed Adam and Eve to “fill, subdue, and rule the earth” in Genesis 1:28. Work only took on its difficult, exhausting element as a result of the Fall. 

If we partner with God creatively in our daily work, however, we will come to share more fully in His image and likeness.

Why God Created Work

The Lord chose this partnership because our humanity requires work in order to develop and mature over time. It forms us, even when the work is not something we relish or consider ideal. In that case, such work can form us even more powerfully, in ways that are important for our spiritual and emotional maturity. 

God intended work to mature the varied gifts and talents He gave each of us, not just intellectually, but personally and spiritually. Work and its sacrifices should help us learn to respect authority. It should allow us to participate in something greater than ourselves. Daily work provides for growth in virtue and encourages us to gain mastery over our own weaknesses as we seek to conform ourselves to Him. 

In the course of our daily work, we also share our values with others, encourage and serve our fellow man, and deepen our respect for others as we relate to one another in dignity and charity.

The Holy Family in the Carpenter's Shop Mosaic - Photo Credit Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth

St. Joseph as the Patron Saint of Workers

God created work to serve man, not man to serve the economy. This has always been the teaching of the Church. 

With this in mind, Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of St. Joseph the Worker in 1955, for May 1st, responding to the May Day celebrations established by the Communist Party. As the Communist party was growing in power, the Pope believed that St. Joseph would remind the faithful of the true purpose of all human labor.

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His intentions were to encourage devotion to St. Joseph—whom he saw as the perfect model for sanctifying and dignifying human work—and to proclaim on behalf of the Church that all work has dignity, and all workers should be afforded proper respect as children of God. 

Since that proclamation by Pope Pius XII, Catholics have venerated St. Joseph as the Patron Saint of Laborers under the title Joseph the Worker.

St. Joseph and the Christ Child by Melchior Paul von Deschwanden

Why St. Joseph?

St. Joseph represents for us the true and noble dignity of all human labor. He performed honest, manual, and intensely physical work as a carpenter to support the Blessed Virgin and the Christ, out of love for them and for the Lord. 

Though Joseph descended from the royal line of King David, his profession was common and menial—such a "lowly" role in Jewish society held no social status. In his humility and meekness, St. Joseph accepted his station in life, in service to God and the Holy Family.

He dedicated his daily work to the glory of God—literally. Imagine the humility of this holy carpenter as he earned the meager wages to support the long-awaited Savior of his people in a life of relative poverty. 

In all of this, we see the intersection of human work and the mystery of our redemption, thanks to St. Joseph's humble example.

The Messiah’s Choice

Jesus did not have to be born to a lowly carpenter. He could have chosen life as the son of a wealthy man, for whom idleness and luxury went hand in hand. That is not the life our Savior chose for Himself, and that is not the family He selected for His own. 

He chose a family of little means, a laborer who worked by the sweat of his brow. The Lord also chose to labor side by side with His earthly father, working with his hands to learn the family trade. In this way, Jesus reinforced for us that us that human work has dignity.

I constantly marvel at God’s perfect symmetry. It is one of His many astonishing attributes I find most surprising and delightful. In the case of St. Joseph the Worker, it plays out so beautifully and sublimely this way:

In the perfect symmetry of God, The Creator of All Things chose to become the earthly Son of a man who created things.

In doing so, He sanctified all human work, and He gave us a precious model and example in His beloved earthly father, St. Joseph.

Holy Family in the Carpenter Shop by Gerrit van Honthorst

St. Joseph the Provider

St. Joseph's daily work to provide for the needs of the Holy Family was one way he embodied true manhood. His work was not exciting or highly regarded, but this made him no less a man. In fact, it brought great graces as he accepted it in humility and meekness. This spirit of sacrifice exalted him in the eyes of God and the Church, who bestowed upon him the well-deserved titles of Patriarch of the Holy Family, Head of the Domestic and Universal Churches, and Patron Saint of Workers.

His life modeled the dignity of simple, humble, and sacrificial work for the good of his family. This holy and lowly carpenter's life gave meaning and sanctification to human work. For that, he became our faithful example of serving family and society and glorifying God through our daily work.

St. Joseph and the Christ Child Mosaic - Photo Credit

For the Glory of God

The dignity of our work flows from our innate human dignity and the command of God to join Him in His creative endeavors. It is not about the exhilaration of the work, the size of our paychecks, or the outward recognition we receive. 

It is about sharing in the participation of the creative work of God. In this way, we glorify Him through our work, whatever that might be—whether we sweep the floors in a workshop, serve our families at home, or run a global corporation.

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St. Joseph's life brought together human work and the mystery of Redemption. His trade was not a glamorous or easy one. It was physical and demanding, not a way to earthly wealth. He dignified manual work for the good of the family. He persevered in it out of love for God, Our Lady, and the Christ.

His was a dedication, not an addiction. He did not seek an identity through it, as is so common in the world today. He was not a workaholic—he did not put work before Mary and Jesus. He did it for his family; he made it an expression of his love. The Church acknowledges this on the feast of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1. 

To labor can be difficult, especially when the work is physically demanding. St. Joseph revealed to us the inherent dignity of hard work to provide for our families, and the way to make it personally redemptive. When your work is exhausting, frustrating, or unpleasant, ask St. Joseph to help you make it an expression of your love.

St. Joseph the Worker, pray for us!