Solemnity of St. Joseph
I remember when I was growing up, on Sundays there would be AMERICAN TOP 40 with Casey Kasem on the radio and he would count down to the number one song for that week. On the internet sometimes you see lists of the top movies of all time, or U.S. Presidents listed from worst to greatest. Well, what if we were to make a list of the top three human beings of all time? Would our lists be the same?
Because we’re Christians we would assume that these three people are in heaven and are the top three human beings there too.
Okay, I’m going to go in reverse order of Casey Kasem and start at the top. My number one pick would be Jesus Christ. You might say, “Yeah, but he doesn’t count because he’s God.” Yes, that’s true, but he’s also fully a human being just like us. And that was my criterion: the top three human beings to live on Earth.
My number two pick would be Mother Mary. She is the only human to be immaculately conceived and to have never sinned during her lifetime. As Catholics we believe that she has been crowned by God as Queen of Heaven and Earth. And just from my own personal experience I know that she is a very powerful intercessor in heaven.
Everyone might not agree with me but my third pick would be St. Joseph. You might have already guessed that since today the Church is celebrating the Solemnity of St. Joseph and it’s my turn to give a homily. Pope Francis is apparently a fan of St. Joseph too because he declared 2021 the Year of St. Joseph and in 2013 he inserted his name into Eucharistic Prayers II, III, & IV. St. Teresa of Avila had a great devotion to St. Joseph and he was her go-to person when she really needed a favor.
It’s kind of amazing when you look out over the vast expanse of human beings who have ever lived and to think that the three greatest were contemporaries. In fact, they even lived under the same roof! And what is even more amazing is that during those hidden years in Nazareth or the years in Egypt, no one suspected anything extraordinary about them. They just blended in and were overlooked. Later on, during his public ministry, when Jesus came back to preach at Nazareth, the townspeople took offense at him. “Who does this upstart think he is?!”
Well, what are some lessons we can learn from the Holy Family? In our last group discussion Fr. Justin pointed out their example of silence. No words are recorded of Joseph, and very few are recorded of Jesus and Mary in those first 30 years. I would like to focus on their hidden, ordinary, day-after-day manual labor.
It is true that Jesus did some pretty amazing things during his public ministry. But that was only the last three years of his life. His “hidden years” outnumber his ministry years by ten times. I like to think he relished them and was in no hurry to transition into being an itinerant preacher. At some point Joseph would have died and he most likely would have taken over his trade to support himself and his mother. His hands would have been rough and well-muscled. As he tells us in John’s Gospel, he and the Father are one. As the Father looked over his work after each day of creation and declared it good, so Jesus would have found great satisfaction in the articles he created in his woodshop. It was all done in a prayerful spirit and gave much glory to his heavenly Father. I believe when Jesus would steal away during his public ministry and go pray in solitude it was in some way harking back to those peaceful, low-profile years.
When I was in Nazareth I visited a site called “Mary’s Well.” Think of it, Mary had to go fetch water in a jug every day. That’s a pretty mundane task. And yet her day was filled with mundane tasks: preparing very simple meals, doing the laundry, cleaning the house, mending clothes. Mary, the Queen of Heaven and Earth, the second-greatest person of all time, and she never did anything that most people would consider outstanding.
Joseph’s days were filled with working in his shop, delivering the things he made, keeping the house in good repair, and hanging out in the evenings with the other two greatest people of history. We don’t have any photographs of Joseph but with the help of paintings and drawings that we’ve seen we can easily imagine him in his workshop, sleeves rolled up, work apron on, various tools of the trade hanging on the wall or strewn on the workbench, wood shavings here and there, and the little-boy-Jesus watching his every move and trying to be helpful. The townspeople would have remembered Joseph as likable but in no way extraordinary.
Our lives as Trappist monks have a lot of similarities to the Holy Family. Our lives are simple and hidden away. We work, pray, and read. The work we do is mainly blue-collar. And yet, there is a secret fruitfulness to it. As I begin each work period I like to make the sign of the cross and dedicate my work as a prayer for the greater glory, honor, and praise of God. I’m humbled to think that I can unite my simple manual labor to the simple manual labor of the three greatest people who ever worked up a sweat. I can join them in offering lowly tasks to God with great love. Everything becomes meaningful. Everything becomes a means to greatness. Our daily chores are not degrading but ennobling.
St. Joseph, help us to rejoice in our simple work.