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The carpenter of Nazareth knew first-hand the challenges of the daily grind and of toiling to support a family. St. Joseph experienced the tiring monotony of the work week.
We can easily imagine him facing on-the-job pressures—difficult projects, fussy customers, late payments. But as someone who worked with young Jesus at his side, Joseph was specially privileged to literally “touch God” in his labors.
And so in part, said John Paul II, we have St. Joseph to thank for the fact that our work has been taken up in the mystery of the Incarnation and redeemed in a special way:
“At the workbench where he plied his trade together with Jesus, Joseph brought human work closer to the mystery of the Redemption” (Guardian of the Redeemer, 22). He worked side-by-side with Jesus, who, by devoting “most of the years of his life on earth to manual work at a carpenter's bench” revealed the sources of the dignity of work—“not primarily the kind of work being done but the fact that the one who is doing it is a person” (On Human Work, 6.5).
Looking at Joseph the worker, we can be assured that holiness is not incompatible with the humble and mundane. On the contrary, it has to do with the sanctification of daily life. In fact, St. Joseph stands before us as perhaps the prime example and model of everyday work as the high road to holiness. “It is not given to everyone to imitate Teresa of Avila or Vincent de Paul, but each of us can easily follow St. Joseph,” said St. Josemaria Escrivá.
In the ensemble of Joseph’s life, as in the hidden years of Jesus, seeming opposites are reconciled; prayer and work come together, contemplation and action, sacred and secular. It is another aspect of the Incarnation—God affirming and sanctifying the ordinary, Emmanuel learning and working alongside a simple carpenter.
God our Father,
with Saint Joseph as our example and guide,
help us to do the work you have asked
and come to the rewards you have promised.
(From the Liturgy of the Hour’s morning and evening prayer for May 1, honoring Joseph the Worker)
Louise Perrotta is a former Word Among Us editor.