CATHOLIC HOMILY FOR THE MEMORIAL OF ST. JOSEPH THE WORKER
THEME: ST. JOSEPH’S ROLE IN THE ECONOMY OF SALVATION
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
HOMILY: Mt 13:54-58
He came to his native place and taught the people in their synagogue. They were astonished and said, “Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds? Is he not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother named Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Are not his sisters all with us? Where did this man get all this?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house.” And he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith.
What a fitting name, indeed! St. Joseph the Worker. Not ‘the Talker’, not ‘the Complainer’, not ‘the Dissenter’. All throughout the Gospels, St. Joseph is mentioned in the account. But despite his pivotal role in the economy of salvation, the Gospels do not record a single syllable spoken by him. One may even assume that he was mute.
Perhaps the Gospels are one is emphasizing that the greatness of St. Joseph is not in words, but in active service. As the Lord would teach later, “Not anyone who says Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of God, but only those who do the will of the Father.” He was always ready and willing to do and follow the will of God unconditionally. This is what made him great and pleasing the eyes of God. It is just right that he is honored with the title Universal Patron of the Church.
One may wonder why St. Joseph was given this most sublime title. The answer is simple: he was the one man entrusted by God with the greatest responsibility on earth for all times, namely, that of making sure His greatest Treasures are taken care of and protected. These Treasures are His Incarnate Son, Jesus, and His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. And St. Joseph successfully fulfilled this task and responsibility with complete fidelity and humility.
There is a very interesting quotation attributed to Blessed William Joseph Chaminade that clearly illustrates this. He said, “To give life to someone is the greatest of all gifts. To save a life is the next. Who gave life to Jesus? It was Mary. Who saved his life? It was Joseph. Ask St. Paul who persecuted him. Saint Peter who denied him. Ask all the saints who put him to death. But if we ask, ‘Who saved his life?’ Be silent, Patriarchs! Be silent, Prophets! Be silent, Apostles, Confessors and Martyrs. Let St. Joseph speak, for this honor is his alone; he alone is the savior of his Savior.”
Of all the great and powerful men in the world, why was Joseph – a simple and humble carpenter – especially chosen by God for this all-important task? He was not a witty speaker, an erudite teacher, a powerful king or a wise philosopher. This indeed, is a mystery in itself.
But we may propose an answer to this mystery. God chose Joseph because he was a good carpenter. And God wanted His Incarnate Son to be known as the Son of a Carpenter of Nazareth. For truly, Jesus Himself is ‘Carpenter of the World’ par excellence!
Let me elucidate on this further. Jesus chose to be a carpenter. This really comes as a big surprise because all throughout His public ministry, His associates were mostly fishermen, and not one was a carpenter. He stayed in Capernaum, a town by the sea. Most of his preaching and miracles were done in the areas surrounding the Sea of Galilee. In His teachings, He used parables from fishing and farming, but not from carpentry.
Jesus chose to be known as carpenter or artisan because it is the profession that expresses His mission more vividly than that of a fisherman or farmer. A fisherman patiently waits for the fish to come near the boat, and the farmer waits for the plant to grow and bear fruits. But the carpenter does not wait for the trees and lumber to come to him. He goes where the trees and lumber are, and uses his hands and tools to transform them into beautiful pieces of furniture.
Like the carpenter, Jesus does not wait for the people to come to Him; He goes where they are. The Gospels sum up His daily activity during His public ministry: He “went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness” (Mt.9:35).
A fisherman does not change the fish; a farmer does not transform the plant. They cannot do anything with the fish and the plant. But the carpenter turns rough lumber into a beautiful work of art and skill. His aim is to build and not to destroy. If anything is broken, he fixes it and brings it back to original strength and beauty.
Similarly, Jesus transforms everything. He makes the lame walk, the blind see, the leper cleansed, the dead rise to life. He transforms a sinner into a saint. For indeed, such has always been his mission: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10).
In short, the training of Jesus for His mission began in the humble shop of St. Joseph. That is how great his role in the economy of salvation. In the Old Testament, he was prefigured by his namesake, Joseph, son of Jacob (Israel). Just as Pharaoh ordered his people to go to Joseph, so also the Lord tells us: “Ite ad Ioseph!” For, indeed, next only to the Blessed Mother, Joseph is very close to Jesus.
The saints are fully aware of this, and they encourage us to come to St. Joseph and ask for his help and intercession. St. Thomas Aquinas said: “It is true that the other saints enjoy great power in heaven, but they ask as servants, and do not command as masters. Saint Joseph, to whose authority Jesus was subject on earth, obtains what he desires from his kingly foster Son in heaven.”
St. Teresa of Avila agrees with what the Angelic Doctor said when she wrote: “The Lord wants us to understand that just as he was subject to St. Joseph on earth — for since bearing the title of father, being the Lord’s tutor, Joseph could give the child commands — so in heaven God does whatever he commands.”
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Michael the Archangel Parish
Diocese of Novaliches