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Saint Joseph the Worker, Man of Faith and Prayer

by Pope John Paul II

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    Document Information

  • Description:
    The Holy Father's homily given during a Mass celebrated during his pastoral visit to an industrial area of Italy on the Solemnity of St. Joseph.
  • Larger Work:
    L'Osservatore Romano
  • Publisher & Date:
    Vatican, March, 1983

1. "The favors of the Lord I will sing forever" (Ps 89:1). The words of the Responsorial Psalm which has just been proclaimed rise spontaneously to my lips as I gaze at this magnificent assembly of yours, beloved brothers and sisters of the Churches of Termoli and Larino, Campobasso, Isernia and Trivento, who have gathered here to meet me, a pilgrim in your land, and to manifest -- with your presence, with your voice, with your song -- the joy of being a living part of the one flock of Christ.

Yes, I give thanks to the Lord for the demonstration of faith that you offer me in this meeting, in which I can have direct contact with the population of Molise, strong and generous from the ancient traditions of industriousness, honesty, faithful attachment to the religion of your fathers. I give thanks to the Lord and I address to you my most cordial greeting.

A greeting first of all to your Bishop, our venerated brother Cosmo Francesco Ruppi, who has guided the combined Dioceses of Termoli and Larino for about three years. I know that today's meeting takes place within the program of the pastoral visit that he is making to the various communities in which this portion of Christ's flock entrusted to him lives, and with joy I have learned of the reawakening of the faith that is taking place in the dioceses thanks to the apostolic commitment of the priests, religious and laity. May my coming among you serve to strengthen the promising first fruits of this renewed springtime of Christian life.

I greet also the bishops of the other dioceses of Molise and the Region of Abruzzo, who have wanted to take part in this Eucharist in order to attest to their bonds of fraternal communion that link their Churches with the Successor of Peter. I thank them and entrust to them the task of bringing to their respective populations the assurance of my affection and my prayer.

Special greetings

I address a respectful and cordial greeting likewise to the authorities of every rank and grade assembled here, particularly to the mayors of the 136 municipalities of Molise, who have wished to honor this meeting of ours with their presence. In expressing grateful appreciation for this courteous gesture, I like to read in it the expression of the sincere intention to collaborate with the Church, within the limits of their respective competences, in attaining those objectives of civic progress desired by the best forces of this noble and often sorely tried region.

Finally, I wish to address a special greeting to the Italo-Albanian and Slav communities who for almost four centuries have lived in the Dioceses of Termoli and Larino, carrying on their line of fidelity to the Gospel of Christ and to the Church founded by him. I hope that, drawing from the rich heritage of their traditions, they will be able to persevere in this commitment of active Christian consistency so that the torch of faith may be passed on, always burning and shining, to the generations to come.

By the work of his own hands

2. Today the Church is honoring St. Joseph, the "just man", who in the humility of the shop in Nazareth by the work of his own hands, provides support for the Holy Family. Today, therefore, is above all the day of men of work. To you, therefore, workers, farmers, artisans, fishermen, to you workers of the land and the sea, who with daily sweat earn what is necessary for your families, I wish to address in a special way my thought and my word in order to point out for your reflection the example of one who, having shared your experience, can understand your problems; take up your anxieties, direct your efforts toward the building of a better future.

Saint Joseph stands before you as a man of faith and prayer. The Liturgy applies to him the word of God in Psalm 89: "He shall say of me, 'You are my father, my God, the rock, my Savior'" (v. 27). O yes: how many times in the course of long days of work would Joseph have raised his mind to God to invoke him, to offer him his toil, to implore light, help, comfort. How many times! Well then, this man, who with his whole life seemed to cry out to God: "You are my father", receives this most special grace: the Son of God on earth treats him as his father.

Joseph invokes God with all the ardor of his soul as a believer: "my Father", and Jesus, who worked at his side with the tools of a carpenter, addressed him calling him "father".

A profound mystery: Christ, who as God directly experienced the divine fatherhood in the bosom of the Most Blessed Trinity, had this experience as a man through the person of Joseph, his foster father. And Joseph in his turn, in the home in Nazareth, offered the child who was growing beside him the support of his well-balanced virility, his far-sightedness, his courage, his gifts which every good father has, deriving them from that supreme source "from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name" (Eph 3:15).

The great role of fatherhood

A great role, this role of fatherhood, which not a few parents today have tried to abdicate, opting for a relationship on a par with their children, which ends up depriving the children of that psychological support and that moral backing which they need to successfully get through the precarious stage of childhood and early adolescence. Someone has said that today we are experiencing the crisis of a "fatherless society". We notice ever more clearly the need to be able to count on fathers who can fulfill their role, combining tenderness with seriousness, understanding with strictness, camaraderie with the exercise of authority, because only in this way will children be able to grow harmoniously, overcoming their fears and preparing themselves to meet courageously the unknown factors in life.

But where, dear fathers, will you be able to draw the energy necessary to assume in various circumstances the right attitude that your children, even without knowing it, expect from you? Saint Joseph offers you the answer to this: it is in God, the source of all fatherhood, it is in his way of acting with men, which is revealed to us by Sacred Scripture that you can find the model of a fatherhood capable of making a positive impression on the educational process of your children, not smothering their spontaneity on the one hand, nor abandoning their still immature personality to the traumatizing experiences of insecurity and loneliness on the other.

Specific moral value

3. Joseph and his most chaste spouse, the Virgin Mary, did not abdicate the authority that was theirs as parents. It is very significantly said of Jesus in the Gospel: ". . . and he was obedient to them" (Lk 2:51). A "constructive" obedience, which the walls of the home in Nazareth witnessed, since it is also said in the Gospel that thanks to that obedience, the Child "progressed steadily in wisdom, age and grace before God and men" (ibid. 52)

In this human growth Joseph guided and supported the boy Jesus, introducing him to the knowledge of the religious and social customs of the Jewish people and getting him started in the carpenter's trade, whose every secret he had learned in so many years of practicing it. This is an aspect that I feel compelled to stress today: Saint Joseph taught Jesus human work, in which he was an expert. The Divine Child worked beside him, and by listening to him and observing him, he too learned to manage the carpenter's tools with the diligence and the dedication that the example of his foster father transmitted to him.

This too is a great lesson, beloved brothers and sisters: if the Son of God was willing to learn a human work from a man, this indicates that there is in work a specific moral value with a precise meaning for man and for his self-fulfillment. In the Encyclical Laborem Exercens, I mentioned precisely that "through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes more a human being" (n. 9)

How can we not recognize then the great dignity of work, whatever kind it may be in its concrete expression? How can we not see the fundamental role that it fulfill in the life of the individual, of the family, of society? Unfortunately, greed and egoism have often pushed men to abuse the intellectual and physical talents of their fellow men and to impose upon them working services that are revealed in various ways to be harmful to their personal dignity. Against these deteriorations of labor relations unions justly arise to defend those whose legitimate rights they see trampled.

If this is just and merits approval, an attitude would be incomprehensible that would succeed in questioning work as such, not recognizing its providential role' indicated in the first Biblical command: "Subdue the earth!" (cf. Gen 1:28). This role Saint Joseph recognized and accepted in his life, transmitting to the young Jesus who was growing at his side the spirit of joyful readiness with which he resumed his daily task every morning. For this too Saint Joseph stands before the Christian people as a shining model of life, to whom every father can and must look in the concrete choices that are imposed upon him by the responsibility of a family.

Call on St. Joseph

4. "I have made you father of many nations" (Rom 4:17), was proclaimed a short time ago in the First Reading of the Mass. The words which God spoke to Abraham, at the time already old and still without offspring, the Liturgy applies today to Saint Joseph, who did not have any carnal offspring at all. And we who are reflecting on his personal experiences can quite appreciate the suitability of this approach. After having been a special instrument of Divine Providence with regard to Jesus and Mary, above all during Herod's persecution, Saint Joseph continues to carry out his providential and "fatherly" mission in the life of the Church and of all men.

"Father of many nations": the devotion with which Christians of every part of the world, encouraged in this by the Liturgy, turn to Saint Joseph to confide their troubles to him and to implore his protection confirm the singular fact of this limitless fatherhood.

Therefore look with confidence to Saint Joseph, you men and women of Molise and Abruzzo, persevering in a devotion that is so deeply inscribed in the traditions of your ancestors. Is he not a magnificent example for every committed lay person who within the parish and the various ecclesial movements wants to give courageous witness to Christ?

Have recourse to St. Joseph, particularly you priests and religious, you consecrated souls, who in his virginal chastity and spiritual fatherhood see the highest ideals of your vocation reflected. He teaches you love for meditation and prayer, generous fidelity to commitments assumed before God and the Church, selfless dedication to the community in which Providence has placed you, however small and unknown it may be. In the light of his example you will be able to learn and appreciate the value of all that is humble, simple, hidden, of what is accomplished, without show and without clamor, but with decisive results, in the unfathomable depths of the heart.

And you, families of today, who are experiencing rapid changes in modern society and suffering their sometimes worrying repercussions, you can find in the family of Nazareth, which Joseph watched over with anxious care, the ever-present model of a community of persons in which love assures an understanding that is daily renewed. Invoking Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the members of every family of your ecclesial communities can rediscover in the various moments of their lives the joy of the reciprocal gift, the comfort of solidarity in trials, the serene peace of those who know how to count on the omnipotent, even if mysterious, Divine Providence.

"He shall say of me, 'You are my father'". Like Saint Joseph, you too must invoke the heavenly Father with persevering and fervent prayer, and you will experience, as he did, the truth of the following words of the Psalm: "Forever I will maintain my kindness toward him, and my covenant with him stands firm" (Ps 89:29).


Click here for a compilation of documents, prayers and novenas for St. Joseph available on Petersnet.


© L'Osservatore Romano, Editorial and Management Offices, Via del Pellegrino, 00120, Vatican City, Europe, Telephone 39/6/698.99.390.

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