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St. Joseph the Workman

by Fr. Robert Voigt

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  • Description:
    The following article, written in 1957 by Fr. Robert Voigt, offers a brief but thorough explanation of the devotion to St. Joseph the Workman. In 1955 Pope Pius XII decreed that this feast be celebrated on May 1st in order to bring dignity back to labor and the laborers on a day which had been a Communist legal holiday.
  • Larger Work:
    Homiletic & Pastoral Review
  • Pages: 733 – 735
  • Publisher & Date:
    Joseph F. Wagner, Inc., New York, NY, May 1957

In 1955 Pope Pius XII instituted the Feast of St. Joseph the Workman and decreed that the new Mass in the saint's honor be said on May 1st. It is not by chance that this day was chosen. May 1st is May Day, a Communist legal holiday in honor of the radical workers. In contrast, the Holy Father sets aside May 1st to give honor to St. Joseph and to restore dignity to labor. The Church wants people to have private property and to work out a decent livelihood through their labors. She knows that through this private property a person will have more initiative and be more diligent. Labor will be more dignified as it was for St. Joseph.

St. Joseph worked from morning early till late at night in his carpenter shop repairing dinner couches and building shelves for the people of Nazareth. When he was summoned to Bethlehem for the census, even though he lost working days, he closed his shop and set out on the journey. When the angel in a vision instructed him to hide away in Egypt, he hearkened to the voice from Heaven even though he lost many more working days the next five years. During that time it was extremely hard for him to make a living for himself, his wife, and the Divine Child. But Joseph did not complain, because this trip and this sojourn were the will of God. The laborer today, imitating his model, will not complain about losing work on Sundays and holydays, for in leaving his work behind on those days he is doing the will of God.

The amateur, reading the Scriptures in the vernacular for the first time, will blithely remark, "Little is said in the Bible about St. Joseph." Others, more mature, realize that the most profound truths are so often couched in pithy sentences. St. Matthew remarked casually that Joseph was a just man. To be just, a person must observe all the commandments that relate to God as well as those that relate to man. The just man does right in the sight of God once and always. To say that Joseph was a just man is enough, both because the sacred writer weighs his words and because the phrase is so profound. In The Preparation of the Incarnation, Henry J. Coleridge, S.J., writes:

It may most truly be said that the Sacred Scripture is marvelous in the things which it tells us, and in the manner in which they are told . . . it is marvelous in the way in which, as to certain things, it seems to combine speech and silence at the same time, by saying in the fewest words, and in a manner which almost escapes attention, things which are found to have very deep and very full meanings, and to convey the most important truths.

Right reason assists a student in formulating a true picture of the foster father's holiness. Holiness rubs off on another just as does sinfulness. The Child Jesus could not sin, and His Mother was a living saint. The holiness of the Divine Child and of His Mother affected Joseph like a contagion. Further, God who chose a sinless virgin to nurture the Child would contemplate only a holy father to protect the two. God had the power to do that and would do no less.

His Power of Intercession

In the Litany of All Saints, Christians invoke the help of God and of the saints more or less in the order of their influence. After God is invoked in His triune form, the Christian calls upon the Blessed Mother; then upon the named angels and all the angels. After that he calls upon St. John the Baptist and St. Joseph. There was a debate whether to put St. Joseph ahead of St. John with some in favor of that position and others preferring the position after the Patriarchs. A compromise was reached in which St. Joseph is placed between St. John and the Patriarchs without any thought that the precursor takes precedence. At the Vatican Council a few bishops drew up a petition that St. Joseph comes next in rank to the Blessed Mother. Two hundred and fifty-six bishops and 38 cardinals signed the petition, but since the Council was brought to an untimely end, the petition remains in the archives.

A saint's power of intercession is in direct proportion to his holiness. St. Joseph's superlative degree of holiness spells only a universal power of intercession. Other saints have a limited power. Blessed Martin de Porres is good at driving out rats. St. John Nepomucene may be invoked by husbands against loquacious consorts. And any wife whose husband gambles away the family funds may pray to St. Camillus, the first to lose his shirt in a poker game. But for all-around help you call upon St. Joseph. St. Bernard says, "Power is given to some of the saints to help in particular necessities; but to St. Joseph power is given to help in all necessities . . ." St. Teresa of Avila explains that He who always did the will of St. Joseph on earth continues doing that will in heaven. In The Life of Mother Teresa of Jesus the great mystic writes of her particular devotion to Joseph.

The Knowledge of St. Joseph

It is clear to the Christians that the Blessed Mother had great knowledge (Luke 2, 19), that she was the library of the Apostles. It is not quite so clear that St. Joseph knew something too. It would be ridiculous to imagine that the Blessed Mother who gave the Apostles the information they needed about the Divine Son would keep her holy husband in unholy ignorance. It would be equally ridiculous to imagine that the Child Jesus who stood in the Temple to interpret the Scriptures for the learned doctors kept this knowledge away from His own father. Then, without any charity at all, we must say Joseph learned a few things by himself. In addition, God who gave Adam the knowledge needed to start the human race saw to it that holy Joseph had the proper knowledge to rear the Child Jesus. Writes Henri Rondet, S.J.:

No doubt it would be a mistake here to put Joseph on the same level with Mary; but it would also be a mistake to put him aside as knowing nothing, as quite ignorant of mysteries, past, present and future, and of God's purposes with regard to Jesus.

St. Francis de Sales says that St. Joseph surpassed Solomon in wisdom, and adds, "What must have been his wisdom, since the Eternal Father chose him to have responsibility for the training of His Divine Son?"

The Popes on St. Joseph

In the divine economy our knowledge of Christ develops first, then our knowledge of the Blessed Mother, and finally our knowledge of St. Joseph. First the Church develops a devotion to Our Lord; then to the Blessed Mother; and finally to St. Joseph. After the doctrines about Christ had been defined at Chalcedon and Ephesus, the doctrines of the Blessed Mother — the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption — were defined by Pope Pius IX and Pope Pius XII. Now it appears we are at the beginning of a period — it covers centuries — when doctrines about St. Joseph will be defined. But as devotions to Christ and the Blessed Mother developed before doctrines came out, so have the devotions to St. Joseph developed. In 1870 Pope Pius IX solemnly proclaimed St. Joseph the protector of the Universal Church. Leo XIII ended his encyclical on the Rosary, Quanquam pluries, with a thought on the surpassing holiness of St. Joseph. "No other saint . . . so nearly approaches that place of dignity which in the Mother of God is far above all created natures." Pius X, whose baptismal name was Joseph, authorized a Litany of St. Joseph for public usage in 1909. Benedict XV in 1919 issued a proper preface for the Feast of St. Joseph. In 1937 Pius XI proclaimed St. Joseph the patron against atheistic communism. Finally, in 1955, Pius XII instituted the Feast of St. Joseph the Workman.

The Assumption of St. Joseph

While the Assumption of the Blessed Mother was defined only in 1950, it was a popular belief all through the centuries back to the beginning. Now there is no definition about the Assumption of St. Joseph, nor is there a popular belief as strong as there was for the Blessed Mother. Nevertheless men of note have held this tenet. Francis Suarez maintained St. Joseph was taken up into heaven bodily. St. Bernardino of Siena, Gerson, and St. Vincent Ferrer held the same. St. Francis de Sales points out the fact that nobody claims the tomb of St. Joseph and that there are no relics of this saint. Then he continues in Les Vrais Entretiens Spirituels:

Surely, when Our Lord went down into Limbo, St. Joseph addressed Him in this wise: "Be pleased to remember, Lord, that when you came down from Heaven to earth I received you into my house and family, that I took you into my arms from the moment you were born. Now you are going back to Heaven, take me with you (body and soul). I received you into my family, receive me into yours; I took you in my arms; take me into yours; I looked after you and fed you and guided you during your life on earth; stretch forth your hand and lead me into life everlasting."

Note

The quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from Saint Joseph by Henri Rondet, S.J., translated by Donald Attwater (New York: P. J. Kenedy and Sons, 1956).

© Homiletic & Pastoral Review

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