May 1, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of St. Joseph the Worker
Reading (Gen 1:26-2:3) Gospel (St. Matthew 13:54-58)
In the gospel reading today, the relatives of Our Lord were asking the question, “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” Now this is an important question not just simply because Jesus was raised in the home of Mary and Joseph, but rather He had lived His life is such a manner that nobody would have ever known that He was anything other than the son of Joseph. Externally there was nothing to point to that, and because of the holiness of St. Joseph, when the people looked at Our Lord they were able to see a reflection of St. Joseph. It tells us something of the holiness of this great man whose feast we celebrate today. One who is not only like us in the sense that he is made in the image and likeness of God, but one who has perfected what it means to be that image and likeness. So perfect in fact that when they looked at St. Joseph and they looked at Jesus, they were not able to see that there was a lot of difference. They were able to see the similarities that were there and they were able to say, is not this man the carpenter’s son.
They saw in Jesus what they thought was a normal situation for a child and parents, that the child becomes like his parents. Of course in this case we know that St. Joseph is merely the foster father of Jesus and that it is the opposite, the father in this case became like his son. He had completely brought himself to the likeness of God. He had achieved perfection and was truly the just or the righteous man. The people did not understand what this really was, that St. Joseph had been conformed to God rather than God being conformed to St. Joseph. They did not understand that Jesus was God.
We see St. Joseph being a carpenter, and the word that is used there in Greek is not necessarily carpenter, but it would actually be better translated as artisan. In the first reading God is undertaking the work of creation and we see St. Joseph as this artisan, sharing in that work of creation. In a sense we can say that he is co-creating with God with the work of his hands. That too is what each one of us is called to do. Through our work we are to be co-creators with the Lord, but more than anything we must learn from St. Joseph to conform ourselves. We are not to merely conform wood or stone or whatever it is into some beautiful image, but to take this heart of stone that we have, and sometimes this block of wood on top of our shoulders one could say, and form that into the very image of God. Form that into the image of the love of God, to the mind and the heart of God, transform ourselves as St. Joseph had done. So while he had learned a trade, he had applied that very trade to himself and he had done the work on himself in his spiritual life. Then what people saw in his work with the wood and the stone and anything else with which he worked, simply reflected the image of what was already within himself.
It is the same for us, if we want to be able to really do our work in the best way, that is in the way that God wants the work done, we need to begin with the work on the self. That is not to make the self the way that we want it, but rather to allow the self to be made the way God wants it. We are to be made in His image and likeness, to be perfected, to be as God, and then in our works we will be able to glorify God. Then like St. Joseph, when people look at us they will not be able to see a difference between us and Jesus Christ. With us they will understand the proper order, that it is not Our Lord Who was transformed to be like us because we raised Him, but they will understand the truth. Through the prayer, through the work that has been done within our hearts, that we have become like Jesus Christ, and been transformed into Him.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.