Thursday May 1, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Saint Joseph the Worker
Reading (Genesis 1:26-2:3) Gospel (St. Matthew 13:54-58)
In the first reading that we heard today from the Book of Genesis, we are told that God created us in His own image and likeness, setting us above everything else. But being that He has created us in His own image and likeness, we are then created to be, obviously, like God. We are created to do what God does. And so, God, as we know, is love; we have talked about that many times, that we are made to love and be loved because we are made in the image and likeness of Love Himself.
At the same time, what we see in the readings today is that God works. Therefore, we, being made in the image and likeness of God, also work. It is part of our human dignity. All of us know fully well that there is nothing worse than sitting around with absolutely nothing to do. It is not only boring but it violates our own dignity. So we recognize, then, that there is a dignity to work. And, of course, there are a variety of types of work. For instance, we look and see that the very first commandment God gave to humanity is to be fertile and multiply, and fill and subdue the earth. The first work of humanity is to be married and to raise a family. Any one of you who is married knows that that truly is an awful lot of work. It is not a simple task – it is a glorified and dignified task – but it is a lot of work.
Then there is the other work that we have to do. Whether that would be for a farmer tilling the field, or whether that is a person going to an office, or whatever it may be, we have the work that is there to support a family. But we need to make sure we keep the order in proper perspective. That is, the family comes first; work is secondary. The work is there to support the family, not the other way around. Unfortunately, in the case of many Americans and in many countries where they are celebrating today a Communist feast day, it is seen completely the other way around, that is, the work is there as the primary thing and everything else is there to support the work. But that is wrong. That is not the way God created things. It is part of our dignity to work, but the work has to be seen in proper perspective.
And so, as we recognize the great and glorious Saint Joseph today and honoring the work that he did – Saint Joseph, who is so easily forgotten in the Scriptures and in our own lives – he is the one who worked to support the Holy Family. It is his work primarily in making sure that he was being a faithful and good husband and father, that is the primary task which God gave to him. That was his vocation: to be a husband and a father. His work as an artisan supported his family, but his family was clearly the top priority in his life (behind God Himself, of course).
So too, then, we need to learn from Saint Joseph. We need to learn how to work, but that the work also must be done out of love, because if work is there to support the family then we are working because we love the family. So we need to look at our own attitude about going to work. Is our attitude in work one of charity? By that, I do not mean working at no cost. Certainly, there is volunteer work that we do out of charity for others, but even the work that we do to make a living needs to be done with an attitude of charity, with a proper disposition, that is, to go to work as a matter of love, love for one’s family, love for one’s co-workers. Therefore, do not be grumbling and complaining and whining and doing all the things that we like to do when it comes to work, gossiping and whatever else it may be, because that violates the charity that should be there within us as we go forth to work.
Rather we need to see this work as part of our human dignity and to approach it with human dignity so that we do not wind up violating ourselves as we try to support our family; but rather, out of love for family and out of love for neighbor (those at work), that we approach the work with the proper disposition and recognize the dignity that the work itself has, and that without that kind of work (whatever the variety may be, it does not matter) we know that we are not fulfilling and living up to our own human dignity. And so we need to recognize the work in that way and approach it as God approached it: with the greatest of respect, with the greatest of reverence, but also in the proper order. It is there not as the primary thing, but as the secondary thing. God worked for His children, and so do we. That is the purpose of work. The family is first and the work is there to support the family.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.