The pandemic has brought new challenges to our professional lives. It's a perfect time to call on St. Joseph.
This year, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker resonates anew for the millions of Catholics forced to work not in their usual workplaces, but in their homes.
For most of us, this new arrangement has led to unforeseen challenges over and above the typical work demands: handling new technology, substituting for now inaccessible supplies left at the jobsite, finding a suitable place within the home to work, fulfilling work obligations while tending to children and their schooling at the same time, balancing our suddenly overlapping work and home lives.
As we navigate this new experience, we can seek help from St. Joseph’s intercession and example. Both are timeless, and, therefore, perfectly applicable to these unique times.
First, Scripture tells us that St. Joseph was a righteous man—someone who, as Psalm 1 tells us, “delights in the law of the Lord.” To delight in God’s law is to accept His divine will lovingly, rather than begrudgingly.
Our first task as home workers is to accept with a willing heart—rather than a resentful one—the new work situation that the coronavirus has forced upon us. We know through faith that God has sent us these new trials as a means for our sanctification. Joseph, too, had to accept from God completely unforeseen circumstances: Mary’s pregnancy, the wrath of Herod, the flight to Egypt. St. Joseph carried out God’s will faithfully, despite the difficulties, uncertainties, and fears. By imitating his prayerful trust, we can do the same today.
Second, as a carpenter of humble means, Joseph’s workshop was likely in his home. The man closer to Jesus Christ than any other had to work with his wife and child near by—just as we are doing today.
In those days, the father would have taught his son his craft, so the son, when grown, could follow in his footsteps. Just as the child Jesus learned to work from his father, we have a unique opportunity to teach our children as they watch us work, perhaps for the first time. Certainly it is easier to show children how to make something than to have them participate in a Zoom call, but we can model for our children Joseph’s righteous character by properly completing our work obligations. Donning professional attire (at least from the waist up) even while we are home can teach our children the importance of presentation and of giving our best effort on a daily basis.
Third, when we recall that Pope Pius XII instituted this feast in 1955 to remind us that work is God’s means of making us holy, we can join the spirit of our work at home to another new reality: the transformation of our homes, in the absence of public Mass, into domestic churches where we worship God. Rather than separate work from home, we can unite them as the twin means whereby, right now, God wishes to sanctify us.
When Joseph finished teaching the child Jesus in his home workshop, he then taught him the Torah and the Psalms under the same roof. The challenges of the former—fatigue, failure, frustration—undoubtedly affected how piously the latter were recited, just as work so often can affect our prayer. But if we can see both our work and our prayer as complementary paths to holiness, we can begin to see God’s singular plan for us that is not bound by location or task.
The challenges of working at home may seem insurmountable, but with St. Joseph as our guide, the insurmountable becomes sanctifying. So let us pray with the Church as we take an old feast and make it new for us today:
O God, Creator of all things, who laid down for the human race the law of work, graciously grant that by the example of St. Joseph and under his patronage, we may complete the works you set us to do and attain the rewards you promise.
A lesson from Eden: We were made to work
David G. Bonagura, Jr. is the author of Steadfast in Faith: Catholicism and the Challenges of Secularism.