What do Labour Day, the feast days of Our Lord’s Ascension, Our Lady of Fatima, Pentecost, and even World Communications Sunday have in common? Who makes May such a holy month for us this year?
Who could it be but St Joseph?
But, why St Joseph? We all know that in 1955 Pope Pius XII instituted the Feast of St Joseph the Worker on May 1 to commemorate the dignity of work, and the sanctity of rest from labour. We might imagine Joseph assembling chairs and tables, and carving little decorative items for the home. But carpenters in Bible times were so much more than that – they were not just skilled furniture makers, but professional builders of houses as well. They fashioned agricultural tools like axes, and yokes and ploughs with such great craftsmanship that even Jesus could claim: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt 11:30) because he was taught well by his father to have no sharp edges or rough finishes on his pieces! In this way, Joseph participated in the creative work of his and his son’s heavenly Father.
Joseph’s physical strength and D-I-Y skills surely came in handy too on the long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem (imagine lifting the pregnant Mary up and down the donkey several times a day), the birth of Jesus (think lots of firewood for boiling water and washing swaddling clothes), and the flight to Egypt and their return to Israel (sheltering mother and baby from sandstorms, heat, and thirst in the desert). And his artisanal talents must have been valued in Egypt, sustaining the Holy Family during their refugee years there.
In all this time of peril, the fate of Mary and Jesus and the salvation of all humankind lay in the calloused, wood-worn hands of St Joseph. How Joseph must have stormed heaven with Mary for peace in their hearts, protection and deliverance from evil, and in thanksgiving and praise to God in daily prayer! Yet he surely kept the Sabbath day holy, travelling or working hard six days of week and resting on the seventh day, even at the risk of being an easy target for bandits or wild animals in the wilderness. And when the Holy Family settled down in Nazareth, he must have handed down to Jesus not only the art of carpentry, but the faith and all the other life-skills and values that only Spirit-filled parents can give their children, such that Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and people. (Lk 2:52). No wonder in 1870 Blessed Pius IX declared him the patron of the universal Church, the Body of Christ.
St Joseph was a great communicator!
But how could St Joseph be connected with World Communications Day? After all, the Bible doesn’t record him saying a single word. Yet he was a great communicator – we often forget that communication is not just about speaking, but about listening too. Studies have shown that we listen about 80% of the time we’re awake. Real listening requires as much skill and effort as reading, writing and speaking, but we’re fooled into thinking it’s easy because it’s mental, and apparently passive.
St Joseph was what we call an active listener – he listened to hear, not listen to speak, with one ear on the speaker and one ear on the Holy Spirit. Rearrange the letters in LISTEN, and you’ll get SILENT – we need silence to pay attention to small details, to focus and to catch the hidden meaning and nuances of the true feelings behind the words and body language of the speaker. As Jesus said: “Anyone who has ears for listening should listen!” (Mark 3:23).
St Joseph listened to understand and empathise, not to respond with rejoinders or rebuttals. He was a wise man: “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in airing an opinion.” (Prov 18:2), and “To retort without first listening is both foolish and embarrassing.” (Prov 18:13). He listened to hear and not to speak. “Remember this, my dear brothers, everyone should be quick to listen but slow to speak.” (Jas 1:19)
Perhaps the Bible’s portrayal of Joseph was to emphasis his great gifts of listening, above all, to the voice of God, without interruption or question, and then taking action upon it in obedience and complete submission to God’s will, no matter the personal risk involved. (Matt 1:20-24; Matt 2:13-17; Matt 2: 19-23). “You must do what the Word tells you and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves.” (Jas 1:22) Otherwise, how could he have preserved the Holy Family through the turbulent years of Jesus’ early childhood?
Throughout the hidden life of Jesus, he too, with Mary, must have pondered so many things in his heart as he carved, sawed, hammered and polished away at his workbench, cherishing with his loved ones the “small gestures” and “little details of love” of the everyday routine of village life. At least 30 years before his son ever visited Bethany, Joseph knew the importance of being an active contemplative, of being a Martha and also a Mary, of discerning “a time for keeping silent, a time for speaking.” (Eccl 3:7). He preached the Gospel but only used words when necessary. No wonder St Joseph is the patron saint of happy deaths, dying in the arms of Our Lord and Our Lady, and with the Holy Spirit in his heart!
God calls us to be saints for springtime
In his Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis reminds us that we too are all called to holiness in the circumstances of our everyday, imperfect lives. Let us read silently and take a leaf from St Joseph’s book of life. Like him, we are not only sent out to proclaim the Good News and stand up for Jesus, but also to sit down and discern God’s will for our unique path to sainthood by crying out: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening!” (1 Sam 3:10).
Let us ask Our Lord and Our Lady, and especially St Joseph, to intercede for us, that we may:
- Listen to the old uncle that is telling the same old story over and over, and hear his loneliness and cry for company;
- Listen to the teenagers who are so emo or disruptive, and hear their cry for acceptance and affirmation;
- Listen to the co-worker always trying to take control, talking down to those who disagree or acting holier-than-thou, and hear the low self-worth and insecurity deep speaking;
- Listen to the young adult who’s talking about yet another easy conquest, or successful business deal or amazing purchase, and hear the desperation of one who is ashamed of who he really is.
- Listen to the long-lost friend who texts out of the blue and asks if we’re OK, and hear a cry for help.
- Listen to the little children who want to games with us and hear how much they love us and enjoy our company.
As we prepare for Pentecost and our mission to be Christ-appointed extra-ordinary ambassadors for the Kingdom of God in Ordinary time, let us ask the Holy Spirit for the graces we need to be saints for springtime, especially for the gift of courage.
As a wise man once said: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” St Joseph, our saint for springtime, pray for us.
Frances sees herself as a contemplative charismatic trying to tune out of the world and tune in to God more this spring. Sometimes, all she gets is a lot of static, and sometimes a lot of interference. But when her frequency and God’s sync, it’s love songs amplified all around.