This stained glass window in St. James Church, Trenton, part of Incarnation-St. James Parish, Ewing, depicts St. Joseph working with the Child Jesus in their carpentry trade. The Feast of St. Joseph the Worker is May 1. File photo
This stained glass window in St. James Church, Trenton, part of Incarnation-St. James Parish, Ewing, depicts St. Joseph working with the Child Jesus in their carpentry trade. The Feast of St. Joseph the Worker is May 1. File photo
On May 1, we celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, whose devotion to Mary and Jesus is one of the most inspirational models of loyalty in all human history. Joseph and Mary’s relationship began in turmoil before they were married, yet even when he thought she had betrayed him, Joseph sought a quiet parting that wouldn’t damage her reputation. Then God sent an angel to speak to Joseph in a dream, to convince him of Mary’s purity and present an even more merciful path for him to follow.

Joseph’s response to this call was nothing short of heroic. He could not possibly have fully understood what God was about to accomplish in their lives, but he was open to the path of being merciful to Mary, and this may have prepared him to embrace the life God was pointing him toward. This is an important lesson in our own lives. Those who adopt an attitude of mercy, even when they feel wronged, remain ready for the path of reconciliation God will present.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The hidden life at Nazareth allows everyone to enter into fellowship with Jesus by the most ordinary events of daily life.” We safely assume, then, that Joseph was a model for Jesus’ own human life. Joseph was protector and provider, so he taught Jesus the basic skills of survival. How important those skills must have been for a young man who lived a quiet life and did not begin his public ministry until the age of 30.

In the time they spent together, Joseph was able to give Jesus everything God wanted him to receive from an earthly father figure. Aside from knowing how to fend for himself, we can look at so many attributes of Christ and know that God worked through Joseph to teach Jesus how to be a man.

We can look at the sheer grit and determination displayed by Jesus during his passion and know that he must have learned something about mental and physical fortitude working alongside Joseph as a carpenter. We can look at Christ’s profound sensitivity toward the bonds of familial love in the story of the raising of Lazarus and know that he learned how to be attuned to the suffering of others from Joseph’s tenderness and care. And we can look at the mercy Jesus showed to the woman caught in adultery and know that he learned from Joseph not to judge others harshly and how to offer women the respect they deserve in a society in which they were too quickly demonized for situations beyond their control.

We can also look at Christ’s integrity in every situation he was ever in and know that he learned about integrity from Joseph through his loyal devotion to the Holy Family, which endured from the moment he accepted God’s call to care for Mary and Jesus until his dying day. Such integrity presents a model for us all in our relations with others. It’s an integrity based on loyalty to God first, and it gives rise to the truest kind of loyalty we can extend to another, a loyalty based on service and sacrificial love. God allowed Jesus to glimpse this in Joseph so that he could share it with the world. Every time we quietly model integrity for someone, especially for young people, we live in imitation of Joseph and prepare others to walk in Christ’s footsteps.          

For free copies of the Christopher News Note BUILDING A LIFE OF CHARACTER, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org

Father Ed Dougherty, M.M., is a member of The Christophers’ board of directors.