Three years ago I asked the men of my parish to establish a Knights of Columbus Council. There had been no men’s group in the parish for decades, and the men decided to name the Council “St. Joseph the Workman.” Over these 33 days, we are working towards May 1st, the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker (Opifex in Latin), which is gender neutral. But the Church translated that into English for many years as “workman,” which evokes images of powerful masculine hands, a carpenter’s apron over broad shoulders, the focused eyes, tightened lips, and set jaw of a manual laborer. St. Joseph was a man, as was Jesus, and it was their task to sanctify labor, which had become a curse for Adam’s sin (“by the sweat of your brow will you earn your bread….”).
In societies where technocrats and academics rule, manual labor is disdained or simply not acknowledged. Blue collar workers are patronized by our cultural elites as inferiors, people who have deplorably not succeeded in life. Athwart that stands St. Joseph the Workman. He is not a workaholic (that is, addicted to ceaseless activity simply to stave off meaninglessness or chasing vainly after “success”). Joseph’s work is not an end in itself, but a service to God’s glory and the sanctification of human life. Satan hates the fact, writes Fr. Calloway, that God made himself a man, capable of manual labor.
One of my seminary teachers, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, told us one day that we had passed St. Joseph in the hallway this morning on the way to class. He was that workman we see every day but don’t notice—the janitor with the eastern European accent, the maintenance worker tightening steam pipes, the food service worker from Sicily. “Respect and love these men and women who serve you every day with their hands,” he told us. They are Joseph and Mary; they are Jesus.