When Our Lord came down to us on Earth, He did not choose to live in a palace surrounded by servants to wait on him hand and foot. Rather, the Lord of the Universe decided to enter the world He created under the most humble circumstances possible: a small house is the middle of nowhere to be raised by a foster father who nowadays many would casually dismiss as “blue-collar.”
Scripture does not reveal much about the man that God chose to be His protector and nurturer while on Earth. Matthew tells us that Joseph was of the line of David and describes him as a “just man” (Matt. 1:19), but almost nothing else is said of him. Indeed, he disappears entirely from the narrative after Luke’s description of how he and Mary found Jesus in the Temple after He went missing for three days (Luke 2:42-52). We assume that Joseph must have died at some point between this episode and the Crucifixion since if he were alive, there would be no reason for Jesus to place Mary in the care of the Apostle John.
What we do know is this: Joseph was a carpenter, a man who worked with his hands for his daily bread. For all its concern about the “plight of the working poor,” modern society is, in my opinion, quick to dismiss such men and women as ignorant examples of what might happen if their children don’t do well in school. Yet the relationship of Joseph and Jesus shows that such dismissals could not be further from the truth. Christ apprenticed himself under his foster father, learning a trade that he most likely later used to support his mother after Joseph’s death, including during the three years of His ministry. There is a quiet dignity and strength to be found in labor, a point that both Pope Leo XIII and Pope St. John Paul II make in their writings. Nowhere was that dignity and strength found more strongly than in that little house in Nazareth as the Holy Family worked together to build and maintain a home.
Fontevrault and I are both academics, yet we have both found great joy in working with our hands. Fontevrault is an expert seamstress and has recently developed a talent for working in clay. I prefer carpentry, home improvement, and brewing my own beer. We both love to work in our garden to grow food for our bellies and flowers for beauty and peace. Nurturing these skills in one another and in our children provides us with a way to balance the “life of the mind” that our vocations as teachers demand of us. In St. Joseph’s Workshop, we hope to share our thoughts on the importance of physical labor as well as some practical projects and advice for those who want to make working with their hands part of their lives.
St. Joseph, pray for us!