ON BEING A JOSEPH TODAY!
-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
It’s ‘May Day’! The world today celebrates and recognises the role and importance of the ordinary worker particularly those who labour unceasingly and in very hidden ways in order that our world keeps moving. It is also a day on which since 1955, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, someone who was not only entrusted with the responsibility of being the guardian of the Child Jesus and the husband of Mary, but a person who laboured as a carpenter in skill which did not only his family proud but gave a new meaning to the dignity of work.
What then does St. Joseph the Worker signify for our complicated and problematic world? There is not much written about him in the Bible but from the little that there is about him, one can with conviction surmise the following characteristics of the great human being:
If there is one overriding quality which sums up Joseph is the fact that “he was a just man”. He was perceived as a righteous person and for the Hebrew people “righteousness” was one of the chief attributes given to God. It symbolises a high degree of virtuousness and integrity with the underlying assumption that this person will never be a source of injustice to anyone. It is the ultimate state of moral perfection required by God to enter heaven. Joseph epitomised this.
There is no doubt like his wife Mary, Joseph was also able to say a whole-hearted ‘yes’ to the will of God. He was obedient to the core. The obedience of Joseph was always the outcome of a process of discernment: his courage to be open and to listen to the angel of the Lord telling him to accept Mary as his wife or to relocate his family to Egypt. His obedience was a cheerful one never looking back after he put his hand on the plough.
Sincerity is synonymous with holiness: the USP of Joseph. His love for Mary and Jesus was genuine. He cared for them with total commitment. As a carpenter, he was well-known. The fact that people had to quip “is he not the carpenter’s son?” speaks volumes. They would certainly not have done so if Joseph was a scoundrel or somebody who could exploit them. His unassuming bearing certainly added weightage to his sincerity.
As a child growing up, Jesus certainly needed a role model. His mother was an obvious one. Joseph could not be a distant second because he complemented Mary. Artistic impressions of St. Joseph show us how he fondly carries the baby Jesus; there are several other paintings which show Jesus studiously learning from his father in the workshop. When Jesus was lost and Mary and Joseph went in search of him and find him in the temple, we are also told that Jesus returns with them to Nazareth where he continued to be under their authority – nurtured by example.
The ancient Greeks and Christian philosophers like Thomas Aquinus considered prudence as a ‘cause, measure and form of all virtues’- in fact the mother of all virtues. Prudence implies practical wisdom and Joseph is a terrific example of a prudent person. The Gospels do not record a single word of St. Joseph. He chose to be discreet but yet we know that he walked the talk in no uncertain ways.
The humility of Joseph is legendary. It is not easy for an old man betrothed to a young maiden to find her pregnant before marriage. It is not easy to go from door to door asking for room and to be turned away. It is not easy to offer to the ones you love so much the squalor and stink of a miserable stable. It is not easy to leave all you have and flee with your family to an unknown land yet Joseph accepted all this and more because he was truly a humble man.
As we celebrate St. Joseph the Worker today, let us pray that each one of us do all we can to be Just, Obedient, Sincere, Exemplary, Prudent and Humble
May 1st, 2015
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)
Address: ‘PRASHANT’, Hill Nagar, Near Saffron Hotel, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052