Today, May 1, is the Feast Day of St. Joseph the Worker. This is a truly beautiful feast day, in that it takes honest, simple work and raises it as an offering to God. The statue above was sent to me to review by the folks at Holyart.com, and I used it during Lent on my St. Joseph's Altar. But since it depicts St. Joseph the Worker, I thought it would be appropriate to look at it again.
The necessity of work has been around since the creation of Adam and Eve. In fact, even in the Garden of Eden, before the fall, Adam had work to do. Yes, he had some jobs in that garden! According to Genesis 2:15, God settled Adam in the garden to "care and cultivate it." Of course, the big difference between doing work before the fall and doing work after the fall is the effort involved, as well as the fruit that resulted from it. Before the fall, Adam's work was enjoyable and fruitful. Everything went well, according to plan and as it should. That experience of work changes after the fall. Scripture relates that God tells Adam that only by toil (a new word) shall you eat, "by the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground from which you were taken." (Genesis 3:17, 19) So, work is inescapable. It is part of the human condition. As St. Paul reaffirms later on "He who does not work, shall not eat." (2 Thess 3:10) In his document Laborem Exercens, Pope St. John Paul II writes "Work is one of the characteristics that distinguishes man from the rest of creatures."
But, work is more than just putting our nose to the grindstone and toiling away for mere survival, year after year. Now, because of the descent of the Holy Spirit, our work enables us to be co-creators with God as we participate with the Holy Spirit in building the Kingdom. Our occupation becomes part of our vocation. This is what the statue of St. Joseph shows us. On the surface, St. Joseph was a humble, ordinary carpenter who didn't make much money in his lifetime and likely worked very hard every day, sun up to sun down. He shouldered the financial burden of the family and labored to keep them safe and sheltered. But that was just a part of his life. In reality, his occupation supported his vocation, which was to be the foster father of Jesus and spouse of the Virgin Mary. He was - quite literally - building the Kingdom of God in his home, while he built tables and chairs in his workshop. And that is what we are all called to do. Regardless of whether our occupation is full of prestige or like St. Joseph's - honest and simple, our occupations should be at the service of our vocations, not the other way around. And everyone's vocation, ultimately, is to build the Kingdom of God.