At Mass this morning for the Solemnity of St. Joseph, the priest at our parish reminded us of the centrality of fathers to culture. We shouldn’t need thick sociological studies to spell out for us that it is men’s failures to live up to the demands of their fatherhood that is at the root of the present deterioration in family life. And as the family goes, so goes the culture.
Our priest then exhorted us fathers to imitate St. Joseph by focusing on being the spiritual leaders of our families. Too often we men make the mistake of seeking our identities through professional achievement. The move is not completely wrongheaded. As another good priest once said to me, professional work is in a sense the “hinge” upon which the holiness of a man turns. But our identities as men should not wholly be founded upon what we do as workers. Of far greater importance to our identities is imaging within the home the virtues of St. Joseph and Jesus–especially when it comes to giving direction to the family’s life of prayer.
Tradition has it that St. Joseph was a craftsman of some sort, perhaps a carpenter. Imagining his workday with the child Jesus at his side, we can learn much from him about what it means to sanctify ourselves through our professional work. That work of sanctification is a higher order of craftsmanship than that of making tables or fixing things. Yet it is interesting to think of it on an analogy with more ordinary kinds of craft. Our sanctification requires the same long apprenticeship, the same submission to authority, the same painstaking attention to detail, the same rigorous study, the same all-out devotion–that a craft such as carpentry requires.
In his 1999 “Letter to Artists,” Blessed Pope John Paul II remarks that not all men and women are called to be artists. “Yet,” he goes on, “as Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece” (no. 2).
Those who have made masterpieces of their lives are of course the saints. They are artists in the preeminent sense, by submitting themselves in apprenticeship to the Creator in order to make out of their lives something beautiful for God.
High among the saints is the man we celebrate today, our father and lord, St. Joseph. Especially during this Lent, may he help inspire the Universal Church to a greater friendship with Our Lord. May he be our master in the interior life. And may he help us who are husbands and fathers to be strong, spiritual leaders of our families, and so contribute to the re-crafting of family life that our culture so desperately needs.