One of the particular blessings of my pastoral year is time to pray. Parish life can be busy, and does include meeting after meeting … I’m not “complaining,” just “explaining.” I enjoy the wonderful opportunity to connect with the people of Saint Robert’s in the various contexts: Adult Faith Formation, Liturgy, Religious Education, Small Faith Sharing, Building and Grounds, Respect Life, etc.
For me, however, each day continues to have time that I can dedicate to personal prayer, and one of my favorite places to have a conversation with God is the Prayer Garden, a beautiful space between the church building and the parish center, which is cared for by a parish gardening committee, and which is filled with colorful flowers, a fountain that is sometimes on (haven’t figured out the schedule for the fountain yet), several benches, and two statues. One “feature” I have found – considering I can get a sunburn looking at a postcard of a sunset – is that at any time during the day, at least one of the benches is in the shade.
The first statue, the Blessed Mother, has her holding the Infant Jesus, and has two small children at her feet, looking up at the Child. As I contemplated that statue during the course of the Rosary today, the Feast of the Assumption, I glanced over and noticed that St. Joseph was also mostly in the shadows, and is positioned in a place where he likely is partly in shadow most of the day. So my contemplative prayer today shifted from the Blessed Mother to considering “Saint Joseph of the Shadows.”
OK, I made up that title, but it is probably fair to say that in the hectic world in which we all live, Joseph probably gets left in the shadows a lot. And yet, he came into center stage earlier this week when several of us in the parish center were discussing his role as the patron of workers. Employment is a challenge for many, many people today. Some are underemployed, some are unhappy in cut-throat positions, and far too many are seeking a job, something that not too long ago was taken much more for granted.
We see the depiction of Joseph in religious art as usually serene, holding a lily as a sign of his peacefulness, and sometimes as the teacher of the young Jesus, guiding him in learning to be a carpenter. Something we don’t often consider – which I believe is a prominent feature of “Saint Joseph of the Shadows” – is that his hands were most likely calloused, probably arthritic, and likely had a number of scars from sharp hand tools that slipped from time-to-time, especially when he was tired. At least for me, when playing with my hobby of woodworking, it is when I am tired that the tools slip, and I have a few scars to measure those mistakes.
Scriptures say very little about St. Joseph, and yet it was he who probably first listened to Mary’s warning to be careful with Jesus in the shop, and not to let Him get hurt with the sharp tools. Both of them knew that one day, He would have more than His share of hurts – He would suffer all the hurts for the sinful world of all time that He redeemed in His death and resurrection. But I picture Joseph’s strong, calloused hand gently wrapped around Jesus’ small hand, working the plane or the saw to shape a chair, or a bowl in the shop. And then I think that Jesus, too, had callouses on His hands. Before he had the stigmata, Saint Francis of Assisi had callouses, too, from rebuilding the churches, stone upon stone.
Hard work goes into creating the world and our Church. As we pray for guidance while searching for work, or while trying to understand how to make the best of a difficult day at work, remember Saint Joseph of the Shadows; he is always there, gently speaking to Jesus about being careful with Creation. Invite Joseph to gently wrap his strong, rough, scarred hands around our own labors, to guide us, and to speak to His Son on our behalf. God’s creation continues to unfold in each of our lives; take the time to recognize and embrace the fact that we don’t work alone, but with heavenly guidance as we discern our role in the creation story of today.