Only a handful of saints have more than one feast day on the Church calendar. One of them is Saint Joseph, husband of Mary, foster father of Jesus, and carpenter of Nazareth. (The others are the Blessed Virgin Mary, Peter, Paul, and John the Baptist.) On March 19, the Church honors Joseph as the husband of Mary and the foster father of her son, Jesus. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke give us the picture of a man who was obedient to God’s will and devoted to his family. He is the patron saint of husbands, fathers, and the universal Church, as well as many other groups and causes.
In 1955, Pope Pius XII established the second feast of Saint Joseph. On May 1, he would be honored as Saint Joseph the Worker. Traditional art shows Joseph as a simple woodworker, planing a plank of wood as young Jesus plays with the falling shavings.
Modern scholarship tells us that a carpenter in the first century could also be an artisan or craftsman who worked with metal or stone. They point out that carpenters in the area of Nazareth were probably in high demand because Herod Antipas was rebuilding the city of Zippori, which was only three miles northwest of Nazareth.
The date and title of the new feast in honor of Saint Joseph were carefully chosen. In 1889, the International Socialist Congress had designated May 1, May Day, as a day to protest for workers’ rights, such as an eight-hour work day and safer working conditions. While these were worthy goals, the day recognized the workers, but not the Creator of the universe. Pope Pius wanted a day to focus on work as a way to glorify God and to share in God’s work of Creation. He wanted a day to highlight the dignity of human work. The dignity of work and the rights of workers are key elements of Catholic social teaching.
What better patron saint for workers than Joseph, who provided for his family by the work of his hands? Joseph not only worked as a carpenter, he also taught young Jesus the skills of his trade. Many years later, Jesus was still known as the carpenter’s son (Matthew 13:55). The following activities may be used in conjunction with your Gospel Weeklies lessons for April 29 or for May 6, the latter being Jesus’ command to “love one another” (John 15:9–17).
Saint Joseph worked hard because he wanted to have bread for his family to eat. Seeds children will enjoy a classic folk tale that teaches the lessons of hard work and responsibility.
Many versions of The Little Red Hen have been published. You’ll be able to find one you like in a school or public library, or local bookstore. Though the retellings vary somewhat, the moral of the story is “no work, no bread.” The Little Red Hen works hard to turn a wheat seed into flour—without help from her lazy friends. But when they smell the fresh bread baking, they are all eager to help her eat it.
After reading the story, ask: Do you think it is fair for the Little Red Hen to eat the bread herself? If you were in the story, would you help the Little Red Hen plant and cut and carry the wheat? Make the dough and bake the bread?
Ask the children if they would like to work like Saint Joseph did. Remind them of the melody of the song “Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush.” Invite them to sing and act out new verses about Saint Joseph’s work: “This is the way we saw the wood, saw the wood, saw the wood. This is the way we saw the wood, so early in the morning.” You may also add other verses: sand the wood, sweep the floor, hammer the nails, paint the stool.
Since all the children helped with the song, you may want to reward them with fresh bread or rolls.
Saint Joseph supported the Holy Family by the work of his hands and by putting the needs of Mary and Jesus before his own. Help Promise children to see how a family works together and sometimes has to sacrifice for the things they need. Encourage their efforts to help their own families.
Read aloud A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams (New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 1984). In this story, a young girl helps her family work toward the goal of buying a comfortable chair for her mother.
Help the children focus on the story. What work did Rosa’s mother do? (She was a waitress.) How did Rosa help her mother? (She washed the salt shakers.) What things do families need? (food, shelter, clean water) What are things a family may want but not need? (a new rug, a new car, a big TV, and so on) What did Rosa’s family want? (a really comfortable chair) Why did they want the chair? (Rosa wanted her mother to be able to rest after working hard all day at the diner.) How did they get the chair they wanted? (They worked together and saved their money.)
Brainstorm with the children for ways they could help their mom or dad. Could they stop pleading for things they don’t really need? Could they bring mom or dad comfy slippers when they come home after a hard day at work? Could they make lemonade for their family when they are working in the yard or cleaning the house? Could they help put away groceries?
Help the children cut out construction-paper shapes of a chair like the chair Rosa’s family bought or print a free chair illustration from the internet. Have each child print on a chair a job or action he or she intends to do to help their family. Ask the children to give the chairs to their moms or dads with big hugs. Send home a brief note explaining the lesson. Suggest that parents keep the chairs for a day when they are stressed or tired or simply need help. They should then return the chairs so their child can deliver on his or her promise.
Saint Joseph was a manual laborer. Help Good News children understand the importance and necessity of all kinds of work.
Read aloud ¡Sí, Se Puede! Yes, We Can! by Diana Cohn (El Paso, TX, Cinco Puntos Press, 2004). It tells the true story of a janitors’ strike in Los Angeles from the point of view of a young boy whose mother cleans office buildings at night. Despite the fact that her work is hard, she takes great pride in doing it well. When she needs more money for the grandmother’s medicine, however, she joins a strike and shows her son that if people work together, they can make a difference.
Ask the children to name the jobs or chores around the house that nobody likes to do. Be sure they come up with things they could actually do. (take out the trash, separate recyclables, clean a bathroom sink, sweep a porch or deck, sort or fold laundry, help do dishes, and so on) Make a master list. Give each child a piece of paper and markers. Ask each child to choose a chore from the list to do for his or her family and to write the job and illustrate it. Then have them take their lists home and post them where family members will see them.
Saint Joseph was paid for his work as a carpenter, either in coin or traded goods. But it is easy to imagine that Joseph helped his neighbors with repairs or made a cradle for a new baby, not for money, but because he saw a need and wanted to help. Venture children can understand a different aspect of work. Doing the work of Jesus, the work of a disciple, is not work for pay but working to help other people. Help children learn about this satisfying kind of work. Here are some options:
Saint Joseph fled to Egypt with his family to protect Jesus from the death threats of King Herod. While there, Joseph had to find work to support his family in a foreign land. Help Visions students become aware of the hardships faced by displaced workers. They must deal with a language barrier and racial discrimination. Yet many immigrants continue to come to the United States and other countries in search of a better life. Their dream depends on a job that will support not only them, but also help their family back home.
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