Home Page Home Page Events Events Photos Photos Diocese of Ogdensburg Home Page  
Follow Us on Facebook


Archives Follow Me
‘Carpenter’s shop became a school of the Gospel’

By Bishop Terry R. LaValley

March 25, 2020

The following is Bishop Terry R. LaValley’s homily for the Sisters of St. Joseph’s celebration of the Feast of St. Joseph.

Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, former inmate of Communist prisons for 13 years, wrote that although “St. Joseph was the foster father of Jesus, he never received a sacrament in his life (they weren’t yet instituted). But St. Joseph lived with the Word, listened to it, accepted it, put it into practice, communicated and shared it – so much so that his carpenter’s shop became a school of the Gospel.”

For a few minutes, join me in a journey back to a time long ago and a place far away. Without the risks of contracting any coronavirus or jet lag, we will allow our minds and hearts to transport us to a quaint, yet hallowed ground. We walk into Joseph’s school of the Gospel. Standing in the shadows, off in a corner--unnoticed, we watch the simple, yet intimate drama of foster father and Son engaged in woodworking.

What do we see? The boy, Jesus, assisting Joseph, who was clad in the sweat-stained work clothes of a carpenter. No power saw, electric powered drill, nail gun or electric sander to be found. Sunshine and candlelight, muscle power and faith provided the energy for the carpenter craftsman to accomplish the task at hand.

This carpenter’s workshop must have served as a school for the young Jesus. Clearly, this setting was conducive to learning the skills of the carpentry trade, but so much more would be offered and received. Among many lessons, the skilled carpenter would teach his young Charge about the virtue of patience, the dignity of hard work, need for assistance, respect for God’s creation, and hope in the midst of daunting trials.

As I was reflecting on this Feast Day, I kept returning to Joseph the Carpenter. Maybe it was because my father was a carpenter who built the house my family grew up in, his middle name was Joseph, and his funeral Mass was held on the Feast of St. Joseph. Let me share with you some of life’s lessons I learned, some better than others, from my father, although we did have the advantage of electricity and the use of power tools that made for less sweat.

Patience: the carpenter knows that the wood he crafts must by dry. If it’s too green – if he can manage to saw and nail through it – it will crack and split once it begins to dry. He must wait until the wood is ready to be crafted into the finished product the carpenter intends. Joseph would teach Jesus about patience in woodworking and in life--When the wood is ripe, the time is right. What about the virtue of patience with my own journey of faith? The Master Craftsman continues to mold us in His image. Am I patient with myself and my lifelong formation as a disciple of Christ? Am I patient with those with whom I live and minister?

The carpenter also knows how to let his tools work for him, not against him. I remember learning how to use a hand saw. I would push the saw hard and quickly to make sure it would cut through the piece. I would work up a sweat, often not able to cut along the marked line that I was supposed to follow, even breaking thin pieces of wood that I was sawing because I was pushing too hard, too quickly. I remember my father telling me to let the saw do the work. The teeth in the saw blade would do the cutting, so don’t think you have to force it.

For the times I can’t seem to smooth out my rough edges, will I rely on God’s graces which are ever-present? Grace is abundantly available for me to use. I can’t save myself by myself. In a way, grace is a tool that I can’t harness, but I can allow God’s grace to inundate me, energize and guide me in following Jesus.

A favorite time for me was when my father used the wood lathe. He would put a piece of wood in the lathe, turn it on and, using special lathing tools, make neat carvings in the wood. He crafted a piece of wood into a beautiful and practical piece of art. I especially liked the spindles he would create to be used to support the railings on stairways – beautiful, but necessary guides for those who would use the steps. Beautiful results can be achieved if we let the instruments available to us do what they are meant to do. Again, am I docile to God crafting me according to His design? Do I let go and let God? Salvation is not about self-improvement…God saves us by His own initiative of grace. We must not work against the grace offered by the Master Craftsman. He must increase, I must decrease. God is God, not me.

Another lesson learned was respect for the product of the work crafted. I remember once when a high schooler, for his Eagle Project, in one of my parishes, had made a really impressive picnic table that was placed in the village’s park. It wasn’t there a week when vandals had carved graffiti into the wood and sliced out big segments of the table. The beautiful table was defaced badly. The Eagle Scout was devastated. That was just wood! What must our Creator think about what we do to the human person that God so lovingly crafts and continues to mold in His image and likeness? The unborn, the abused child, the abandoned refugee, the persecuted Christian, the person with whom I live? God forgive us!

Another lesson learned in the carpentry workshop is the value of having someone else around to hold up the other end of the board while the craftsman is fashioning it into the final product he envisions. Holding up the other end as the wood is being sawed or pieces are nailed together makes for a smoother process of transformation. We are not solitary beings. The presence of others helps to lighten the load. Having companions on the journey brings a real source of confidence and hope for each of us as we struggle to follow Jesus.

Sisters of St. Joseph, your community is such a source of hope for your bishop, for the North Country. For decades, you have held up the other end when it comes to educating our youth. You have held up the other end as you have so faithfully tended to the unique needs of our native American sisters and brothers. You hold up the other end in our efforts to catechize our young, including our special ed. students here in the Watertown area. You hold up the other end as you minister to the hurting and as you instruct our deacon candidates.

Within your religious community, your presence and support of ailing sisters, your support and affirmation of the staff here at the Motherhouse--your holding up each other (sometimes literally), gives witness to the lessons you’ve learned in the school of the Gospel held in your patron’s workshop.

These are just a few of the ways in which this blessed community, under the patronage of St. Joseph, beloved Carpenter, holds up the other end as the Lord seeks to fashion each and every one of us as faith-filled children, disciples in mission. And Sisters, those of you who no longer are engaged in active ministry, know how much you hold up the other end in your ministry of prayer. We depend on it so much. It’s so fitting that the foster father of the Creator of the world should be a builder. Congratulations Sisters and associates for your inspiring living out the Gospel of the Word and thank you for helping to build up the Church in the North Country. Happy Feast Day! St. Joseph, pray for us all!

North Country Catholic North Country Catholic is
honored by Catholic Press
Association of US & Canada

Copyright © Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg. All rights reserved.