(Fr. Guillermo García-Tuñón, S.J. delivered this homily at the St. Joseph the Worker Mass on April 30, 2021, held in the gymnasium of the Roberto C. Goizueta Innovation Center.)
I remember exactly where I was on the morning of November 26, 1984. It was my 15th birthday and I was standing in line at the DMV. I had dreamt for years about getting my restricted driver’s license, a small step towards independence. For months, my father had taken me to the parking lot at St. Timothy’s Catholic Church to practice driving a stick shift car. He insisted that I learn stick shift because he told me that once you learned you would never forget and you never knew when you would have to drive it. It was an insistence that paid off years later when in Brazil and the Dominican Republic as a Jesuit missionary, I had access only to stick shift cars.
After passing my exam and driving my father’s Mercury Cougar back home, I decided to give him the sales pitch I had been preparing for weeks. I reminded him that in a year I would have my license and would be driving on my own. I told him that this sacred rite of passage was going to be most beneficial to him and my mother because it meant that they would be able to depend on me for so many time-consuming errands that bogged them down unnecessarily. I could drive my brothers to school in the morning, I could rush over to “la vaquita” (Farm Stores) to buy a last-minute gallon of milk or loaf of bread, or I could pick up Manny at AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization), Eric at JC’s house, Beto and Tita from my grandparent’s house. I could be the convenient answer to their prayers if only I had a car of my own.
To my surprise, my father agreed with me. He told me with all the work he and my mother had, having my own car would be a God-sent and expressed how he was counting the days when I would become the family chauffeur. He told me the idea was like music to his ears. But he followed up with a catch. He asked me, “How are you going to pay for a car?” What? Me? Pay? The whole purpose of the pitch was to convince him that he should buy a car for me so I could do all of those things. His understanding was that I would do all those things, but I had to buy my own car.
So, a couple of weeks later, as a junior at Belen Jesuit, I sent my application to work on the weekends at a neighborhood ice cream shop. There I spent Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays scooping ice cream and scrounging together enough money to eventually buy a 1973 Volkswagen bug (stick shift of course). It was red. The paint was chipped, it had a little electrical fan on the floor because it had no AC, and the little monster made so much noise you could hear it coming down the street from a mile away. But the car was mine, I had earned it from the sweat of my brow, and, to this day, it was the greatest car I ever owned.
I confess at first, I was upset about having to work for my own car when I was so busy trying to juggle my studies and active social life. I moaned every weekend when I had to put on that God-awful work uniform, and complained under my breath with every scoop of ice cream I had to dish out, but I learned a valuable lesson from my father that has never left me. That experience taught me the value of hard work and money, it helped eliminate any trace of entitlement I may have had, and it ingrained in me a conviction that you appreciate more what you struggle and work hard for.
As I look back on my 51 years of life, I realize those lessons I learned from my father are still very much a part of me. The man I am today has a lot to do with the man my father was and continues to be. If it wasn’t for his example, I don’t know where I would be today or who I would be. The classroom, the seminary, the Jesuits, textbooks and computers have all taught me many valuable and important things, but it was especially my father who taught me esto vir, to be a man.
On May 1st the Church celebrates the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. This was the man that God chose to take on the fatherly role for His Son, Jesus Christ. This was the man who was called to be our Savior’s protector, the redemptoris custos as the big blue wall in our St. Joseph’s patio says. Along with the Blessed Mother, he was the first teacher of Jesus. Joseph was commissioned by God with the task of teaching Jesus to be a man. The important lessons of life were first taught to Jesus by Joseph. The value of hard work, the importance of prayer, the commitment to your moral and religious values, were all lessons taught first to Jesus by Joseph. Just think, Jesus’s first visit to the temple was in the arms of Joseph. At his Bar Mitzvah, Jesus stood next to Joseph. The first hammer he swung, the first plank of wood he sawed, the first fish he caught, the first horse he rode… all Joseph. Jesus learned the value of hard work in that carpenter’s shop in Nazareth right next to St. Joseph.
In 1955, Pope Pius XII had a brilliant idea, at a time when the world was threatened by the evil communist ideology of the Soviet Union, an ideology that saw the massacre of millions and millions of men, women, and children in the gulags of Siberia. An ideology that reduced the dignity of the human condition to what they could produce for the state, reducing him to a simple cog in a machine that owed his loyalty first and only to the communist dictatorship that lorded over him. An ideology that required man to toss off to the side any devotion or commitment to his God or his family in order to better produce. Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of St. Joseph the Worker.
So clear was the Holy Father’s purpose that the feast day was established on May 1st, the same day the communist world celebrates its May Day parades. What the Church celebrates is the beauty of human labor and how it brings dignity to the human person. Work is an integral part of our lives and great good comes from it. Just as the first reading of Genesis tells us, even God worked, for six days, and gave humankind the opportunity to also make good, produce fruit, build great things, and provide for his or her family. And because work is good and necessary, because it builds character and teaches us extraordinary lessons, the conditions of that labor have to be good and just. This is what the Church clearly states by the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker.
This is exactly what the faculty and staff of Belen Jesuit are missioned to do for all Belen students. They are called to do what Joseph did for Jesus. In a caring and nurturing environment, they help raise men. They teach them the value of responsibility, commitment, faith, and service to others. Like St. Joseph, they teach our students that while we may have our plans and goals, we must always be open to putting them aside, even if just for a moment, for the greater good, for a greater call. They teach them that no fulfilling and truly happy future is possible without paying close attention to God’s voice and surrendering our wills to His.
For this reason, we choose this day to recognize and celebrate the 41 women and men who have tirelessly given their lives and talents for the education of our Belen students. From Mr. Patrick Collins who this year celebrates 50 years as a teacher at Belen, to a handful of many others who celebrate 10 years of service, they represent a combined commitment of 795 years of teaching and service. Think about it, sitting right here, right now in this Mass are a combined 795 years of work. Can you imagine the number of lessons taught, exams corrected, field trips taken, classrooms cleaned, buildings built, telephones answered, summer camps organized? Can you imagine the number of men raised and educated?
Belen Jesuit owes a great debt of gratitude to these men and women whose life work we celebrate and recognize today. They are what truly makes our school such a special place. We may have the most beautiful campus in South Florida, the most spectacular traditions and events, the latest technology and gadgets, but without our committed faculty and staff, without these men and women who sit before us this morning, we would be nothing.
On behalf of the Jesuits, our students, faculty, staff, administration, parents, and alumni… thank you for your service. It is with great sincerity that we offer this Mass for you today and ask St. Joseph the Worker to keep a careful watch over you and your families.
Our Lady of Belen… pray for us.