GREENVILLE — Mike Aquilina, a popular Catholic author of more than 60 books, including “St. Joseph and His World,” weaved his extensive knowledge of early church history into an engaging presentation on the life and works of St. Joseph that served as the second official event of the diocese’s 150th anniversary celebration.
In his evening talk at St. Philip Church on Sept. 21, Aquilina, who also serves as executive vice president of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and hosts the “Way of the Father” podcast for Catholic Culture, spoke of how this Year of St. Joseph, proclaimed by Pope Francis last Dec. 8, calls us to an extraordinary act of remembrance of this saint whose actions have continued to speak volumes over the past 2,000 years.
“In this diocese St. Joseph has been richly venerated,” Aquilina told the crowd.
“From the beginning, you laid the foundations for St. Joseph’s Church on Hope Street in Providence in 1851. Other churches would be raised in the patriarch’s honor in Cumberland, in 1872; and in Central Falls in 1905,” he added, noting two of many examples of continued reverence for the husband of Mary, a craftsman who spoke only through his trade.
He spoke of how the New Testament refers to St. Joseph the Worker as a “tekton,” using the Greek term for craftsman. St. Joseph is renowned for his dedicated performance of manual labor.
St. Joseph lived in good times for men of his trade, with the region undergoing a building boom under King Herod, who ruled the Holy Land for 30 years.
“More than any other king he was known for his architectural skill and his excellent taste. He was known for his architectural work,” he said, noting how Herod directed the building of a marketplace in ancient Antioch that became a model for the world with its boulevard serving as the first thoroughfare in history to be illuminated by street lamps.
Uttering not a single word on the written record, St. Joseph made an impact with his strong work ethic.
“We remember many saints for what they said… But St. Joseph, we remember for shutting up and getting things done,” Aquilina said.
Through that work, St. Joseph played a key role in human history, and was present at the turning point of salvation.
“And he was not only an eye witness, he was an active participant. We’re here today because we want to read the signs of his life and consider their significance in our own lives,” he said.
Early Christians, learning from the examples of Jesus and St. Joseph, knew that their work also was holy. This understanding of the joy in spirit gained by staying true to their tasks has led the Christians of today to put their works upon the altars of their faith.
The new Christian faith led the faithful away from abandoning their duties. Instead, they excelled in them. This distinguished Christianity from other world religions.
“When we work like St. Joseph we co-create with God. We perform our labors with a touch more powerful than the touch of King Midas. Everything King Midas touched turns to gold; everything we touch turns to glory,” Aquilina said.
“It’s not that we repair dishwashers better or raise better crops, or write more beautiful poetry than the pagans do. But it means that we place all that we have on the altar and that changes everything.”
Alicia Connaughton, who was proud to have attended the first two events of the diocesan sesquicentennial celebration, said she thoroughly enjoyed Aquilina’s presentation.
“It was such a thrill knowing that he would be here tonight. I had to be here,” said Connaughton, recalling how she had seen Aquilina on a television program with Dr. Scott Hahn and admired his message.
“To have someone say out loud that the jobs our men do are so important and valuable to living, it’s going to save us. It’s the dignity of work,” she said.
Rollice Ernst said Aquilina’s message was refreshingly different than one that would normally be heard.
“The angle on work was important and not said enough,” Ernst said.
“In our society everybody’s trying to get ahead. But what happens, they win the lottery and then they quit. They don’t realize that happiness may come from doing our ordinary chores.”
Margaret Philbrook works as an upholsterer alongside a woman whose trade involves weaving and dyeing fabrics.
“We believe in recycling, restoring and renewing,” she said. “What he said was beautiful; it isn’t leisure that should lead us, it is work.”
Aquilina’s presentation was sponsored by St. Philip Parish’s Men of St. Joseph organization.
Keith Kline, principal of St. Philip School and coordinator of the parish’s Men of St. Joseph, said it was an honor to be able to spend a few hours before the program enjoying dinner and talking with Aquilina about his work.
“I can see why God has called him to speak about St. Joseph. Married to his wife Terri of 36 years, with six children and many grandchildren, I can see why the Lord has called him to this great talk tonight,” Kline said.
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin introduced Aquilina by noting how their paths first crossed in 1993, when he served as auxiliary bishop in Pittsburgh and Aquilina was the editor of the Pittsburgh Catholic, the diocesan newspaper.
He joked that the diocese trained him so well that he went on to bigger and better things, noting his prolific writing of Catholic books and his work with EWTN, the religious network on which he has co-hosted 11 television series.
“We’re so honored truly because of his distinguished service to the church,” Bishop Tobin said in introducing Aquilina to headline one of the inaugural events in the diocese’s sesquicentennial celebration.
“This is one of the first programs in observance of our anniversary and so we’re very excited about that and think our anniversary will be a source of many graces and blessings for our diocesan Church as we not only thank God for the past but also embrace the challenges, gifts and blessings of the future as well.”
He said that in the midst of the Year of St. Joseph, one of the primary ways one can observe the year is to learn more about his life and the indelible mark on the faith that his works have made.
“This is truly a blessed opportunity, a blessed event for us to come together this evening,” he said.
“I’m so truly proud to be your bishop. It’s been a wonderful time in my life.”