St Joseph the Worker
Solemn Profession of Br Francisco Maria De Brito
Dear Brother Francisco,
I believe it is safe to say that you are being followed. For a long time now you have been pursued by none other than Our Blessed Lady and St Joseph. Through many paths and wanderings they led you to the monastic life, and it all comes together on this first day of May, Our Lady’s month, on a feast dedicated to her most chaste Spouse. We read in the lesson for today’s Mass a passage from Jacob’s mysterious prophecy concerning the patriarch Joseph, in whom the Church has long seen a prefiguration of Our Lady’s Spouse. The God of thy father shall be thy helper, and the Almighty shall bless thee with the blessings of heaven above, with the blessings of the deep that lieth beneath, with the blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of thy father are strengthened with the blessings of his fathers: until the desire of the everlasting hills shall come. (Gen 49)
Beyond the literal meaning of this text in which Jacob calls down God’s blessings upon the posterity of Joseph, we can see a prophetic blessing that is rightly applied to any man who gives his life to God in holy religion as you are doing today. For the blessings of Heaven above we can refer to what Psalm 20 speaks us when it tells us: For thou hast prevented him with blessings of sweetness… thou hast given him length of days for ever and ever (Ps 20:4-5). Indeed, God has prevented you, in the etymological sense of the term, meaning, He has gone before you (pre-venire); He did not wait for you to ask; He stepped into your life when perhaps you were not thinking so much about Him. In the Gospel, Our Lord will say: You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you (Jn 15:16). Such are those blessings from Heaven above which have been offered to you and which you receive in abundance today.
There are also blessings of the deep that lie beneath. What are these blessings of the deep if not the impenetrable designs of Divine Providence, the depth of the thoughts of His Heart, which, as Psalm 32 tells us are from generation to generation… to deliver souls from death and feed them in famine? We can also see in these blessings of the deep those challenges of our lives which, while causing suffering, take us down to a deeper level in our search for God. You have already experienced in the years of your noviciate the truth of those words of the book of Ecclesiasticus: Son, when thou comest to the service of God, … prepare thy soul for temptation… Wait on God with patience: join thyself to God, and endure, … Take all that shall be brought upon thee: and in thy sorrow endure, and in thy humiliation keep patience. For gold and silver are tried in the fire, but acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation (Eccl 2:1-5). It is only by accepting to be tried in that furnace that a man becomes worthy of such a calling, that he truly becomes a monk and wins souls for God.
The blessings of breasts and of the womb: anyone familiar with the writings of St Bernard of Clairvaux will immediately see the application of this blessing to the religious life which is indeed one of spiritual paternity. St Augustine said, referring to those who choose the path of consecrated celibacy, that “they are not without nuptials”, indeed because they are united with God Himself in a chaste, spousal union. But like any such union they are called to bear fruit, to give birth to souls. The monk, be he a priest or a brother it matters not, conceives spiritual children on the hard bed of the cross of his monastic life and he gives birth to them in the depths of his prayer. He feeds them at the breast of his daily sacrifices and spiritual attentiveness. For those who may be surprised by this, hear St Bernard commenting on the Song of Songs: “While the bride is conversing about the Bridegroom, he suddenly appears, yields to her desire by giving her a kiss.… The filling up of her breasts is a proof of this. For so great is the potency of that holy kiss, that no sooner has the bride received it than she conceives and her breasts grow rounded with the fruitfulness of conception; bearing witness, as it were, with this milky abundance. Men with an urge to frequent prayer will have experience of what I say. Often enough when we approach the altar to pray our hearts are dry and lukewarm. But if we persevere, there comes an unexpected infusion of grace, our breast expands as it were, and our interior is filled with an overflowing love; and if somebody should press upon it then, this milk of sweet fecundity would gush forth in streaming richness. Let us hear the Bridegroom ‘You have received, my love, what you asked for, and here is a sign to show you, your breasts are better than wine; henceforth you will know that you have received the kiss because you will be conscious of having conceived’ ”(Sermons on the Canticle, 9, 7).
There is more. Jacob also made reference to the blessings of thy fathers strengthened with the blessings of his fathers until the desire of the everlasting hills shall come. What is this if it is not to say that we are simply the heirs of our forebears who have given us the example and merited for us so many graces? We stand, unworthily for sure but with immense gratitude, in a long line of men who seek to serve the Lord, and that line actually goes back to the very beginning since St Luke in his genealogy of Our Lord, which follows immediately the end of today’s Gospel, takes the ancestors of Jesus all the way back to Adam. We stand not alone, so many have gone before us, and now they are a great cloud of witnesses (cf. Heb 12:1) cheering us on as we take our share of the struggle for souls. If we look back to be inspired by those who went before, we also look forward to the desire of the everlasting hills. We know that this desired one is none other than Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself who has already come in the flesh but who will come again in glory. Monastic life is precisely the loving expectation of the Bridegroom and the continual appeal to Him to hasten the hour of His return, and we know, as we meditated yesterday, that it will be soon, for only a modicum, a little while, separates us from that event towards which all history converges.
All these blessings are offered to you, and through you to us, on this feast in which we honour St Joseph under two titles. Blessed Pius IX wanted this day to be one of incessant prayer to St Joseph as the patron of the universal Church, and God knows the Church is in dire need of his protective intercession at this time. The monk is placed in the heart of the Church and his role is to be the love of that heart, lest it die out and lose its fervour. The monk always stands with the Church and he is happy to suffer with her, for her and even from her, for he knows that she and her eternal bridegroom are but one, and that he cannot have God for Father who has not the Church for Mother.
Venerable Pius XII for his part sought to honour St Joseph on this day as the model of workers. He did so as an answer to the abuses of both Communism and Capitalism. For the former, a worker is worth only what he produces; he is a cog in the gigantic wheel of the State, to be used and disposed of according to needs: man is dehumanised. For the latter, the worker achieves his purpose when he succeeds in enriching himself and others in order to provide for a maximum amount of leisure and pleasure. Whereas for Communism, there is no time for leisure and no need for it, since man is just a robot and a slave, for Capitalism the entire goal of the manoeuvre is to produce great amounts and quickly so that man could have longer holidays and “be free” do what we pleases. Both systems destroy man by ignoring the very reason for which God placed him in a garden and commanded him to work. They ignore the dignity of human effort to achieve God’s plan in history by cooperating with His grace, by being secondary causes of what He intends to produce in the world and in souls.
The monastic life is part of God’s answer to the abuse of human work, and it is particularly true of the monk lay brother. The monk indeed is called to prayer and work – ora et labora – but he is neither a robot nor a profiteer. By his work he develops God-given talents that he puts at the disposal of his community and its guests whom St Benedict admonishes us to receive as if they were Christ Himself; the monk imitates St Joseph and Christ Himself who made a living at the sweat of their brow. The very structure of the monastic life assures that work is kept in its place and that the leisure time is precisely devoted to the otium sanctum, that holy idleness that our fathers held so dear, the hours of leisure with God, to be with Him, to be before Him, to play and rejoice in His presence always as beloved children, contributing all the while to making the beauty of God more visible in the world, helping all to taste and see how sweet the Lord is (Ps 33).
And so my dear Brother Francisco Maria, as you offer your life to God on this day at this sacred altar, before God’s people, let the love of Christ embrace you and set you aflame with its perfection. May you love Him with all the strength of your mind and heart; may many souls be led to follow your example and may the most Sacred Heart of Our Lord be immensely consoled by your humble efforts. Like St Francisco Marto may you be taken up with the thought of consoling Our Lord. May you share his zeal, his generosity and above all his love.
Finally, may you be like the grape whose vine digs deep roots in the soil (the blessings of the deep) and matures slowly under the strong rays of the Tasmanian sun (the blessings of heaven above), and that becomes, through the process of being pruned, then pressed and crushed and losing itself, a sweet wine that is poured into the hearts of men to give them joy and lead them to sing with renewed vigour the glory of the Most High Jesus Christ, through Mary Immaculate, the wonderful Lady of Cana and her most chaste spouse, St Joseph.