The Hard And Wholesome Work of Holiness

The Hard And Wholesome Work of Holiness

St Joseph the Worker

On this first day of the month of May, which is traditionally the month of Mary, Holy Mother Church puts before our eyes the figure of her most chaste spouse St Joseph. In the nineteenth century, Blessed Pius IX, under the strain of open persecution, turned to St Joseph, placing the universal Church under his special protection. It was the feast of the patronage of St Joseph, understood as his being protector of the Church just as he was protector of the humanity of our Saviour and that of His most holy Mother. A century later, Pope Pius XII turned to St Joseph and invoked his intercession against the growing tide of atheistic communism. May Day, on which the Communists celebrated the so-called revolution of the proletariat with its distorted concept of human work, was thus transformed, turned on its head as it were, and made into a day on which the Church reflected upon how, from the beginning, God entrusted man with the task of working for his livelihood, of developing his God-given talents, and thus working out his salvation under the influence of Divine Grace.

Almost 70 years have now passed since Pius XII took that initiative. We find ourselves in a very different situation. The very idea of work has changed dramatically with the progress of science. In many countries, a veritable sub-culture of leisure has taken root. The goal seems to be to make a living with as little work as possible. We now have machines, even “intelligent” machines, to do our work for us. Atheism of another kind has spread. It is no longer the overt fight against God, but rather the insidious indifference which organises like as if God did not exist. For all intents and purposes, the world founders in practical atheism. In that context, what does the feast of St Joseph the Worker have to say to us today?

I would propose three points for our reflection: St Joseph’s lively faith, His selfless dedication to the task entrusted to Him by God, His ongoing protection over the Church and her work of saving souls.

First, his lively faith. St Joseph, as a God-fearing Jew, practiced his religion to perfection. All the duties of a fervent Jewish man are to be found in him: his love and respect for God’s law, his loving expectation of the fulfilment of God’s promises, and his dedication to protecting and serving those entrusted to his care, that is to say Our Lady and Our Lord. St Joseph is God’s man of confidence, one He trusted without reserve. He is so great that God knows that the virgin of virgins and His own Son are safe in his strong hands.

Regarding the second point, his dedication to his work, we often think of St Joseph as the carpenter, and indeed that was his profession. He did it well. Every man should seek to become perfect in what he does. The Imitation of Christ tells us that “the man does well who does well what he does”. The pursuit of professional perfection is not optional for any of us. This pursuit however must be accompanied by a holy intention. We seek to do things well, not in order to receive applause, but rather to give greater to God who put us here and endowed us with certain talents that He intends for us to develop. We also seek to atone for our sins by persevering in tasks that are often difficult and a strain on our energies. The Christian man seeks to do things well to provide for his family, not to become rich. It is normal for him to be tired at the end of the day. St Ignatius’ prayer comes to mind:

Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me

to serve as You deserve, 

to give and not to count the cost, 

to fight and not to heed the wounds, 

to toil and not to seek for rest, 

to labour and not to seek reward, 

save that of knowing I do Your most holy will.

Finally, concerning the Church’s work of evangelising and saving souls, this has always been urgent, but never more so than today. There seems to be a general spirit of acedia hovering over the Church today. The loss of sincere conviction that is manifest in so many sectors of our Church is in reality nothing but spiritual sloth, the caving in to the demon of laziness who has succeeded all too well in convincing us that there is no sense in trying too hard, for either it is too late to do anything or God will intervene anyway to turn things around, so we might as well be like Jonah who sits and watches under his tent the destruction of Nineveh. Predictions of the “events of the end times” are essentially copouts to avoid the hard work at hand. No, the work of the Church in preaching the truth has always been and always will be an arduous one, one that demands great effort and dedication. In family life, parents have the duty to evangelise their children, to put them on their guard against all forms of evil and error. In the Church at broad, the priests must not refrain from the difficult task of reminding all the faithful of their duties to God and to their fellow man, of challenging everyone at every level to be converted, to repent, to turn to the Lord and be saved. We must pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on us.

In light of this, it is providential that today is also the Sunday of the Good Shepherd. Just as the patriarch Joseph foreshadowed Our Blessed Lord in providing for the needs of his people, so St Joseph is the good shepherd who brings to us the Bread of Life. In this sense, we can say with confidence that St Joseph is the model of all those whose vocation it is to be a pastor of souls, starting with the Pope and Bishops, and going down to the simple priest and the father of a family, called to feed his wife and children, not only with the food of the body, but also the food of the soul. If a man is truly to imitate St Joseph in his home life, he must know enough about his faith to inculcate it into the minds and hearts of all those who depend upon him for edification. But to teach it effectively, he must first live it. And so we can see that St Joseph is thus the model for all men, for priests teaching them to lay down their lives for their flock like the Good Shepherd, to husbands and fathers of family as well as single men living in the world, to be courageous co-workers of those ineffable designs of Divine providence referred to in today’s oration.

To help us all in this daunting task, let us once again have recourse to that beautiful prayer that Pope St Pius X composed to St Joseph invoked as model of workers:

Glorious St. Joseph, model of all who are devoted to work, obtain for me the grace to work in a spirit of penance, in order thereby to atone for my many sins; to work conscientiously, putting devotion to duty before my own inclinations; to labour with gratitude and joy, deeming it an honour to employ and to develop, by my labour, the gifts I have received from Almighty God; to work with order, peace, moderation, and patience, without ever shrinking from weariness and difficulties; to work above all with a pure intention and with self-detachment, having always before my eyes the hour of death and the accounting which I must then render of time wasted, of talents unemployed, of good undone, and of my empty pride in success, which is so prejudicial to the work of God. All for Jesus, all through Mary, all in imitation of thee, O Patriarch Joseph! This shall be my motto in life and in death. Amen.