Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Joseph the Worker

Today's feast of St. Joseph the Worker is meant to highlight the dignity of work. Work isn't only a means to an end, though it is true enough that (as the ancients said) "we work so that we may have leisure." We work because we are made in God's image: ideally, work allows us to create something. This makes unemployment (and underemployment) such a demeaning experience: forced leisure seems to stymie the very will to create. And that is a spiritual problem.

I didn't know it when I entered the convent, but my community had a unique spirituality of labor. It was something the Founder grew up with as the son of tenant farmers--even before he went to primary school, he was expected to hold the lantern high while the grown-ups and older children toiled into the night at harvest time. When his little arms grew tired and some of the precious yield was lost in the shadows, the call was sure to come: "James, the light!"  Meditating on this experience in the light of Jesus' long years as a laborer, Alberione contemplated the redemptive value of work. "Jesus redeemed humanity with the sweat of his brow long before redeeming us by sweating blood in Gethsemane." In entrusting the hard, sweaty work of printing to our first sisters and brothers, he described their labor as a form of preaching, a priestly ministry. And so our community prayers to St Joseph speak of the head of the Holy Family as "work-teacher to the Son of God, who became a humble laborer for us."

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