Work is a Good Thing

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A number of years ago, a young man went to work in a limestone quarry. He worked all day outdoors in all types of weather. He broke up stone and carried buckets of lime on a wooden yoke across his shoulders. His hands cracked from the labor and bitter cold of the elements. He was a smart man, capable of many things, but harsh circumstances left him few options. He later recalled this time as one of hardship and monotony, the work as alienating and frustrating.

The man persevered, the times changed, and with the grace of God he went on to greater things. From his experiences he learned the value of meaningful work. He would later write:

Work is a good thing for man. It corresponds to man’s dignity, expresses this dignity and increases it. Work is a good thing for his humanity because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but also achieves fulfillment as a human being, and indeed in a sense becomes ‘more a human being.’

These words appeared in the encyclical “On Human Work” written by Pope John Paul II. The document expresses how the Church sees work as fundamentally important to living a fully human life. When a person works, the work in turn “works” on the person. Work shapes us, it forms us, it builds character. Work can also destroy us. Work can be used to degrade and oppress people. The type of work we do, or the lack of work at all, can leave a gaping hole in our humanity. Then we do not experience the dignity of people created in the image and likeness of God. The Pope saw this himself when he became a working man during the Nazi occupation of his native Poland.

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(Pope John Paul II during his time working in a quarry, 1940’s.)

Work is serious business. Ideally work should be an invigorating challenge. We are lucky if it seems like play. Unfortunately for many people, work is a “problem.” Getting trained for work, getting transportation to work, finding work that provides security, work that pays the bills, work that realizes our potential, work that is a blessing to us and to others, work that supports our dignity — these are serious problems for many people today.

For help with these problems, we look to our patron, St. Joseph. God chose Joseph to be a father to Jesus for a reason. God knew that in his workshop, Joseph would not only teach Jesus how to be a carpenter, but how to be a human being. Working side by side with Joseph during the long years of His hidden life, Jesus learned the life of virtue.

Jesus blessed the working life through the Incarnation. Work can be redeeming. It can bring healing and growth to a person’s life.

May 1 is the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. We pray:

Good Saint Joseph, with your abilities you supported your family and served your community. In your daily work you made more than tables and chairs; you crafted virtue, and forged your soul. Help me to make my work a means of holiness, too.

Saint Joseph, carpenter of Nazareth, come to the aid of those who are unemployed and those burdened with oppressive work.

Amen.

If Today You Hear His Voice

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Here is a story from our founder, Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling, about her discernment to leave the Little Sisters of the Poor and begin a new ministry with the poor. Pictured above is the promise she professed to God after starting the Joseph House as a layperson.

“I felt that if God asked me to go in [the Little Sisters of the Poor], I left the other things I was doing to go, so if He asked me to come out I should come out. I was 50 years old when I came to that conclusion [in 1964]. And I had been in there for about 21 years.

“I had this confessor who was of a French order also so he was kind of the same culture mind as I was trying to escape. And I went to him and said that I really feel God is calling me to leave here and to go and work with the poor where they are, and not have them come in and only be able to handle this small number because we had to have them come in to help them. And he said, ‘I don’t want to hear about it, I don’t have much time today to hear confessions. I just don’t want to hear about it.’ So I thought I guess God doesn’t want to hear about it either.

“I waited for a while. In fact, I waited for almost five years. I was so troubled by it, I was so pushed by some force to leave there and start something myself. I had no idea how to do it or when to do it or how I was going to go about it. But I had this impulse that I couldn’t seem to overcome and I got tired of battling with it. So I said to the Lord, ‘Look, I’ll do anything You want me to do but I have to know that You want me to do it and I want You to at least give me the assurance that this is something You want and not just something that I dreamed of.’ So I kind of put Him to the test.

“I went to confession to the same priest who told me he didn’t want to hear about it, and that gave me a kind of safety because I said to myself I am not looking up someone who agrees with me, I am not going outside of here to find someone who I think will find these nuns old-fashioned and agree that I should go. I am going to the same guy who told me he doesn’t want to hear about it. I went back to Father and I said to him, ‘I talked to you about five years ago about the fact that I think God is calling me to leave here and to go work with the poor differently.’

“And before I went to him I went up to the altar rail and I said to the Lord, ‘Look I have to settle this, I can’t stay here unsettled like this. I am going to give You 5 minutes to get him ready for me and to give him the answer that You want him to have for me and then I am going in there and I am going to ask him does he think I should do this or doesn’t he. And whatever he tells me to do I am going to do and I don’t want to hear from You again.’ [laughter]

“And so I waited and then I went back to confession and I said to him that I had been there 5 years before and he said, ‘Yes, I remember that.’

“And I said, ‘I really feel God is calling me to leave and to start something that would take care of the poor where they are. Because you could do a lot more for them, and it is not necessary for them to give up what they have.’

“And he said to me, ‘Well I think God is calling you to that.’

“And I thought, ‘Now why did he have to say that? Now I have to.’ [laughter]

“And I am thinking of all of this stuff, ‘Now what do I do? What do I do?’”

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Always say yes to God and He will fill you with His happiness.

– John Paul II

Hail the Cross

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Msgr. Thomas Craven, who was a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, was known to some of us at the Joseph House. When he died in 2004, he was buried in a handmade wooden casket. As per his wishes, a Latin phrased was inscribed on the casket lid: Ave Crux Spes Unica. In translation, “Hail the Cross, our only hope.”

How can we begin to make sense of this phrase?

Charles de Foucauld meditated frequently on the cross. In a letter to his sister, he wrote:

“Through the cross we are united to Him, who was nailed on it, our heavenly spouse. Every instant of our lives must be accepted as a favor, with all that it brings of happiness and suffering. But we must accept the cross with more gratitude than anything else. Our crosses detach us from earth and therefore draw us closer to God.”

The cross has meaning only in its relationship to Jesus. It is a mystery of faith, but to share in the cross is to share in the love of Jesus, who is our hope — for this life and the one to come.

Holy Week is a special time to consider the cross, the one that Jesus carried and the one fashioned for each one of us.

St. Joseph: Patron of Vatican Council II

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Saint John XXIII had a great devotion to St. Joseph and was sometimes called the Pope of St. Joseph.

On this day in 1961, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, he named St. Joseph as the patron and protector of the Second Vatican Council.

The Council, an opportunity to “throw open the windows of the Church,” addressed the renewal of church life in the modern world. The role of the laity received attention, and it is fitting that St. Joseph was declared to be the Council’s patron.

Consider this passage from Lumen Gentium, one of the principal Council documents. It pertains to the universal call to holiness:

“The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one — that sanctity which is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who obey the voice of the Father and worship God the Father in spirit and in truth. These people follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross-bearing Christ in order to be worthy of being sharers in His glory. Every person must walk unhesitatingly according to his own personal gifts and duties in the path of living faith, which arouses hope and works through charity.”

As the Head of the Holy Family and the carpenter of Nazareth, St. Joseph is the prime example of the holiness found in everyday living.

The above picture shows a mosaic from the sanctuary dome at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC (nationalshrine.com). It depicts St. Joseph as the protector of the church and the patron of families and working people. On the right is John XXIII presiding at the Second Vatican Council.

Our eyes are always drawn to the strong hands of Joseph as he holds the Child Jesus in his arms. We too can rest in the heavenly protection of St. Joseph. Perhaps if you have never been to the Shrine you will one day make a visit and see this magnificent mosaic in person.

Beautiful Names

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Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling was very deliberate in choosing the names of the two organizations she founded.

The Joseph House was named in honor of St. Joseph. Sister said that if God trusted Joseph to care for Mary and Jesus, then she could trust him, too. She always referred to St. Joseph as our provider and protector.

The name of the religious community Sr. Mary Elizabeth founded was also carefully chosen. In her words:

“The beautiful name God has given us of ‘Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary’ should be the explanation of our lives. We must become true ‘little sisters’ of Jesus present in the hearts of our brothers and sisters in the world and present in the Eucharist. We must look to our Mother and older Sister Mary as a model of how to live with our brother and Lord Jesus. And in company of Joseph and Mary our lives should be directed towards and emanate from the Eucharistic Jesus who lives in our midst.”