Lifeworks in Nazareth
Earlier we saw something of the kind of work that filled the days of the Holy Family of Nazareth. But their various tasks, sanctifying though they were, formed but a part of the larger work-plan designed for each of them by the God of providence. This work-plan was in effect the specific lifework assigned them by the Eternal Father. And the safe and sure guideline he provided for the fulfilment of this lifework lay in their adherence to his holy will. The psalmist's words would have served ideally as a motto for their humble home: To do thy will, O my God, is all my desire; to carry out that law of thine which is written in my heart (Ps 39:9). We know what the lifework of Jesus was. We also know from the gospels that, from start to finish, it was a masterpiece of perfect conformity in all things and at all times to his Father's will. Accordingly the Son of God would come into this world as its Incarnate Redeemer and offer his life for the salvation of the human race. For his God-given goal, his underlying mission, his burning desire throughout his earthly days was to be humanity's Victim-Savior. This prompted Chesterton to remark that Christ is the only man ever to come into this world with the express purpose of dying. And his death work set the seal on his lifework. Hence he could say at the end, "Consummatum est." For his lifework as planned by the Father had been accomplished. We also know what Mary's lifework was and that it was no less a masterpiece of perfect conformity to the Father's will. Essentially her role was to be not only the Redeemer's mother but, in a subordinate and secondary capacity, the Co-redemptrix of all the graces he won for us. This honorable role was merited by Mary through her close and lifelong union with the Redeemer, reaching its climax when she co-offered with him her own maternal anguish and sorrow while his great act of redemption was being accomplished in the agony of Good Friday. As for St. Joseph's lifework, it is summed up by the Church when it describes him as "the just and obedient man who helped to carry out the great mysteries of our salvation" (8). He rendered that help in his capacity as the Holy Family's guardian, provider and head. And, in carrying out these duties, he made it humanly possible for "his two treasures" each to accomplish the lifework required of them by the Father. In a word, St. Joseph's whole lifework was to serve and support theirs. This explains why, apart from Mary's, no human lifework could possibly be higher or holier than that of her spouse.
Our Personal Lifework
As with the illustrious Nazareth trio, every single human person has been entrusted by the Creator with a special lifework - one made and measured for each of us personally so that we might give him maximum glory and service. John Paul II's maxim emphasizes this principle. "Everyone," it says, "has a special something to do for God." Again as with the Holy Family, the general guideline we are to follow in performing our lifework is to be found in doing the divine will at all times. What Christ said of himself in this matter should become the lodestar of our lives: "My meat is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish the task he gave me" (Jn 4:34). But can it be said that each of us has been "sent" by God? The answer is Yes. God's gift of a lifetime's task to everyone clearly implies that they have received from him a corresponding mission and purpose. And though the precise pattern of that lifework may at times be difficult to discern, it remains ever with us as we make our pilgrim-way down the years. And the whole point of our pilgrimage, as St. Ignatius saw so clearly, is that we praise, reverence and serve our Creator and thereby save our souls. It goes without saying, then, that the perfect fulfillment of God's plan should be our overriding aim in life. And here we can draw much help from the Holy Spirit's gift of wisdom. For its essential benefit is that it gives us a true perspective on life, enabling us to view it not only as a divine gift but as a sacred task committed to us on earth. Only in eternal life will we fully grasp the scope and grandeur of what we have done for our Creator and Redeemer; also we shall there see how we have helped others - please God, many others - to reach the same glorious destination. Newman saw deeply into all these realities (9): Each person has a mission. God has created me to do him some special service. He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another...I have my mission - I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good. I shall do his work...He does nothing in vain. He knows what he is about.
Joseph and Our Work
The Church reminds us, appropriately enough on the feast of Joseph the Worker, that God has called man "to develop and use his gifts for the good of others." And the saint, who was officially instituted as Patron of Workers by Pius XII, is petitioned in the liturgy to "help us do the work that God has asked" (10). Besides Pius XII, every single pontiff from Pius IX up till the present incumbent has contributed richly to the "garland of honors" heaped upon the Carpenter of Nazareth, many of their tributes being directed to him as the model and patron of workers. To give two examples: Pius X recommended us in a well-known prayer to ask Joseph, among other favors, for the grace "to work in a spirit of thanksgiving and joy." And John XXIII, in an equally well-known prayer, makes special mention of the saint's special charism for "transforming work into a means of high sanctification." As we saw earlier, our workplace, whatever it happens to be, is holy ground. And it becomes holier in the measure that we learn and live the Nazareth workshop's golden lesson: work is a gospel - the gospel of love and service. In Kahlil Gibran's famous line, "work is love made visible" (11). But the last word on this subject is best left to that celebrated tent-maker who, we can be quite sure, would have practiced what he preached: Whatever your work is, put your heart into it as if it were for the Lord and not for men...It is Christ the Lord that you are serving (Col 3:23-24).
The preceding was excerpted from St. Joseph, Patron of the Triumph, Queenship, 2002.
(1) Leo XIII: Neminem Fugit
(2) John Paul II: Laborem Exercens
(3) Vatican II: Gaudium et Spes, 22
(4) John Paul II: Redemptoris Custos, 22
(5) Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church: # 2427
(6) John Paul II: ibid.
(7) Gerard Manley Hopkins: Collected Poems: "Work"
(8) Votive Mass of St. Joseph: Post-Communion Prayer
(9) Cardinal John Henry Newman: Meditations and Devotions
(10) Votive Mass of St. Joseph the Worker: Opening Prayer
(11) Kahlil Gibran: The Prophet.