St. Joseph and the Dignity of Work

St. Joseph, the human father of Jesus and husband of Mary, is honored on two days by the Catholic Church.  Today is one of those days –  the memorial of St. Joseph the Worker, a memorial instituted by Pope Pius XII and dedicated to the dignity of labor and to honoring workers.

In his Encyclical Laborem Exercens, John Paul II described work as one of the central characteristics that distinguishes humans from other creatures. “Only man is capable of work, and only man works, at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth. Thus work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its interior characteristics; in a sense it constitutes its very nature.” Work is thus “a fundamental dimension of man’s existence on earth.”

The source of the view of work as fundamental to human existence is our creation in the image of God. Created in the image of God, human participate in the act of creation through our work.  From the standpoint of Catholic thought, all work, no matter how ordinary or mundane it seems, is an act of cooperation with God’s creative work. This might be a useful thing for us to keep in mind, both as we contemplate those aspects of our own work that may at times seem less than exhiliarating and as we encounter those working in jobs we dont’ typically value.

On this day on which we remember St. Joseph the Worker, we pray in a special way for all workers and we pray that we may develop and use the gifts God has given us to do the work to which He has called us.

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It Was With Providence That I Created You

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of  St. Catherine of Siena, a mystic and the first woman to be named a doctor of the Church.

Most of what we know about the fruits of  Catherine’s prayer life comes from a work titled The Dialogue, which Catherine started writing two years before her death, and which is now hailed as a classic of Western spirituality.  The work records a series of questions she put to God and God’s responses to her.

Here is one excerpt in which God speaks to Catherine of his love.  Perhaps you might sit with the passage, hearing God speak to you personally the words God spoke to Catherine. 

It was with providence that I created you, and when I contemplated my creature in myself I fell in love with the beauty of my creation.  It pleased me to create you in my image and likeness with great providence.  I provided you with the gift of memory so that you might hold fast my benefit and be made a sharer in my own, the eternal Father’s power.  I gave you understanding so that in the wisdom of my only-begotten Son you might comprehend and know what I the eternal Father want, I who gave you graces with such burning love.  I gave you a will to love, making you a sharer in the Holy Spirit’s mercy, so that you might love what your understanding sees and knows.  All this my gentle providence did, only that you might be capable of understanding and enjoying me and rejoicing in my goodness by seeing me eternally.

Ask yourself:

What does it mean to you to know that God looks at you and falls in love with your beauty?

What does it mean to you to be created in God’s image?

 What are the unique gifts God gifted you with out of his love for you?

Mark’s Human Jesus

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Mark the Evangelist.  Mark’s Gospel is thought to be the first of the four written (he is generally thought to be one of the sources used by Matthew and Luke) and his Gospel is the shortest of the four.

Mark records very few of the spoken words of Jesus, putting the focus on Jesus’ actions: calming the storm, walking on the waves, feeding the multitudes, curing the ill and raising the dead. Perhaps because there is less emphasis on words, we find in Mark vivid descriptions, with small details not found in the other two synoptic Gospels.

On the one hand, Mark is quite clear in his emphasis on Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah. On the other, in the words of Fr. Joseph Mindling,

With an eye for detail not always recorded by the other gospels, Mark shows fascinating aspects of the human side of the Messiah as well: That Jesus liked to eat with his friends, that he used a litte pillow to sleep on in the boat, that he hugged little children and enjoyed being with them, that he did not always hide strong emotions, that he used mud in the performance of a miracle, that he listened carefully to the parents of a little girl who had died, and that he was fearful before he himself died. Individually, many of these observations may not catch our attention, but collectively they deepen our understanding of what it meant for the Son of God to take on our human nature and share our everyday life.

Fully divine, yes. But also fully human. And Mark’s Gospel gives us a vehicle through which to explore that humanity.

Jesus, Our Savior

Blessings to all on this Good Friday!

Michael Joncas created this hymn for Good Friday, titled Jesus, Our Savior.  Fr. Joncas writes that the hymn “invites the worshipping assembly to contemplate the Crucified One and to seek the virtues Jesus demonstrated in his Passion.”  I share it here for your contemplation this day.

Jesus, our Savior, facing your betrayer,
threatened by violence, shielding your disciples;
Jesus, our Savior, healing wounded Malchus:
fill us with mercy.

Jesus, Messiah, questioned on your teaching,
corned by the elders, speaking truth to power;
Jesus, Messiah, bound and sent to Pilate:
trengthen our witness.

Jesus, our Sovereign, shunning earthly kingship,
mocked by the soldiers, scourged, yet clothed in purple;
 Jesus, our Sovereign, thorns your royal circlet:
make us true servants.

Suffering Servant, crucified with brigands,
caring for kinsfolk as the end drew nearer;
Suffering Servant, bringing all completion:
teach us compassion.

Jesus, our Savior, at your sacred Passion,
your Crucifixion, Death and Resurrection,
all lost in wonder, we will sing your praises,
ow and for ever.

(From: We Contemplate the Mystery: The Michael Joncas Hymnary: Lent and Triduum)

Do We Give Glory or Contribute to Jesus’ Suffering?

Today we celebrate Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week.  At Catholic Masses and some Protestant services, people  will process into church waving palms, celebrating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  We hear in our Scripture that as Jesus rides along on a donkey, people shout “Hosanna” and lay palm branches before his path.

In one respect, the scene seems like a cruel mockery because we know what awaits Jesus. As I pray with the scene, I imagine that many of the same people who should “Hosanna” as Jesus rides into Jerusalem will, in only a few days, scream out, “Crucify Him.”

I think there is an invitation here to reflect on the juxtaposition of these two events.  Today will march into our churches, waving our palms and crying out, just as the people of Jerusalem did, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Then, as we will again on Good Friday, we will listen to a gospel account of The Passion of our Lord, in our turn, crying out Crucify Him.

We could treat it all as playacting, with us simply playing the roles of the crowds in the two scenes. Or we could use it for an opportunity for serious reflection, recognizing that our words and deeds each day either give glory to Jesus or contribute toward his suffering.

Some questions to consider:

When am I like one or another of those crowds?

Do I recognize and celebrate Jesus when I encounter Him?

Are there times when my words or actions are the equivalent of the crowds crying for Jesus’ crucifixion?

Note: For a similar invitation to reflection, see the post of Sr. Maria Elizabeth Nakku here.

Christus Vivit

Pope Francis’ Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Christus Vivit has just been released.  I have not yet had a chance to read it, but you can read the document in its entirety here.

Although directly addressed to “all Christian young people”, Francis says upfront that he is “also addressing this message to the entire People of God, pastors and faithful alike, since all of us are challenged and urged to reflect both on the young and for the young.”

Feel free to comment with any reactions if you have read the document.  As always it is good to read the document yourself, rather than rely on summaries by others.

The Older Brother

I offered a reflection on the Gospel at the Masses at Church of St. Thomas More in St. Paul this weekend.  The Gospel was Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son.  I invited parishioners to consider what they might learn from each of the characters in that story, starting with the older brother.

At some level, who doesn’t have at least some sympathy for the older brother, especially those of us who are oldest children, who feel like we do most of the work.  James Martin refers to the son’s complaint that he worked so hard for years and never got even a young goat to celebrate with his friends and writes

In one explosive sentence, the son vents the feelings of all those who have ever felt ignored or underappreciated for their hard work.  In my experience, most Christians are trying to lead good lives and therefore are more like the dutiful elder son than the wastrel younger one.  We are more likely to feel the older son’s emotions: resentment over not being appreciated, jealousy over the success of someone who does not “deserve” it, anger at what we deem as favoritism, and sadness at feeling excluded.

We do not always express our feelings as explosively as does the older brother, but we know his feeling; we often at least secretly harbor resentment that we are not treated as we should be treated, not rewarded as we deserve to be.  Even Henri Nouwen admitted in his book The Return of the Prodigal Son

Often I catch myself complaining about little rejections, little impolitenesses, little negligence.  Time and again I discover within me that murmuring, whining, grumbling, lamenting, and griping that go on and on even against my will.  The more I dwell on the matters in question, the worse my state becomes.  The more I analyze it, the more reason I see for complaint.  And the more deeply I enter it, the more complicated it gets.  There is an enormous, dark drawing power to this inner complaint.  Condemnation of others and self-condemnation, self-righteousness and self-rejection keep reinforcing each other in an ever more vicious way.

The older son is trapped by his resentment, and it is worthwhile for us to examine ways we can so easily resonate with older son’s point of view.

For example, it is good for those who have long been part of the church (who have been with the father always) to recognize aspects of own sinfulness, not just the sinfulness of those not part of the in-group.

It is important for us to ask: When does pride, jealousy, anger/resentment, self-righteousness get in the way of us rejoicing with God?

The older son embellishes his brother’s sinfulness (he speaks of prostitutes, which is not in the description of what the younger son does) – where are we guilty of exaggerating the shortcomings of those in our midst?

These kinds of questions are important because, as St. Ignatius would tell us, for those of us trying to lead lives of prayer, trying to live in the way Jesus invites us, the temptations to sin are subtle.  And so we need to be attuned to the kinds of feelings experienced by the older brother and where they lead us.

Note: You can listen to the entirety of my reflection here.