01 May 2010

Work and the Primacy of the Interior Life

Work was the daily expression of love in the life of the Family of Nazareth. The Gospel specifies the kind of work Joseph did in order to support his family: he was a carpenter. This simple word sums up Joseph’s entire life. For Jesus, these were hidden years, the years to which Luke refers after recounting the episode that occurred in the Temple: ‘And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them’ (Luke 2:51). This ‘submission’ or obedience of Jesus in the house of Nazareth should be understood as a sharing in the work of Joseph. Having learned the work of His presumed father, He was known as ‘the carpenter's son’. If the Family of Nazareth is an example and model for human families, in the order of salvation and holiness, so too, by analogy, is Jesus’ work at the side of Joseph the carpenter. In our own day, the Church has emphasized this by instituting the liturgical memorial of Saint Joseph the Worker on May 1. Human work, and especially manual labour, receive special prominence in the Gospel. Along with the humanity of the Son of God, work too has been taken up in the mystery of the Incarnation, and has also been redeemed in a special way. At the workbench where he plied his trade together with Jesus, Joseph brought human work closer to the mystery of the Redemption.

In the human growth of Jesus in wisdom, age and grace, the virtue of industriousness played a notable role, since work is a human good which transforms nature and makes man in a sense, more human.

The importance of work in human life demands that its meaning be known and assimilated in order to help all people to come closer to God, the Creator and Redeemer, to participate in His salvific plan for man and the world, and to deepen friendship with Christ in their lives, by accepting, through faith, a living participation in His threefold mission as Priest, Prophet and King.

What is crucially important here is the sanctification of daily life, a sanctification which each person must acquire according to his or her own state, and one which can be promoted according to a model accessible to all people: Saint Joseph is the model of those humble ones that Christianity raises up to great destinies; he is the proof that in order to be a good and genuine follower of Christ, there is no need of great things -- it is enough to have the common, simple and human virtues, but they need to be true and authentic.

The same aura of silence that envelops everything else about Joseph also shrouds his work as a carpenter in the house of Nazareth. It is, however, a silence that reveals in a special way the inner portrait of the man. The Gospels speak exclusively of what Joseph did. Still, they allow us to discover in his ‘actions’ -- shrouded in silence as they are -- an aura of deep contemplation. Joseph was in daily contact with the mystery ‘hidden from ages past’, and which ‘dwelt’ under his roof.

The total sacrifice, whereby Joseph surrendered his whole existence to the demands of the Messiah's coming into his home, becomes understandable only in the light of his profound interior life. It was from this interior life that very singular commands and consolations came, bringing him also the logic and strength that belong to simple and clear souls, and giving him the power of making great decisions -- such as the decision to put his liberty immediately at the disposition of the divine designs, to make over to them also his legitimate human calling, his conjugal happiness, to accept the conditions, the responsibility and the burden of a family, but, through an incomparable virginal love, to renounce that natural conjugal love that is the foundation and nourishment of the family.

In Joseph, the apparent tension between the active and the contemplative life finds an ideal harmony that is only possible for those who possess the perfection of charity. Joseph experienced both love of the truth -- that pure contemplative love of the divine Truth which radiated from the humanity of Christ -- and the demands of love -- that equally pure and selfless love required for his vocation to safeguard and develop the humanity of Jesus, which was inseparably linked to His divinity.

This just man, who bore within himself the entire heritage of the Old Covenant, was also brought into the ‘beginning’ of the New and Eternal Covenant in Jesus Christ. May he show us the paths of this saving Covenant.

May Saint Joseph obtain for the Church and for the world, as well as for each of us, the blessing of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

~ Pope John Paul II ~