The Work of Human Hands
We fittingly begin the Month of Mary by remembering St Joseph, Our Lady's "most chaste spouse". The above image from the altar of St Joseph in the Dominican Convent at Stone in Staffordshire combines some ideas for this day - St Joseph the worker, who oversees Our Lord's carpentry and Our Lady who looks on. Such ideas are echoed in the hymn provided in the English Breviary for today:
"Joseph, the scriptures love to trace
The glories of thy kingly line;
Yet no succession of thy race,
No long posterity was thine -
Of her the everlasting spouse
Who must a Virgin ever be,
The faithful ruler of His house
Who owns no fatherhood in thee.
And though thy Son were God indeed,
Over that home no angels sang,
But still, through years of toil and need,
Hammer and mallet bravely rang;
And surely 'twas a gracious thing
When, standing at His father's knee,
The world's great Craftsman and its King
Not king but craftsman learned to be."
In this way, St Joseph and Our Lord shows us the dignity of human labours. Thus Pope John Paul II taught: "And yet, in spite of all this toil - perhaps, in a sense, because of it - work is a good thing for man. Even though it bears the mark of a bonum arduum, in the terminology of Saint Thomas, this does not take away the fact that, as such, it is a good thing for man. It is not only good in the sense that it is useful or something to enjoy; it is also good as being something worthy, that is to say, something that corresponds to man's dignity, that expresses this dignity and increases it. If one wishes to define more clearly the ethical meaning of work, it is this truth that one must particularly keep in mind. Work is a good thing for man-a good thing for his humanity-because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes 'more a human being'..." (Laborem Exercens, 9)
It is with such thoughts that today we pray for those who labour, we praise God for the fruits of our labour and ask that they be pleasing in His sight and we plead for those workers who are unjustly exploited, those who have no gainful employment and those seeking jobs.