Honoring Work On St. Joseph’s Day
St. Joseph is the patron saint of workers. We all know work can be tedious, boring and exhausting. But work can also be exciting, fulfilling and satisfying. When we love what we do, we are told, we will never really have to work. But there will always be garbage to take out, pots to scrub, and laundry to do. How can that be considered anything but a seeming waste of time?
Have you ever noticed that on days when worries burden your mind, the greatest antidote sometimes is found through mindless work? Whether splitting wood or mopping a floor, the repetitive motions have a Zen quality that stills the restless mind.
I did a search for songs about work, thinking I would find at least a few that sang cheerfully of work, of enjoying labor, or at least of finding good in it. Most of the songs complained about the exhaustion of it all. Work is often depicted by the media as something to avoid at all costs or rebel against. But work can be grounding, freeing in the humility and generosity involved as we forget the desires of the self to work for the greater needs of the family, the company, the greater good.
As I was recently reflecting in a conversation with my students, older generations certainly seemed to understand the inherent value of work. My grandmother’s mother sang while she washed the laundry during the height of the Great Depression, when men would come to the kitchen door to beg a piece of bread. Her mother’s cheerfulness while working left such an impression on my grandmother: that the mother of ten children could find joy in the midst of a simple task that many would consider drudgery. She transcended the work, through the simple love she brought to it.
The Zen name for the way my great-grandmother approached work is ““Samu”, referring to “physical work that is done with mindfulness as a simple, practical and spiritual practice.”
St. Therese wrote that she often felt the greatest insights and even responses to her prayers came during her daily work.
Ron Rolheiser says, “We have to spend most of our waking lives working. That should tell us something, namely, that work must be the major avenue through which God wants us to journey towards the deeper things.”
Saint Joseph, patron saint of work, help us to approach our smallest chores with the same love as our most rewarding tasks.