Meditations On The Life Of The Blessed Virgin For Every Day Of the Month, Suitable for all seasons and especially the month of May.
JESUS AT LABOUR.
"In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat thy bread" —Gen. iii. 19.
When the Christians of our day go to seek at Nazareth the traces of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, they find at about a hundred paces from the precious dwelling of which I have already said so much, a little chapel, half-hidden amongst ruins. The monks at Nazareth say Mass there every day, and tradition attaches to the poor chapel, and to the ruins which surround it, the name of the workshop of St. Joseph. There the venerable descendant of the kings of Juda had passed his youth before becoming the spouse of Mary; there had he afterwards established his humble workshop; there, during the long years of the Hidden Life which passed between the appearance of the Saviour as a Child in the Temple, and the death of him whom men called His father Jesus laboured by his side, first as a Child, and then as a Young Man It was the will of Jesus that His own early years should be spent like those of ether children; the rough apprenticeship the young and still weak hands, which tremble under the weight of heavy tools, then, as strength came, the hard and courageous labour during the long hours of the day—all this did Jesus experience. Young workmen find in Him their model. What labour was ever more patient, more careful, more intelligent, than that of Jesus ? Masters also find their model in St. Joseph. What master was ever more gentle, more fatherly, more venerable, in all his actions, more edifying in his language, than the holy carpenter of Nazareth? If there were more masters like St. Joseph, young workmen would have less difficulty in being like Jesus, their divine Model and ours. No rough or coarse word or imprecation on the part of the master, no complaints from the apprentice, dishonoured the venerable walls of Joseph's workshop, and if the sweat of labour were often on their brow, their countenances never ceased to shine with peace.
May not our wives and mothers find a model in her who worked far from them, but always for them; in her who prepared for them their poor clothes with such skilful hands that at the very foot of the Cross the executioners of Christ cast lots for that coat without a seam which His Mother had spun and woven for Him? When, towards evening, Joseph, already bent with age, returned slowly home, supported by the loving arm of his son Jesus, the meal was ready. The same devoted and active hand had multiplied the resources of poverty to restore their strength, and made their food more wholesome by greater care and pains. Wives perhaps little know how much the strength of their husbands and sons depends upon their intelligence and activity, and on the care they take that everything should be clean, wholesome, and abundant at the family table. If disorder and hunger are found in a house, it is nearly always the fault of the wife, and the husband and sons, resembling Jesus and Joseph as little as she resembles Mary, go to seek elsewhere what they cannot find in the home which she does not strive to make pleasant to them, unless sadness and discouragement take possession of their hearts, and they sit in the corner of the sad hearth, as negligent of their own duty as the wife is of hers.
Joy is then extinguished in the home as is the fire in the grate: the furniture, which cleanliness would cause to shine, and which labour would make durable, dishonours the house by its sad appearance of decay and age; mud covers the floor; the torn clothing of the family bears no trace of an industrious needle; the sun itself can hardly enter the window, upon the panes of which lies" more than a year's dust. There is in truth nothing agreeable to look at, not even the faces of the little children, for under the sad disorder which throws over them a sort of veil it is hard to discover the beauty of their age. Is this then the inevitable effect of poverty ? No; for next door you may see a similar house in which all the furniture has quite another look, in which everything shines, and which seems much more roomy from the order which prevails; in which the double light of the gun and of the cheerful hearth spreads an air of comfort which rejoices the heart. Look at the faces of the inmates; is there not in them also the reflection of another light, a light which comes from heaven and which shines on the foreheads of the good servants whom God rewards, and which is called peace of conscience, the joy of duty performed? What is the great difference between these two homes, the one so sad and the other so consoling? Is it unhappiness independent of the will, and shared more or less by every son of Adam? No; for in the saddest days one of these dwellings will be less miserable than the other in its happiest; submission will take the place of joy, and peace will be there whatever may happen. In the other, joy and comfort cannot remain. What then is wanting to it ? What more have they next door? One thing is wanting, which is very powerful in this world: Labour. How comes it that the duty which was our sentence should be the efficacious means of happiness in this world? First, because the word of God cannot change, and because, since that sentence pronounced against man when he had sinned, " thou shalt eat thy bread in the sweat of thy brow," there is nothing in this world which we can obtain without labour. The bread, which nourishes us, the comfort of our homes, the security of our future, the reverence of our children, the honour which we shall leave them as an inheritance, all is gained with difficulty in the sweat of our brow; therefore, if we wish, for happiness we must labour, for God, Himself has said, " If you do not labour the earth will bear only thorns and, thistles." Secondly, it is because our great God is as merciful as He is just, and, "even in wrath He remembereth mercy."
Out of the necessities of our misery He has made means of salvation, and, whilst human justice never softens by gentle means the pain it inflicts, His grace cures the wounds inflicted on u& by His justice, and rewards our efforts as if they were made for His sake alone.
There is no existence which labour will not ennoble; there is none which is dispensed from it. "We may sometimes be tempted to hate poverty, thinking that it alone condemns us to labour. Let us not thus deceive ourselves. No son of Adam is dispensed from it. Every one alike is punished if he avoids it, and the rich man, who may at first sight appear to be out of the common law, is more to be pitied than the poor, if he does not work, for he will suffer in his soul all that they suffer in their bodies. I would a thousand threes rather be the poor labourer returning contentedly to his home, after a hard day's work, than the idle man, who is restless and gloomy because he has lying useless within him an intelligence and a soul given him to further God's work on earth, and for the good of his brethren.
Labour is the great law of the world. God has made the earth like a great workshop, of which He is the Head, and in which He has placed masters and workmen, and in which all must labour, each in his place. The sentence of God does not apply to those alone who gain their bread by daily toil. Each "one has his part in the work, but God in His wisdom has deputed to each his task, like the intelligent master, who sets each workman is the work which suits him best. One works with his strong arm, another with his mind enlightened by study; some invent and calculate, others execute. And for these different tasks the apprenticeship begins early, and is the more laborious as the work requires more intelligence. While happy peasant children are amusing themselves in the fields, drinking "In from the pure air of the mountains the strength which will make them one day sturdy labourers, the rich man's son is sitting over his books, sacrificing his liberty and his play, which he likes as well as other children, in v the hope "of making himself more capable of one day becoming useful to others. Many a peasant boy would soon grow weary if he had to change places with the young master. Many perhaps would find the life of people who do not dig and work with their hands hard enough. Look around. While the labourer tills the earth, that it may produce the nourishment of the body, the holy priest, for example, devotes his life to hard mental work and difficult studies, to nourish souls, to enlighten the intelligence of the poor, to succour their needs, and to support them in the ways of God from their birth until their death. Both work, each in his own way, but both laboriously ; both exert to the utmost the faculties which have been given them for their own good and for that of their brethren.
All work done with zeal, devotion, intelligence, and with the desire of pleasing God and fulfilling His law, is equally honourable, and the honour which comes from work is proportioned to the work itself. The more courageous and ennobled by pious motives is the work, the more honour is attached to it, even in the eyes of men, for they are not so unjust as they are said to be, and if sometimes in their weakness they praise the success of a dishonest man, there is always something in them which despises him, and which makes them pay a secret homage to him who, in whatever position he may be placed, generously gains his bread in the sweat of his brow. The rich man, whose fortune is the legitimate and honest result of the labour of his fathers, will only be truly respected if he enters himself into the same career of labour of which he already enjoys the fruits, and serves his country and society, like a generous workman, who has been paid in advance, and therefore is all the more attached to his duty. The poor man who labours will never be despised; nay more, he will be honoured if, through courage and intelligence, he makes a virtue of necessity, if he loves his work, and if, in addition to bodily strength, he employs in its performance intelligence and good sense. Any labourer, however humble, may perfect what he knows. The greatest discoveries of art and industry have been made by simple men who have been guided towards useful inventions by intelligence and common sense. The sciences themselves are the result of observation. They contribute much towards perfecting industry, but they need the help of the practical workman. Everything is connected, and gives mutual aid when society goes on as God would have it.
Without the man of science the workman would have been able to do nothing, without the workman the discoveries of the man of science would have been of no avail. The first is a force which needs direction, the second is an intelligence which needs practical application. In a society of men, as in a single human body, the head conceives, the hand executes ; and as the head and the hand are necessary to a man, so are all kinds of labour necessary to the great body called society. To love our work, to devote ourselves to it with ardour, to open our minds to every idea of progress, to respect the customs of our fathers, but to be always seeking to add some perfection to them, to take another step in the road they took, by learning what was not known in their day, as they learnt what was not known in their father's time; this is the law of progress, which ends by bettering the condition of all men. Every one contributes his share to it, and afterwards reaps the benefit.
As I said in the beginning of the chapter, no law of God brings with it more evidently its own reward or punishment. When man neglects the duty of labour, suffering is not long in coming; weariness of self and disorder are the effects of this neglect. If the subsistence and comfort of the family depend upon our labour, indolence will cause them suffering and privation. If our position, the fruit of the labour of our fathers, places us above this danger, still our unoccupied minds will be dwarfed like a plant, the cultivation of which is neglected. It has been said that idleness is the mother of all evil. It leaves the mind and heart a prey to all temptations; it hardens the soul to the sufferings of others, which it takes no pains to relieve. When once a man has entered on this road of disorder and sloth, in rebellion against this first law of God, he is in a wrong path, and he does not stand still; he becomes daily more selfish, and seeks nothing but the means to satisfy his degraded taste, or his shameful passions. On the other hand, when a man enters boldly and joyously on the career of labour which is traced out for him, in which his intelligence adds to his strength, when he is always seeking to enlighten himself, that he may be more useful to others, even if not compelled by poverty to labour; when the whole family work for the same object, when father, mother, and children, give an example of good will, of earnestness, and of ardour in well-doing; then the law of God is accomplished. Then the whole family, and each member of it feels true joy in the sense of submission to duty, and the heart is open to all the good inspirations from which virtues spring. And once more, the world which is said to be so unjust, seldom is so; consideration is attached to those who deserve it, and the good workman, the good father, and the laborious family, will commonly have their reward in this world, before they come to enjoy it in heaven.
Labour, doubtless, is not sufficient of itself to make us saints, or happy people. Like everything beautiful or fruitful on this earth, it must receive life and blessing from God. Selfish labour bears only the fruits of death; pride, luxury, or avarice. It must be inspired by the love of God, and accompanied by self-sacrifice, love of our neighbour, and self-devotion, to make it one of the most beneficial powers in this world. Hence was it the will of our Saviour to give us an example of it, by obeying at once His adopted father, the poor carpenter of Nazareth, and His Heavenly Father, the Creator of the world, Who blesses all labour when it is good. We read in the book of Genesis that as God brought out of nothing each new wonder, He considered it, and saw that His work was good. And when He had finished, He saw all the things that He had made, and they were very good. This is what our Lord deigns to do for each one of our works, infinitely small as they, even the greatest, are in His sight. . He looks at them, and if He judges them good, He blesses them, and makes them bear their fruit for the present, and their seed for the future. Happy shall we be if, when He examines them as a whole, He sees that they are very good in proportion to our weakness ! Who will ever be discouraged with his work when he thinks that it has been given him by that supreme Lord who will judge and reward him? Who will not understand the honour of labour, when he thinks that the Creator gives him a share in His own work, by using poor human hands to perfect and make useful the creations of His omnipotence ? Without Him we can do nothing, but what things does He not deign to do through us! What transformations are not made by our work through His blessing! What is not made by laborious hands from wood, stone, and metal! Apart from Him, what are we ? With Him, what power do we not possess !
Yes, we labour for God and with God, and He is in the midst of us, the great and incomparable Worker. In this great workshop, which we call the world, He has collected all the first things necessary to our work. It is not His will that we should use them without trouble, but it is His will that our trouble should have its reward. He watches us, and directs and pays us according to our resolution and skill.
Who made and who gave to the poor man the bread he eats ? My labour, he would say: I have toiled, sowed, and reaped; the miller converted the corn into flour, and each labour has brought its fruit, even to that of the housewife, who has made the bread for the family all the better in proportion as she has taken more pains with it. True; but when the seed was sown, Who sent the autumn rains on the fields ? Who placed in the seed that powerful blade which pierces the earth and appears above ground, whilst the root fixes itself firmly in the earth, and draws from it living sap ? And when the young corn has shewn its green head, and the winter wind begins to blow, Who covers over it a mantle of snow, to shelter it during so many cold nights, which the poor little plant had to pass without shelter ? Who brought the warm days of spring, and then the summer sun to ripen the harvest? It is the great Master, the great Workman, more skilful than any of us. When our labour has done all it can, He comes and finishes the work. Look at this coal, which is brought so many miles to heat the lime kilns. By means of this coal, and the heat it will produce in burning, God will bring out a quality in another stone which shall fertilize the fields, and besides, this coal will become the strength of machines, the movement of trains, the light of reflectors, and the heat of the forge and the hearth. Strength, movement, light, and heat, all this is hidden by God in a piece of black coal, but only on condition that men work hard at digging and excavating far from the pure air and light, to bring out of the earth this hidden treasure.
Hare we ever noticed that all these gifts of God are given to us gratuitously ? We have only to give ourselves the trouble to take them. Water, fire, air, and forces of all kinds, are given to us freely. Add to them a little labour, and all these gifts become the property of man. He enjoys, modifies, or increases them; he keeps or distributes them, or gives them to his children. He labours thus for his own benefit and for conscience sake; he labours for his family, and thus his heart and his most tender affections unite with his interests to excite him to labour.
Respect the rights of property : they are the fruit of labour. The father of the family feels his trouble lighter when he thinks that each burden he takes on his own shoulders will be lightened from those of his children. What should we say of one who could grudge the sons of the hardy labourer the bread he has gained for them ? It is not less unjust to deprive the descendants of what has been gained by the labour of their forefathers; and the time will never come that the legitimate produce of labour is not the legitimate property of the family. And, further, if the sons follow piously in the footsteps of their fathers, this property, left to them by the dead, becomes to the survivors a "means of labour, not for themselves alone, but for others. All labour is of service to the workmen and to all his fellow men.
But it must always be remembered that in order to make labour blessed and fruitful, and that the comfort it produces may be shed on all, it must be inspired and directed by God. Masters and workmen must piously receive their work from the Great Master, Who alone knows how to combine all forces for the good of each.
Though man has been obliged to labour, in all times, and all over the earth, yet it is only since the Christian religion was founded that labour has been honoured and free. Before Christianity slavery was everywhere found. Outside Christianity slavery still exists. And even in our Christian countries, when faith becomes weaker, this beautiful order disturbed. Labour has no longer its principle of life, and God abandons to their rebellion these ungrateful labourers. Then is there nothing but hardness, injustice, and rough language from the master to the labourer, and hatred, jealousy, and bitterness from the labourer towards the master. But where God is obeyed, justice and kindness reign with Him, and all classes unite to serve Him, and lore each other in order to please Him.
It is to teach us these great truths, to raise man in our estimation, and to prove to us the use of labour, that Jesus Himself, and Joseph, Mary, and the Apostles were labourers. As a great general multiplies himself by his zeal, and appears to his soldiers at every post of danger to encourage them to fresh efforts, so our Redeemer appears to us at all the most difficult parts of our journey in this world. Wherever we find Jesus let us walk without hesitation, it is the way of true honour and of sanctity. If He had been a mere man, like us, He would have chosen, as men do, power, empire, and fortune; He would have desired to make Himself a general, a conqueror, or an emperor. But Jesus is God, and He came to save man. Now man, by a decree of that eternal Justice which our Redeemer came to fulfil, and not abolish, passes the greater part of his life in toil, and generally in the labour of the hands. Therefore did He give the greater part of His own life to labour, to the labour of His Hands. He has taught us the nobility of labour; and whereas, before His time philosophers cried: " These occupations are only fit for degraded slaves," since His coming a philosopher has been able to say : " The only difference between the king on his throne and the shepherd on the mountain, is that their occupations are not the same. But their moral merit in performing them well is the same, and thus it is that God can weigh us all with the same weights, and in the same balance." (Theodore Jouffroy.)
O Mary, Patron and example of those who labour, Queen of our workshops, of our fields, and of our dwellings; Mary, most laborious and most diligent, teach us to see in labour, our duty, our joy, our honour, and our interest, the future of our children, the riches of our country, the order of the universe, and the will of God. Teach us, through the example of thy Divine Son, to labour for Him, like Him, and with Him, to make our family a holy family, and our home a house of Nazareth. Amen.
To submit to labour as to a law. To find in labour an honour in this world, and a hope in the next. Whilst labouring, to think first of God, next of our family, and lastly of ourselves.