Saturday, May 26, 2012

"The Order of Melchizedek"

This poem appeared in the May 2012 edition of U.S. Catholic magazine.  It's author, Brian Doyle, is editor of University of Portland Magazine and a poet and essayist.

The Order of Melchizedek

Bizarrely enough, a priest friend of mine says,
What I remember clearest from my ordination
Is that when we were all sprawled on the floor
Face-first and silent and awed before the One,
My nose was freezing.  I think every single guy
Felt the same way.  There we were, soon to join
The Order of Melchizedek, priests of The Lord
Until we breathed our last on this lovely planet,
And we are all thinking Lord, hurry the bishop!
I mean, you have to laugh.  I have often thought
In these years here at the end of my priesthood,
How exactly right and holy and human the start
Was, though, as a priest.  Everyone was suitably
Awed by the vow, and the ritual, and the smoke
And ancient tradition of it; it's very real, and he
Who would make fun of it is missing the power
And glory of the promise--we were mere boys,
Taking a really unimaginable leap into wild lives,
Not knowing anything, really, of long loneliness,
Or how you can be given a sort of clan and tribe,
As a priest, of friends and parishioners, and kids
You baptize--I think I have 20 godchildren.
But my point is how very human the first minute
Is, sprawled out on the floor, not thinking of awe
Or prayers or promises, but of your ice-cold nose.
That's the exact right honest human way to begin.

By Brian Doyle

Spring is the usual time of year for priestly ordinations across the United States of America, and elsewhere.  May the newly ordained men pray as well as this unnamed, holy, elderly priest.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Feast of St. Joseph the Worker

One of my favorite feasts of the entire liturgical year was yesterday, May 1, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. 

Devotion to St. Joseph dates as far back as 800.  St. Thomas Aquinas called attention to the role Joseph played in the Holy Family, as spouse of Mary and teacher of her son Jesus.   The first and well known feast day of Joseph as just husband of Mary is March 19. 

Nevertheless, attention to his role as a worker is a relatively young feast, as it was only established by Pope Pius XII in 1955.  He saw the annual displays and parades of military might by the Soviet Union on "May Day" and wanted the world to know that a (communist) country which outlaws the practice of religion and enslaves workers is not a just or moral country.  He also wanted to uplift the dignity of work and the rights of workers everywhwere.  Prayers to St. Joseph can give hope to those who are unemployed and desparately looking for work.  Blessedly the walls of the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, while the Catholic Church continues to pray to the carpenter (artisan) of Nazareth and foster father of the Christ Child.

It will surprise no one who knows me or reads my blog that I like this feast also because it reminds me of two special workers in my life, my Mom and Dad.  After getting out of the Marines at the end of  World War II Dad took a job in the J&L steel mill in the Hazelwood neighborhood of Pittsburgh.  He worked as a clerk in the shipping and receiving department for 35 years.  During the periodic strikes in the 1950s and 60s he worked as a bartender (easy for a teetotaler!) and day laborer in a moving company.

Mom dropped out of high school during World War II and was a "Rosie Riveter" in a mill in the Lawrenceville neighborhood.  Later she became an overseas telephone operator for AT&T, and after some years off to give birth to us four boys, she was a cleaning lady ("janitress") in a Downtown Pittsburgh office tower. 

Both Mom and Dad were hard workers, never complaining about their menial jobs.  They worked to put a roof over our heads and to provide food and education for their children.  I know also that they benefited from the organizing of their respective unions, United Steel Workers (local #1858) and Service Employees International Union (local #5).  It was the power of the unions which allowed them (and thousands of others) to receive something close to a living wage, with health care benefits.

To me, Mom and Dad were wonderful examples of the values of industriousness, justice and sacrifice--all values I'm sure that Joseph taught Jesus.  It was with great pride that I dedicated my doctoral dissertation, Criteria for a Just Wage for Church Employees, to St. Joseph the Worker, and Mom and Dad.

Pope John Paul II, in his brilliant 1981 encyclical letter Laborem Exercens ("On Human Work"), said that work is valuable because we do it, not because of what we accomplish.  In and through our work (whether paid or volunteer) we become "co-creators" and builders of a more just and peaceful society with God.  May we remember all the special workers in our lives on the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, and follow his values and virtues.