by Tom Kluger.
At Madonna House we try to live the life of Nazareth, the quiet, hidden life of the Holy Family: Jesus, Joseph, and Mary.
As far as quietness goes, St. Joseph was definitely the most silent of the three. But he was to teach me one day, in his usual simple, quiet way, that he is powerful indeed.
In the spring of 2003 I was working at St. Joseph’s Rural Apostolate, a mission house of Madonna House, located just one kilometre (over half a mile) down the road from the main house in Combermere. St. Joseph’s House serves many needs in the local area, ranging from re-selling donated goods and clothing for a very small fee, to helping out the local parish church, to name just two of them.
I was an applicant at the time, a staff worker in training, and was assigned to work at St. Joe’s during the day.
One day while there, I was asked to do a job that I did not like at all, because it involved something that goes against my nature: I was asked to fix something.
There are men who love to work with their hands. I am not one of them.
The kitchen windows in St. Joseph’s are held in old wooden frames, the kind that either do not budge at all, or slide up and down a little too easily. One of the frames fell into the latter category. It had slid down too fast, and the windowpane cracked.
So, as the "handy" man, I was asked by Sandy Woods, the local director of the house at the time, to fix it.
Oh great, I thought to myself. With my dexterity, I will shatter the window pane trying to get it out and cut my hands to shreds. Plus, no doubt, a shard or two of glass will lodge in my eyes.
With my active and somewhat melodramatic imagination, I pictured blood all over the wall.
So I replied to Sandy with something like, "Hmm, I dunno. I, uh, don’t know much about windows."
I was a bit nervous and hoping she would let me off the hook, or more accurately, off the cross.
But she just smiled and said, "You’ll just have to go to your brothers." With those words, she pierced something in me, something that was out of order within my soul.
Before, during, and after my conversion, one could say that my life in the Lord was not very incarnational. That is, I was put off by having to handle things in the material world. Sure, I liked the material world when it came to things like good food, nice clothing, or a comfortable room.
But trying to fix or form crass material things with my hands did not appeal to me at all. I was not good at it, and more importantly, I did not try.
From childhood on, call me "bookworm," "wimp," "useless," etc., but some door had slammed shut in my heart towards manual work. I had made the decision that if part of being a real man meant to work with my hands, I did not want to be a man.
After my conversion I could further rationalize this stance away by saying I was "spiritual" and so could not be expected to be good with my hands.
Now St. Joseph is the foster father of the Word Incarnate, the Word that had taken on flesh in the material world that I was so squeamish about, and he, the good carpenter, apparently decided that my heart needed fixing.
I realized a long time afterwards that in telling me to go to my brothers, meaning my fellow men staff in the apostolate, Sandy was also telling me to go to St. Joseph.
Dejectedly, but knowing that she was right, I nodded "okay."
I met with Peter Gravelle, the head of carpentry in Madonna House, who explained to me the preliminaries of fixing the window. Since he was busy with several other projects, he said that Daniel Rabideau, who also worked in carpentry, would help me measure and cut the glass.
The first step was getting the frame which holds the window pane, out of the frame which holds it in as it slides up or down. This required pulling out the wooden strips that held the window frame in. I thought to myself that I would almost certainly break either the glass or the wooden strips.
But, though the job was not easy and required some delicacy, contrary to my pessimistic forecast, nothing went wrong.
The next step was getting the windowpane out of the frame. The old putty which held it in was rock-hard, and it was a time consuming job, but it went well, and no stitches were required.
More importantly, although it was not easy to scrape it out, the concentration required to do it actually brought peace to my heart.
After I got the cracked pane out, I brought it and the frame to Daniel in the carpentry workshop. He looked at the window and showed me how to tell what type it was, and then we both went together to cut a new windowpane. He showed me how to score the glass, and then break off the excess with special pliers.
When the new window was cut, he showed me how to place special metal holders in the window frame to hold the glass in place, and then spread the new putty evenly around the edge of the frame to hold the window in tight and to make a water-proof seal.
It ended up being a pleasant afternoon. To my relief, I discovered that God was not out to get me after all. He actually wanted to help me! Surprise, surprise!
And St. Joseph, patron of the men’s department in Madonna House, taught me something about the line in the Little Mandate (which contains MH spirituality): "Do little things exceedingly well for love of Me."
By doing a work that was required of me I had grown closer to his Son than I could have by doing any grand projects that I might conceive of.
After all, the man who was to become Patron of the Universal Church did humble work all his life.
After the window was done, Daniel decided we should celebrate with a freshly brewed cup of coffee, one of my favourite material pleasures. I’m sure St. Joseph was there too: any carpenter enjoys a good cup of coffee after a job well done. Besides, our carpentry shop is named after him.
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