Stephane Grappelli (in wheelchair) playing Gershwin
In 2002, just before I returned to the Philippines, I spent five months in Glasgow, Scotland. One day I was in one of the shopping malls and needed to use what Filipinos call the ‘CR’, ‘comfort room’. It was the cleanest public toilet I had ever seen. The janitor happened to be there and I told him this. His face lit up.
The same year I was on an overland pilgrimage to Lourdes from London, most of the pilgrims being Filipinos. One evening we were served baby carrots at dinner. I’ve never been a great fan of carrots and eat them out of a sense of duty because my mother, whose 40th death anniversary was last Thursday, drummed into me that they were ‘good for me’. However, the baby carrots in Lourdes were so delicious that I had four helpings and told the waitress in my broken French that it was the first time in my life I had actually enjoyed eating carrots. She conveyed my message to the cook who was so delighted that he came out to thank me.
These were two people doing jobs in which they took pride but probably seldom got thanks, especially, I would think, the janitor in Glasgow.
My father, whose baptismal names were John Joseph, was, like St Joseph whom we celebrate today as a worker, a carpenter. He worked on construction sites all his life and was a general foreman for many years. He took great pride in his work and respected his fellow workers, leading them by example. In the summer of 1967, when I was a subdeacon, I worked with him on a building site where a large office-building was being constructed. I saw there what I already knew of his conscientious approach to his job. He was good at what he did and got great satisfaction from it, knowing that his work would be of benefit to so many people for years to come.
My father was also a man of deep faith, beginning each day with Mass.
The feast of St Joseph the Worker is a day to remind us that God made us to develop our talents, to have a sense of the dignity of our work and how it fits in to the overall scheme of things, whether it is building houses, cooking carrots or keeping a public rest room clean.
A memorable moment in my life was a concert I attended in Toronto when I studied there in 1981-82. From the moment Stephane Grappelli, then in his 70s, walked out on the stage until he left it about two hours later, I knew I was in the presence of a person who was doing exactly what God had made him to do. I know nothing about Grappelli’s faith but with a father from Rome and a mother from France he must have had some kind of Catholic background. His music was an extension of himself and conveyed a great sense of joy, which ultimately came from God. He was totally alive. In the video above he was already in a wheelchair but still a master of his art.
Many are trapped in work that is sheer drudgery because they are exploited or because nobody tells them how important their work is, no matter how menial it may be.
A ‘thank you’ to those who work for us will never go astray, will bring joy to at least some and will give glory to God.