The Monotony of Life
For most people living on this earth it must be confessed that life is monotonous. If not a suffering, it is at any rate one of those things from which most are glad to escape and they seek to do this by getting such distractions and amusements as the world offers them and they can afford to buy.
Many are glad to escape “boring lives”
These distractions and amusements have become more numerous with the material progress that has been made in the last hundred years and more. So we find people hurrying off to cinemas or listening in to the wireless, snatching a week off at the seaside or going off in a motor-coach to some beauty spot that is within reach of their homes and their money.
The general hunt for distractions and amusements
The disastrous wars through which we have passed have, however, considerably curtailed their means of so finding change and pleasure. If they are not people who find their help and consolation in religion, they are inclined to grumble and to express their feelings in such phrases as “I am fed up.”
“I am fed up”
The monotony of their lives is represented by the houses in which the majority of them live, long streets of drab-looking buildings, each one a repetition (outwardly at least) of its neighbour. If you are going into London, for instance, you will see from your carriage window long processions of such streets, with never a tree or a flower-bed to relieve their ugliness. It makes one think how cheerless must be the lives of the people who live in such surroundings.
Having learnt how to face this monotony of life
But, apart from other good people, there will be good Catholic Christians living in those houses, who have learnt how to face this monotony of life. They will know that whether in a town, or perhaps even more so in the country in some little village or isolated farmhouse, one day is much like another and there is very little variety to break the humdrum of existence.
This world is not a playground in which we must look for nothing but pleasure and amusement
Since the fall of man this world is no longer the paradise that God originally designed it. It is not a playground in which we must look for nothing but pleasure and amusement. Rather it has become a drill-ground where monotony necessarily finds a place to train and mould us to a state that will make us pleasing to God. That is why Jesus Christ, “the way, the truth, and the life”, spent the greater part of His life in a state of obscurity, whose monotony for thirty years was rarely relieved and yet the sanctity of which, year by year, day by day, hour by hour, was an unbroken succession of infinite merits.
The Way, the Truth, and the Life
But for our purposes, perhaps we can better consider the matter in the life of St Joseph, who lived this life of monotony from start to finish. After Our Blessed Lord and Our Lady, St Joseph, as we know, was the greatest of God’s saints, proved as it is by the fact that he was chosen for that unique and special office – to be the foster-father of the Incarnate God.
He showed none of those exterior signs by which greatness is gauged by the world
Yet how little was he known to men while he was on this earth. Outside the village of Nazareth, where monotony marked his every day, no one had any knowledge of him. In the village itself he would not have been regarded as a person of any special note or distinction. He was just the village carpenter – a good, trustworthy and honest workman but nothing more. He lived a quiet monotonous life and died as quiet and as unnoticed as he had lived.
No one could have guessed how truly great he was, because he showed none of those exterior signs by which greatness is gauged by the world or by the ordinary men and women in the world. Even in the early centuries of the Church, St Joseph remained obscure and there was no special devotion to him. The reason for this, perhaps, was that the Church wished first that the fact of the Virgin-Birth of Our Lord should be well I established and that there should be no mistake about His paternity. However that be, it remains that no life of this very great Saint could have been more hidden and obscure, not only during his lifetime but even for some considerable time after it.
“Love to be unknown and to be accounted a nobody”
It all emphasises the value of a hidden life of monotony, that real virtue is best exercised and fostered under such conditions and that all who aim at perfection strive to lead such a life, as far as possible to do so. “Ama nesciri et pro nihilo reputari” (Love to be unknown and to be accounted a nobody) is the dictum of à Kempis.
He is indifferent to what men may know or think about him
A really religious man is glad when he is engaged in work that is monotonous and calls for no special recognition. He is not anxious to be in any sort of limelight and takes care to avoid it whenever he can. He does not push himself forward to call attention to himself and his doings. He may rightly think that there is not much to which he can call attention. He is carrying on the same way every day of his life, as so many others are doing. He is content to do just what God wills and is indifferent to what men may know or think about him.
He is content to do just what God wills
So we may see that though from an external point of view a man’s life may be monotonous, it does not follow that there is not a great deal of variety and change going on within his soul.
This was proved in the hidden life of St Joseph, where he was practising the most heroic virtue and was subjected to the greatest trials without which sanctity is impossible. What an agony of mind he endured when he learned that Our Lady had conceived. He wished at first secretly to put her away. He could not think that she had done any wrong and yet there was no explanation of what had happened. His faith in God was rewarded, for it was told him a little later that this conception was miraculous. Though before he finally settled down at Nazareth, there were two events that broke the monotony of his life, they were both such as were fraught with much suffering to himself.
A sense of humiliation and failure
The journey up to Bethlehem, where our Blessed Saviour was born and whither St Joseph had to repair to comply with the order of the census-taking, brought to him much humiliation and trial. Refused admittance to the inn, he had to wander about to find a place where Mary’s Son could be born; and then defeated, as it were, in his quest, had nothing else to offer his Virgin Spouse but the rough stable or cave that gave shelter to cattle. The joy that must have been at the birth of the Redeemer was a reward for all the humiliations and sense of failure that had preceded it.
An immense privilege
The other event that broke the monotony of his life was the order “to fly into Egypt with the Mother and her Son”. This again was no journey of pleasure. To ordinary human thinking it seemed so unnecessary: it involved, too, so many inconveniences, difficulties and hardships. But there was no hesitation on St Joseph’s part in obeying the will of God, as conveyed to him by the message of the angel. Then at length when they had returned to Nazareth, there set in those years of persistent monotony, only relieved by visits to Jerusalem to assist at the religious festivals to which the Jewish law summoned them. But settled at Nazareth where, year after year and day after day he could have found little change, as the “Village Carpenter” he pursued his humble calling. It was in his soul that there was change and variety, for he was experiencing ever greater knowledge of God and growing in virtue, as his union with, and his love of God mounted, having Him now in human form, the Child and then the Boy, to whom he was privileged to be guardian and foster-father.
It was in his soul that there was much change and variety
But the great world knew none of this. St Joseph died as he had lived, unknown, a person of no consequence or importance to a world that understands nothing of the hidden grandeur and nobility of a very holy soul.
He experienced ever greater knowledge of the Divine and was growing in virtue, as his union with, and his love of God increased
But, of course, to God he was known and to the God-Man who, now sitting at the right hand of His Father, has long since found place for His beloved foster-father near Himself. The whole court of heaven, amid the acclamations of all the heavenly hosts, welcomed to his eternal glory him who, after the Queen of Angels, was received as the greatest of God’s saints.
The greatness of St Joseph, so long unrecognised on earth, has now been acknowledged by his being proclaimed by our sovereign pontiffs the Universal Patron of the Church; innumerable churches throughout the whole Catholic world have been dedicated to him to his honour: many Congregations of Religious, both men and women, have been founded and established with his name and are consecrated to promote devotion to him. It is with his name on our lips, together with the names of Jesus and Mary, that we pray for the happiness of a good death.
An entire resignation to God’s will
The whole purpose of this conference is to show us that though our lives be monotonous and of no interest whatsoever to the world about us they need not be dull or valueless. On the contrary, as the hidden lives of Our Blessed Lord and of St Joseph prove, they may be filled with an ever changing and increasing glory of virtue. It is only necessary to accept the monotony of life with an entire resignation to God’s will and to lead the lives of fervent Catholics, making use of all the means of grace that God offers us in Holy Mass, the Sacraments and all the services of the Church.
Freedom and joy far beyond ordinary human understanding
Such lives will gradually make us independent of this world: we shall be detached from a longing for the amusements and distractions of this passing show on earth, and find our consolation in serving God who, as in the case of St Joseph, will, if not always now, yet infallibly hereafter, fill us with His own joy and eternal happiness.
– From: Lift Up Your Hearts, Christopher J. Wilmot, The Catholic Book Club, London, 1949