It was a scene in the Bear Grylls interview with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that popped into my mind as I listened to a recording of Cardinal Joseph Cardijn’s talk on “The workman and his family,” given in Ballarat during his visit to Australia in 1966: “We do not reflect enough on the dignity, on the value, on the honour of work and of the worker. The cleaner of the street must be respected because without cleaners there will be accidents. There will be more and more disorder. The cleaner of the street helps society and so does each worker.” As I watched Bear Grylls walking with the President, I noticed someone clearing snow from the path. A simple job, but so important because it helped to create a sense of normality in the war zone. The street cleaner’s simple task contributed to the hope for peace in Ukraine.
When the interdependence of people in society is valued, then the dignity of each person is affirmed and celebrated. Speaking about the ordinary acts of every day in his 1949 Godinne lecture series The young worker faces life, Cardijn said: “Each one must play their part, and each one must do so as a person by knowing its value and by understanding its importance. No one can do it instead of them, just as no one can eat in his place. Each one is indispensable.” As I watched the street cleaner in Kyiv carefully scoop up a small mound of snow and deposit it in the garden beside the path, I realised how important small actions are in keeping hope alive. A small piece in a large puzzle, yet without it, the picture will be incomplete.
I believe that the human and the divine meet in small actions carried out for the glory of God. Fr Joseph Cardijn put it better in the first of his 1949 Godinne lectures when he said: “… the young worker’s role is not only human it is also divine. Each one takes the place of God; he is the image of God; he is like an agent or representative of God.” Approached with this view in mind and heart, every person’s action is a piece in a puzzle depicting the Kingdom of God. And I am taken back to 1952, when I learned through memorising the catechism questions and answers given to me by my teacher: God made me to know him, love him and serve him here on earth, and to be happy with him forever in heaven.
Jesus’ parable about the last judgment (Matthew 25:31-46) is the Gospel reading for Monday of the First Week of Lent. Its theme is found in Jesus’ declaration: “… in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” (vs 40). Blessed Edmund Rice, founder of the Christian Brothers, must have modelled his life on this saying of Jesus. He wrote in a letter to one of his friends: “Let us do ever so little for God….” It is in the little things that we can do for others that we will experience the eternal in the temporal. Whatever it is that we do today, let it be done for the glory of God because when we act in this way, we are God’s co-workers and it is for this that he created us.
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War Zone: Bear Grylls meets President Zelenskyy
The workman and his family – Cardinal Joseph Cardijn’s speech given to a gathering during the Christian Social Week in Ballarat, Australia in 1966.
The young worker faces life – Fr Joseph Cardijn’s Godinne lectures, 1949
The life of Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice (1762-1844)