The Holy Family teaches us a balanced approach to work based on self-giving love and our call to holiness
Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori
We spend most of our waking hours on our way to work, at work and coming home from work. However, some studies suggest that though people are working more, they are enjoying it less. The conclusions vary, but one thing seems clear: Many people do not find much meaning in their daily work.
Moreover, long hours spent at work can cause discord in the home — arguments between husbands and wives, a feeling of neglect on the part of children. Conversely, families experience financial insecurity when parents are unemployed, underemployed or forced to work several part-time jobs to make ends meet. No doubt about it, getting the relationship between work and home right is no easy feat.
The month of May is not only a special time that the Church honors Mary, but it also begins with the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. He is an appealing role model as we seek to balance the demands of the workplace with the vocation of establishing a secure, peaceful, joyous and faith-filled home — a true “domestic church.”
PROTECTOR AND PROVIDER
It was St. Joseph’s unique vocation to be the husband of Mary and the adoptive father of Jesus. He was appointed by God to be the protector and guardian of the Holy Family and to provide for them through his work as a carpenter. What can this man, whose words go unrecorded in Scripture, teach fathers about their vocation?
On March 19, 2013, Pope Francis asked in his inaugural homily, “How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when it is hard to understand.” He added that Joseph “is there at every moment with loving care — on the journey to Bethlehem for the census, in the anxious and joyful hours when [Mary] gave birth; amid the drama of the flight into Egypt and during the frantic search for their child in the Temple; and later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop where he taught his trade to Jesus.”
As a child and as a young man, Jesus witnessed the arduous labors of Mary and Joseph, and he also shared in their work. Or, as St. John Paul II put it in his apostolic exhortation on St. Joseph, “Having learned the work of his presumed father, [Jesus] was known as ‘the carpenter’s son.’ If the Family of Nazareth is an example and model for human families, in the order of salvation and holiness, so too, by analogy, is Jesus’ work at the side of Joseph the carpenter.”
The pope continued, “Along with the humanity of the Son of God, work too has been taken up in the mystery of the Incarnation, and has also been redeemed in a special way. At the workbench where he plied his trade together with Jesus, Joseph brought human work closer to the mystery of the Redemption” (Redemptoris Custos, 22).
What do we see in the example of St. Joseph and the Holy Family? The work of Joseph and Mary was long and difficult, but it was not all-consuming. On the contrary, Joseph and Mary engaged in their work with a sense of mission, namely, to do God’s will in creating a secure and loving home for themselves and for their child, Jesus. They worked hard not merely to survive but also as an expression of service to God and to one another. And far from working in isolation, they shared their labors; they worked in harmony, and included their son, Jesus, in their household and in their workshop.
AN EXPRESSION OF LOVE
Further reflecting on St. Joseph’s role as protector of the Holy Family, Pope Francis challenged us to be protectors of our own families, which “means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then as parents, they care for their children; and children, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect and goodness.”
What a different way to approach our daily work! In the family, work must become part of that continual and mutual self-gift of spouses for their own sake and for the sake of their children. It’s not just about getting ahead, not just about survival, but rather an expression of love, care, protection and gratitude to God. Ultimately, our daily work must be directed toward holiness and salvation.
If our families are to be true domestic churches, then we must examine the question of how well we approach daily work — whether outside employment, work in the home, care for children, or even daily chores.
Is our work an expression of love? Is it done truly for the sake of one’s spouse and children, or is it a way of escaping an unhappy home life? Is there a proper balance between time spent at work and time spent with one’s family? Do husbands and wives share in the household tasks and set expectations that their children will help with those chores? Do families work only for their own well-being or are they also reaching out to others in need? Does our work contribute to or detract from our sanctification?
During this month of May, let us lovingly turn to St. Joseph and to the holy Mother of God and ask them to guide us, in our work and our families, closer to Christ.