Finding the Meaning in Manly Work

In Genesis, we first meet God when he is working; creating the universe. And after working for six days, he finally takes his rest on the seventh day and he sees the fruit of his work as “good.” From the very beginning, God shows us the unique dignity of work (and rest). He also shows that he wills us to partake of work too, for one of the first tasks he gives to man is to cultivate and care for the garden, and later after the fall, to sweat and toil on this planet.

For us today, it sometimes seems that the sweating and toiling part of work (the parts that came from the sin of Adam, the first man) is the only part of work that we dwell on. Yet, there is a deeper dimension of work that exists beyond the obvious pains of our labor. In my experience, I have best come to understand this through study of the rich social doctrine of the Catholic Church, a collection of teachings that are the result of over 2000 years of human experience.  Check it out here sometime.

For us men, there can be great dignity in our work, but few of us know how this can be. Lucky for us, there are three great models of masculine work that can help us look more deeply into our own work. First, there is God the Father, to whom we usually attribute the work of creation. Work is creative. Second, there is Jesus, who carries out the work of our redemption. Work is redemptive. Finally, there is Saint Joseph, who carries out a selfless and humble work of service. Work serves others. These three models each challenge us to see our own work in a deeper way.

First, think of your work and how it might be creative. Teachers create new understandings in their students, doctors create healing and second chances, policemen create safe neighborhoods, artists create masterpieces, chefs create nourishment, and carpenters create shelter. If our work is creative, and it serves the common good, then it is beautifully tied to how God the Creator works. No doubt, our creative work can bring God honor, for in it we imitate God. So how is your work creative? When you realize how your work shares in God’s creativity, you have just understood a new dignity within your work!

Next, think of how work is redemptive. Jesus carried out God’s plan for his life, his vocation. And we each have a vocation too. This may be our calling as a husband, priest or religious, or single. When we accept the cup of God’s will, as Jesus did, then our work finds dignity, for our work is a special mission from God, tied to our unique purpose within God’s providence. Now, Jesus’ work was specifically redemptive in that he suffered and died for our salvation. But Scripture tells us that we too have a “cross” to bear when we follow Christ (Luke 14:27), and that our suffering, when united with Jesus on the cross, builds up the Body of Christ, the Church (Colossians 1:24). Sometimes our work is sacrifice and suffering. It is toil and pain, stressful, and burdensome. In all these things it can share in the redemptive work of Jesus. When you realize how your work’s suffering can be united to Christ’s, you have just understood a new dignity within your work!

Lastly, think of how work is service. Saint Joseph was given the single most important role of any other ordinary man to have walked the earth, to care for Mary and Jesus. His work served the Holy Family, whether it was strapping up the donkey for a journey, practicing his trade as a carpenter, or raising Jesus in the Jewish tradition. The moment Joseph took Mary to be his wife, his life’s work became selfless. In what ways does our work serve? When our work earns income, what does our money support? A family? The Church? Charity? This is service. When our work is freely given, who or what does it support? An elderly neighbor? A hungry child? A local food bank? This too is service. You can realize new dignity in your work when you imitate Saint Joseph’s humility in using work to serve something other than yourself.

So, each day, when you work, try to see how your work’s deeper dignity is shining through. Often, this is our simple path to holiness as Catholic Gentlemen, finding the sanctity in our work. Creative work unites us to God. Our redemptive work unites us to Christ. And our work of service will make us a saint!

The Benedictine’s have a motto: Ora et Labora! (Work and Pray) So here is a prayer for all Catholic Gentlemen. Print it out and pray it every day!

Prayer to Saint Joseph the Worker

Joseph, by the work of your hands
and the sweat of your brow,
you supported Jesus and Mary,
and had the Son of God as your fellow worker.

Teach me to work as you did,
with patience and perseverance, for God and
for those whom God has given me to support.
Teach me to see in my fellow workers
the Christ who desires to be in them,
that I may always be charitable and forbearing
towards all.

Grant me to look upon work
with the eyes of faith,
so that I shall recognize in it
my share in God’s own creative activity
and in Christ’s work of our redemption,
and so take pride in it.

When it is pleasant and productive,
remind me to give thanks to God for it.
And when it is burdensome,
teach me to offer it to God,
in reparation for my sins
and the sins of the world.

O good father Joseph!
I beg you, by all your sufferings,
sorrows and joys,
to obtain for me what I ask: (your intentions)

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be ….

Obtain for all those who have asked my prayers,
everything that is useful to them in the plan of God.
Be near to me in my last moments,
that I may eternally sing the praises
of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

~ The Catholic Gentleman's Guide

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