Taking Care of Business and Working Overtime: A Christian Reflection on Work

25 Apr

Saint Joseph the Worker

A number of years ago a friend remarked at how excited he was to get a “real” job. He explained to me that he had been in college for four years and had been working towards a goal, and that goal was to get a job in his field. My response: “Well, if that’s what college is for, then I don’t want that!”

I was having too much of a good time as an 18-year old with little or no substantial responsibility and the world was my oyster. No way was I handing that over to the man to slave away for the rest of my life. I saw such work as joyless, tedious, and restrictive. In one word: toilsome. But at least I had someone to blame: Adam and Eve. That was one of the punishments from the Original Sin, was it not?

Well, yes and no. Yes, work is necessary, and isn’t always candy and nuts. But work need not be toilsome, especially since Christ redeemed man. Instead, we can, by His grace, regain what was lost by that Original Sin. In this case, to work in imitation of God himself: to use our God-given creative abilities to build up this world into the Kingdom here and now.

That’s why the Church celebrates the feast of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1. “May Day” had been a secular day to celebrate workers, and still is a national holiday in dozens of countries worldwide. However, without this sense of work being a participation in God’s work on earth, it easily deteriorates into toil.

St. Joseph, of course, worked as a carpenter in order to provide for his wife Mary and their son Jesus. Not necessarily glamorous work, but that’s not the point. The point is that he built things not for himself or even just to pay the bills, but instead to glorify God and to provide an example to us and even to Jesus as to how a man ought to use his talents and abilities to do good. In doing so, he worked to build up the Kingdom of God here on earth.

Since that conversation with my friend, I have one of those 9-5’s of my own. And I’ll be the first to admit I enjoy my time off as much as ever. But I’ll also say there’s something about relaxing after a long workday or a happy hour on Friday afternoon that is more satisfying because of the work I’ve already accomplished. It’s a sense that I’ve done something good, I’ve accomplished something, and I’ve used my talents to contribute to the good of others, and in the process, the good of myself.

That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned, by experience, since those lazy days of youth: that I am built up by the work that I do. Which I think was God’s plan in the first place.

-Isaac Huss

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