With over 52% of Americans reporting dissatisfaction at work, what can we do to find purpose in “meaningless” jobs, and work like St. Joseph?
We often highlight St. Joseph’s role in the Holy Family (and rightly so) but he was also called to be a worker. This in and of itself sheds light on the importance of work. We even celebrate two feast days for St. Joseph: March 19 dedicated to Joseph the Husband of Mary, and May 1 for Joseph the Worker.
Why is work so important?
The Benefits of Work
Studies show that work is generally good for health. As well as a financial reward, it gives many of us self-esteem, companionship and status. It can also provide:
- social contacts and support
- a way of structuring and occupying our time
- physically and mental activity
- an opportunity to develop and use skills
- social status
- a sense of identity and personal achievement
- money and other resources needed for material well-being.
But these benefits only come when we do two things that St. Joseph did. First, find meaning in our work, and second, strive to balance work and family life.
Being a humble carpenter, St. Joseph’s job was not glamorous, but he must have found great significance in his work, and we can apply this attitude to our work as well.
There is dignity in honest work, as the CCC says, "It is necessary that all participate, each according to his position and role, in promoting the common good. This obligation is inherent in the dignity of the human person." But to fully participate in this obligation, we have to identify and acknowledge it our purpose. The best way to find meaning in our own work is to determine the reason for doing the job.
If you are a student, you are doing the work to educate yourself. If you are an accountant, you are helping people make sense of complicated tax laws and stacks of numbers. If you are a mechanic, you are making the roads a safer place by providing reliable transportation for families and individuals.
Besides the purpose within employment, there is also purpose outside of it. We find it honorable to provide for ourselves and our family. This is the main reason why unemployment causes such depression and anxiety. However, it must be noted that dignity is not reducible to this function of the human person.
(For more on dignity, check out Six Principles of Individual Dignity and Rights.)
If anyone knows the pressure to accomplish a balanced work and family life, it’s St. Joseph. He was a hard worker, and the head of the Holy Family. He rose to the occasion in both callings. As with most things, the virtue lies in a life that is balanced.
But this balance seems elusive, almost mystical to many of us. How are we supposed to find the time for a career and a healthy family life, not to mention all the other aspects of life like exercise, errands, prayer, entertainment, and friendship?
This article from Kevin Lowry, published on Integrated Catholic Life offers some sound advice for men that is mostly applicable to everyone. Here are a few of his best tips:
- Put your priorities in order. Here’s my list, for what it’s worth: God, my spouse, our children, my career, and everything else. Yes, my spouse is more important to me than my kids. Not that they’re unimportant, rather our marriage is super-important.
- Live beneath your means. This is incredibly important. My spouse and I got out of balance early due to our implicit expectations of a certain lifestyle. This led us to take on debt and place a disordered emphasis on outward appearances. It’s a trap, avoid it like the plague.
- Work like crazy when you’re at work. Get your work done, do your absolute best and go home. Schedule a date night each week, put kids’ events on your calendar, and treat your family as even more important than your most important client or even your boss.
One more tip: pray to St. Joseph. Check out this website that has several prayers for the intercession of St. Joseph, including the one below.
Have a happy Labor Day and keep striving to work like St. Joseph!
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
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. Amen.