For many men today, one would think a “holy hour” means being able to watch the second half of a game without interruption, and that a “retreat” is 36 holes of golf interspersed with appropriate beverages. In countless parishes I’ve visited, the women far outnumber the men in the pews (and in the sanctuary). Meanwhile, try getting a seat at the local sports pub now that football season has begun.
There are countless things competing for men’s time and attention and, frankly, we don’t always do a good job of prioritizing, of putting first things first. And what could be more important than bending the knee before Our Heavenly Father, the source of all fatherhood (cf. Eph. 3:14-15)?
In this regard I suggest that we take a lesson from St. Joseph on this Labor Day. St. Joseph’s entire life was ordered to God. This enabled him to reflect in his actions an interior life that perfected his manhood and thus enabled him to take the right approach to his work.
We know that children learn mostly by example. They know where our heart is and what our priorities are. There simply isn’t a better example for children than a father on his knees before Our Lord in prayer. This holds true as well for our spiritual fathers. The faithful are always edified and strengthened in their own prayer lives when they witness the sincere, devoted prayer of priests. Without prayer, dads and priests become less like fathers and more like mere managers.
St. Joseph the Worker, as his title suggests, teaches us the goodness and value of human work, especially manual labor. Work manifests our cooperation with God as stewards of His creation, and it also furthers our own personal development. In other words, hard work is for “our own good.”
Honest labor has been redeemed by Christ so that it contributes to our sanctification. That’s why, for example, experienced vocation directors recommend training young men in the discipline and virtue of industriousness as an aid to fostering vocations.
Surely we must vigorously work against the vice of laziness, or the absence of industriousness. Yet, we must also avoid misguided industriousness, such as work which reflects poor stewardship of creation or which violates the moral law. Further, work is something we do, but it does not define who we are. Unfortunately, not everyone experiences work as cooperation with a loving God. Instead, many people are consumed by their work and it wields an ungodly tyranny in their workaholic lives.
St. Joseph the Worker must have played a significant role in Jesus’ human formation. Through His experience of His foster father’s God-centered work ethic, Jesus “became strong, filled with wisdom” (Lk. 2:40; cf. Catechism, nos. 470, 472).
I admit that I don’t always get it right (understatement of the week nominee), but I’ve tried to manifest the proper balance of prayer, work, and leisure in my celebration of this Labor Day. Morning Mass was the focal point, but we also took the kids on a hike, and later I’m taking my young son out to hit some golf balls. To you fathers out there, once you finish reading this blog, go out and do something fun with your kids. Go ahead, I think the Lord would take delight in that decision.