April 28, 2017

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Great dignity is found in the work of parents and all who labor

Sean GallagherMy life changed forever 15 years ago on May 1, 2002. On that day, Michael, our oldest child, was born.

He came into this world on the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, which the Church will again celebrate in a few days. That’s the reason that his mother, Cindy, and I gave him Joseph as his middle name.

It’s fitting that our first child was born on this feast, because we’ve been working ever since, especially as Michael’s four brothers have come along.

There may be some humor in this, but I say it in all seriousness, too.

The feast of St. Joseph the Worker is a way the Church reminds us that the honest work that we take up as humans is an expression of our inherent dignity as children of God.

St. Joseph served God quite literally in his carpentry work and in the care he gave to Mary and Jesus. Our Lord himself followed in his foster father’s footsteps, taking up the tools of the trade and working with his hands much like many of us still do today.

It makes no difference to God what work we do, so long as it’s honest. One person might work as a doctor, saving people’s lives, or as a business owner, providing jobs that let scores of people support their families.

Others might push a broom in a warehouse or clean hotel rooms.

This world says there is a great difference in these occupations. It gives great prestige to the former, and often ignores the latter.

If that’s the case with these breadwinning jobs, how much more is it the truth for parents who do the hidden work, day and night, of caring for children for years on end—changing diapers, making meals, washing clothes, giving hugs in sad times, cheers in happier ones and discipline when it’s needed?

Our short-sighted utilitarian culture judges the worth of a person’s work primarily on the immediate material value that he or she produces, or the direct impact that he or she can have on individual lives or on the broader society. That’s certainly not seen by the world in manual workers, let alone parents.

Even in our own eyes, we might be disappointed with the work we end up doing, both in our career and as parents. It might not match up to the dreams we had for ourselves in our younger years.

But whatever path we’ve taken in the interim and whatever tasks, however menial, we might be asked to do now, God has allowed them to come about through his providence and is using them to draw us and others to himself.

This is especially the case with the work of parents and the tasks they do with their children. The chores that are daily done in a home are about as humble as you can get.

But they’re needed so that each member of the family can flourish as God intended them. And when approached from the perspective of faith and with the help of God’s grace, they become daily moments when we can grow in love for each other and for God.

It’s clear that we need to turn often to prayer for ourselves and each other to live out this divine vision for work in our families and in the world more generally.

Pray for help often to St. Joseph, the patron saint of workers and a man who knew well the constant demands of parenting. If you haven’t turned to him for his intercession in this way, perhaps begin making a habit of it on the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. †

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