St. Joseph, Pray for Workaholics

Many men can't tell the difference between a dedicated worker and a workaholic. In fact, to many minds the two are, for all intents and purposes, one and the same.

There's no time like May 1, feast of St. Joseph the Worker, for Catholic men to stop and ask: Which term comes closest to describing me?

Those brave enough to face the truth on the matter will find plenty of help from the wisdom of the Church in setting priorities back in order. And they'll find that the Church often looks to — who else?

“At the workbench where he plied his trade together with Jesus, Joseph brought human work closer to the mystery of redemption,” Pope John Paul II wrote in his 1989 apostolic exhortation Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer).

In other words, Joseph had a rightly-ordered understanding of the place his work had in his life. It's unlikely the concerns of Mary and Jesus took a back seat to the cares of his carpentry business. And it's hard to conceive of Joseph habitually working late into each night while his wife and son counted the hours awaiting his arrival.

Gus McPhie of Cincinnati knows what it is to struggle in this area. He tells how he used to put in long hours at the office day after day, then rush home for dinner with the family — only to have them find that his heart and spirit had sent his body ahead unaccompanied.

“We'd be sitting at the dinner table and I'd have my mind on something that went on during the business day,” McPhie explains. “Next thing my wife would say, ‘Do you know what you've just agreed to?’”

More than once he made a promise he could not fulfill due to a previous commitment. “If I had something else in the business world already scheduled, that would be a conflict,” he says. “And the work would always win those battles.”

“My priorities were out of whack,” McPhie continues. “I was pursuing the material benefits as well as the psychological rewards of achieving in the business world.”

The pattern continued to grow more deeply entrenched until he was terminated from his all-consuming job at a big, high-pressure company. “It was like getting hit in the head with a two-by-four,” he recalls. “That's what led to my conversion.”

McPhie turned to his faith, which he had neglected, and resolved to work harder at being a better husband, father and friend. He also got involved with the National Resource Center for Catholic Men (on the Internet at

In hindsight, McPhie says, workaholism is “one form of idol. You're putting strange gods before you when you put your job, your career, your position before all else.”

The Working Life

Of course, workaholism isn't the only pitfall Catholic men need to avoid — or the only work-related issue St. Joseph the Worker can help with.

“My educated guess is that St. Joseph was all that a worker could be,” says Oblate Father William McSweeney, rector of St. Joseph the Worker Shrine in Lowell, Mass. “When he produced for someone else, the work would be well done. I imagine Joseph would be very friendly to his customers.”

“He would be prayerful man concerned about other people, especially about Jesus and his upbringing,” Father McSweeney adds. “We can assume he would be the perfect father present to the family and not torn away by things outside to any extent.”

Father McSweeney makes the point that, sometimes, people are “great and generous to the whole world except to their family. There's got to be a happy medium.” For St. Joseph, “as a father and a husband, the most important thing would be his family. He would not neglect his family, his wife or Jesus in any way.”

Stated another way, St. Joseph is the embodiment of the Catechism's teaching on work, including the section that states: “In work, the person exercises and fulfills in part the potential inscribed in his nature. The primordial value of labor stems from man himself, its author and its beneficiary. Work is for man, not man for work. Everyone should be able to draw from work the means of providing for his life and that of his family, and of serving the human community” (No. 2428).

Meanwhile, Father McSweeney seems to emphasize the previous catechetical teaching — “Work honors the Creator's gifts and the talents received from him; it can also be redemptive” (No. 2427) — when he notes that, unfortunately, he has seen “many fathers who are great in every way but rarely go to church. … Joseph was a prayerful man, faithful to his religious community, the synagogue. He went down to the feasts.”

There can be little doubt Jesus learned all these qualities working with St. Joseph. Father McSweeney remembers the significance of his nephew working with his son-in-law to build an addition onto their house. Important lessons about life, responsibility and manhood were imparted — word-lessly, by means of the kindness and patience of the mentor.

Fathers should make every effort to be with their children, especially on big days in their children's lives, Father McSweeney says. He remembers how one son at his father's funeral gave a beautiful witness on how much his dad had done for him. One of the main things he remembered? The mere presence of his father in his young life.

“The young man had played high-school sports,” the priest recalls. “Looking up in the stands, he would always see his father. That meant so much to him.”

Working Weekends

Maurice Blumberg, executive director of the National Resource Center for Catholic Men (which, incidentally, is soon to be renamed the National Fellowship of Catholic Men), says men need to ask themselves if their priorities and goals reflect a balance with work and family life.

“I can say God is first, my family second and work third,” Blumberg points out, “but I can be working 65 hours a week, spending one hour with God and 15 minutes with my kids.”

With a chuckle Blumberg adds he's never heard any dying person say, “Gosh, I wish I spent more time on the job and less with the family.”

Obviously, St. Joseph had a different set of challenges and opportunities in his day. But the principles haven't changed, Blum-berg says.

“St. Joseph had to balance the priorities of his life, the time devoted to Jesus and his spiritual life,” he adds. “And he must have prayed continually for the godly wisdom to achieve them. I'm sure Joseph had to continually ask for wisdom in raising Jesus.”

In his own life, Blumberg found this entreaty essential. Working on a high-pressure project for his company, he remembers wondering at the start of each week how he possibly could complete the job without working weekends.

“I would pray,” he says. “I looked at the work that had to be done differently. I stayed focused on the things that were important and didn't try to overachieve. I believe the wisdom came from God. He answered that prayer. Amazingly, I was the only person on that job not working weekends. My weekends were devoted to my family without working long hours.”

Looking back now, Blumberg believes St. Joseph played a key role in the process — just as he does today for men who will let him.

“Always turning to Joseph as the model is so important,” Blum-berg says. “He is the model of the man of prayer, dependent on God, always in tune to hear from God, open to what God wants him to do. His faith made a difference in the Holy Family's life.”

Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.

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