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Work, Sainthood, and Holiness

This is the fifth of sixth articles I offer here inspired by my reading of Sam Guzman’s book, The Catholic Gentleman: Living Authentic Manhood Today (San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 2019). (For the previous articles see “Are You for Real?”“More from “The Catholic Gentleman”, and “We Need to Stand for Something”, and “How Do You Look at Things?”.)

Many people see work as something we do only to make money to be pay for food, water, clothing, a place to live, and to have the money to do the things we want to do to enjoy ourselves. We certainly need food, water, clothing, and a place to live. These are things that everyone has a basic right to from the dignity given to them by God and under our Declaration of Independence where it speaks of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Everyone has a right to a “just wage” for the work they do. This falls under the Seventh Commandment, You shall not steal (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2434 and Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, paragraphs 301-303). As to having money to be able to do the things we enjoy, there is nothing wrong with this in moderation.

However, work should not be seen as something we do only to get what we really want. Work is a fundamental part of what we are created for. In Genesis 2:15, we read, “The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.” In doing the work God created us, we find fulfillment.

Guzman discusses the “The Value of Work” in chapter 17. Sometimes we “dream big.” There is nothing wrong in having big dreams. However, as Guzman writes, “But there is a hidden danger in dreaming so big that we miss the often silent, subtle, and just-as-heroic duty of our daily work” (93). He speaks of the “witness of countless saints – such as Francis de Sales, Benedict, Josemaria Escriva, and many more – is that heroism is often found in the mundane tasks of our employment that we would rather ignore in favor of something bigger” (93).

Sometimes our greatest achievements might go unnoticed because they come in the little things. Guzman writes, “We are called to be co-creators with the Creator – to make rather than merely to consume. Making things is essential to our nature as creatures made in the image of a God who makes” (94).

Relating to what I said above about work, Guzman writes, “For most of history, work was a matter of survival. If a person wanted to eat, he had to hunt or plow fields and scatter seeds. It was backbreaking and exhausting, but the one thing it wasn’t was meaningless” (94). In physical work, we know what we are trying to do and we know when it is finished. We can find enjoyable in knowing we have completed a task.

Guzman speaks of frequent use of the phrase, “I’d rather be…” as revealing a “deep discontent with ordinary life” (95). We have lost appreciation for basic tasks. I do not mean to say we should enjoy every task we do. We all have tasks to do that we may not enjoy but are necessary for basic needs and to make the world a better place. Sometimes we look to be heroes. Guzman writes about heroism that is not based on seeking to be famous (pride). “Heroism is all about doing what we are called to do in this moment, and doing it well and with gratitude” (95).

We should ask ourselves what work is God calling us to. What is God’s Will? Here Guzman writes, “But if you never do anything in life but embrace the will of God revealed in the small, hidden duty of the moment, you can still be a saint, and a very great saint” (96). (Guzman ends his chapter on work with “A Prayer to Saint Joseph before Work” by Pope Saint Pius X that can be found online at https://catholicgentleman.com/2016/03/a-prayer-to-st-joseph-before-work/#:~:text=O%20Glorious%20Saint%20Joseph%2C%20model,an%20honor%20to%20employ%20and.)

Guzman then offers a short chapter entitled, “Who Wants to be a Saint?” He writes, “No, at its heart sainthood isn’t about doing amazing feats, but about becoming something extraordinary. It’s about sharing in God’s nature and in his divine life. It’s about becoming a living model of Jesus Christ” (99). If you want to be saint, this is what we called to.

In Baptism we are anointed as priest, prophet, and king. Guzman next offers a discussion of how men are called to live this out (102ff). Speaking of the prophetic role for fathers, he reminds us of Jesus’ words, “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to be witness to the truth” (John 18:37)” and then says, “we fathers are called to announce and reveal the truth about God to our families” (103). The education of faith starts and centers in the home, the domestic church (see my article “Helping Our Children to be Disciples”).

Turning to the role of fathers as “priests” who offer sacrifices for their children, Guzman writes, “The answer is that we, as fathers, are called to imitate Jesus Christ by offering prayers and sacrifices on behalf of our families. We are called to seek our families, sanctification and salvation through our loving, self-giving sacrifice – just as Jesus saves and sanctifies us through his sacrificial offering” (106). A father must pray for his family. A father can offer sacrifice, “Pitching in with the housework, playing with an attention-hungry toddler, changing a diaper, or mowing the lawn can all be sacrificial if they are done with love and a willing spirit” (107).

Then, speaking of the role of a father as king, Guzman writes “Of all the roles Christ fulfilled, his role as king is most likely to offend modern sensibilities. Likewise, the idea that a father, or any man, might have authority is strongly distasteful to our egalitarian values” (107). Guzman later continues, “This authority is not a weapon to be wielded but, rather, a mandate to serve” (108). The authority can misused. When it is misused, “we will incur Christ’s anger” (109). It is an authority based totally on love.

This leads Guzman to a discussion of holiness where he begins, “Holiness: The word is haloed by mystique. For some, it is an appealing and enthralling word, inspiring struggle toward a goal. For others, it is an intimidating word, signaling an impossibly remote and unattainable ideal…The simple fact, though, is that holiness isn’t for a select few; it is for every everyone” (112).

He goes on to says holiness “consists in one thing only: obedience to the will of God at every moment. That’s it. Seek God’s will and do it, and you will be holy; you will be a saint” (113). Being holy is not always easy. For Jesus, it was “horrifically painful” (115) but it saved us for our sins. Being holy is not just a matter of showing up at church occasionally. It starts there. “We grow by showing up, day after day. We mature by never quitting, despite frequent falls, discouragement, and darkness” (123).

This concludes this fifth article on The Catholic Gentleman. I hope it is an aid for you on your spiritual journey. I pray it helps you. I hope to write the sixth and final article soon.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

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