We learned last week that the level of unemployment in the U.S. is down to 3.5%, and that family income has increased significantly. It seems reasonable to infer from this that American families from all backgrounds—social, economic, and religious—are working more than ever. This is good news. Pope John Paul II begins his outstanding encyclical on the subject of work, Laborem Exercens, with these words: “THROUGH WORK man must earn his daily bread and…elevate the cultural and moral level of the society within which he lives in community with those who belong to the same family.” There is an inherent dignity to human labor, for by it we show ourselves to be the imago dei (“image of God”), the visible reflection of the One Who creates and sustains the universe. At the same time we recognize that, for all its benefits and nobility, work is often fraught with, as the Holy Father says, “the unceasing measure of human toil and suffering.” The Church therefore emphasizes marriage and family life as the basic unit of society that gives meaning and purpose to human labor, offsetting the sacrifices (both physical and emotional) it entails. How do Catholic Christians strike a balance between “making a living” and “making a life”? We take our cue from the Gospels, which portray Our Lord as a man of labor who yet teaches us not become overly anxious about work, and promises us rest from our burdens (Mt. 6:25-34; 11:28-30; 13:55).
Normally, we feature an image of Our Lady on the cover of our bulletin, and it is all the more fitting we do so on the feast of the Holy Family; you may rightly wonder why the Blessed Mother is absent today. Of course, the Gospel involves St. Joseph’s dream, but even so there are dozens of images of the story that also feature Mary and the Christ Child. Please forgive me. I chose this particular image because as a rule, images of St. Joseph tend to be “soft” and “sweet”: hardly those of a man who lived by the “sweat of his brow.” If today’s painting by the 18th-century German artist Anton Raphael Mengs tells us anything, it is that St. Joseph knew what it was like to put in a hard day’s work. Rugged and weary, he listens to the voice of God even in his dreams, serving Him amid the unsung duties of a father who protects and provides for his family.
The very fact that Joseph, the hardworking patriarch, has time for dreams (four that we know of) should tell us something. One can only dream, strictly speaking, if one is at rest. The whole reason Catholics “have to go” to Mass on Sunday—as if it were a chore—is that the Family of the Church must give itself the leisure of resting with Jesus, of allowing our hearts to burn with us when he speaks, and in the “breaking of the (Living) Bread” (Luke 24:32).
The Church prays today that we might imitate “the shining example of the Holy Family…[that] in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity, [we might] delight one day in eternal rewards.” Let’s make it our business this weekend simply to enjoy each other’s company, remembering that the love of our family, itself the gift of God, is both the power behind, and the reward of, the noble work that we do.