Three years ago, Zachary Morgan was working between 80 and 110 hours a week. At the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, he facilitated the marriage program at the Cathedral of St. Paul, preparing men and women for marriage, eventually working with more than 500 couples. He would do all the paperwork too, plus be involved in weekend retreats — and assist at more than 300 weddings. He also put in time at a small microbrewery he started.
When a hiring freeze came during his 11 years at the cathedral, he was asked to also serve as director of liturgical and special events as well as cathedral liaison for archdiocesan liturgies, such as the 25 to 26 confirmations involving 4,500-plus children a year.
Then Morgan ended up suffering a minor heart attack. His wife, Anne, a nurse, sent the doctor to his bedside at, providentially, St. Joseph’s Hospital. The physician asked, “How many hours do you work?” 80-110 a week, he said. “How many children do you have?” Five, with a sixth on the way.
Said the doctor, speaking of work or family, “Pick one.”
“We realized we needed to reorient our life,” Morgan said. So the family moved to Mobile, Alabama, where he became the executive director of the national Men of St. Joseph (MenofStJoseph.com) organization. During the organization’s couples’ retreat before assuming the position, Morgan said, “I was pretty humbled to be reminded to pray over my wife. Very quickly, there was this reality: I allowed myself to be so consumed in work, even work for a greater purpose, I forgot I had to do things like pray with my wife.”
So began Morgan’s journey toward an understanding of work from the perspective of the saintly carpenter of Nazareth, St. Joseph, whose feast is celebrated March 19.
Randy Hain, founder and president of Serviam Partners (ServiamPartners.com), knows well the “job toil” route — and how St. Joseph is an able aide at achieving proper work-life balance. “In my much younger career, I was a workaholic and worked way too much for the wrong reasons,” said Hain, an executive coach and leadership consultant. Into his early 30s, he worked “really hard trying to climb the corporate ladder,” believing “it was all justified to support my family.” Finally, with his family suffering from all the hours he was working, he left his executive position in a large venue for a smaller company. Two weeks later, he was devastated upon learning that his older son had autism.
With the new job and his son’s diagnosis, he committed to focusing on balance, “devoting more of myself to my role as husband and father. God worked through that crack in my heart to lead me to a profound conversion.” A year later, in 2006, he and his wife entered the Church. Since then, he said his life “had to be all about Christ, family and work — in that order. When I really surrendered, Christ had to be at the center. At age 52, I still have those priorities. I credit my conversion and the model of St. Joseph to how I got here.”
In the work world, advises Hain, first ask: “Am I working for family and God — or for myself?”
“The reason for my work is for my own holiness and for my own family,” said Deacon Mike Bickerstaff, a St. Joseph devotee and director of adult education and evangelization at St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church in Roswell, Georgia. “The end is to attain heaven, so we have to get work in its right place. Joseph was able to do that, even if it sacrificed his work.”
Morgan points out that Joseph was a just man in every way, including being “a master of his trade through that reputation and how willing he was to leave it all when he fled to Egypt to protect Christ. Joseph allows us to put work into perspective.” Morgan emphasized, “If something is necessarily bad and going to cause danger or a scandal or damage our family, our religion, our wife and children, we have a duty not only to walk away but to flee,” he said. “It’s not a cowardly act, but an act of preservation. We see it in St. Joseph, as he flees with the family to Egypt, to make sure Christ can be known and loved.”
Everything Joseph did was with this purpose: “to attain heaven, and specifically to be the protector, guardian and teacher in his family,” Deacon Bickerstaff said. “How many of us go into the office or wherever we work with the idea that what we do is going to help us to conform to God’s purpose to gain the likeness of his Son? The career should be supporting their vocation.”
“If I’m working 18 hours a day, on the road seven days a week, never seeing my family, I’m not being diligent, and work is not an occasion of my sanctification. Grace doesn’t flow through that,” he added. “Being diligent in work is not only respecting the task, but the purpose of life.”
“Men have usurped the role of God, (saying) ‘I will provide,’” Morgan said. “They — deep down — don’t trust God to provide for them. That’s where the obsession with their job, their career, comes in.”
St. John Paul II, in Redemptoris Custos (The Person and Mission of Saint Joseph in the Life of Christ and of the Church, also known as Guardian of the Redeemer), wrote, “At the workbench where he plied his trade together with Jesus, Joseph brought human work closer to the mystery of the Redemption.”
As Deacon Bickerstaff said, “If Joseph had been out working around the clock and making trips, Jesus would not have benefited from that.”
Following Holy Steps
When he changed his approach to work, Hain immediately started eliminating things that got in the way of a proper work-life balance. Morgan did the same. “We are first and foremost called to be good sons of the Father, which means living a life of prayer,” Morgan said.
Hain challenges everyone to devote “an hour a day to prayer and spiritual reading.” Second, to continue integrating work and faith well, “devote more time to the Eucharist, such as daily Mass, Eucharistic adoration.” Next, be a light for Christ. Ask, “Do people see Christ at work in you and me? No matter where you are, you can be the light of Christ at work.”
Hain believes the best practices he shares with people stem from the example of St. Joseph’s life.
It’s also essential to turn to St. Joseph and his intercession. Hain said that “in the moments I need courage and wisdom as a father and husband and leader, I seek him out. I seek his intercession.”
Deacon Bickerstaff said that when he asks for Joseph’s intercession, “I always know what the answer is: A door opens; an opportunity presents itself. It’s trusting in God’s blessing in our life to provide for us. And Joseph is the greatest model for that trust.” And as the patron saint of workers, he is also the perfect guide for our work.
This article was originally published on National Catholic Register on March 19, 2019.