St. Joseph the Carpenter teaching the young Jesus the value of work

St. Joseph the Carpenter teaching the young Jesus the value of work


By Fr. Abe P. Arganiosa


In the Parable of the Talents [cf. Mt 25:14-30] the Lord Jesus analogically depicted Himself not only as a feudal lord but also as a rich Merchant. He entrusted a considerable sum of gold for each servant in an act of generosity. What is striking in the story is not the financial strength of the Master since we know that God is the creator of the universe [cf. Gen 1:1; Jn 1:1-4] and therefore its rightful owner: ‘Infinite Thy vast domain, everlasting is Thy reign’ as we sing at the conclusion of each Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament [cf. excerpt from Holy God We Praise Thy Name; 1 Tim 1:17; 1 Tim 6:15; Jer 10:10; Rom 13:1]. What is unique in this periscope is the character of the Master as a Business Tycoon. He is rich in gold and money then gives it as he pleases. The gift, however, is laden with responsibility; only by using this gift well and letting it grow can the servant enjoy its reward. We have various biblical images of God: Father, king, warrior, shepherd and now businessman. By this gospel passage the Lord Jesus was speaking not only to his Galilean apostles composed of fishermen, tax collectors and country boys but also to a common American audience composed of University students preparing for career, young professionals building up their future and those active in business practice in various entrepreneurship. God means business and our business is His business too. There is nothing that is none of His business.

The fact that the Master handed money to each of the servant reminds us that everything that we have comes from the Lord whether it is money in the bank, the car that we drive, land title, home and the pensions we hope for. The Creator is also the Divine Provider. He sustains not only the orbit of the planets but also the course of our everyday lives. Everything is grace; everything is a gift to the point that our very lives are borrowed from Him who is the Author of life [cf. Acts 3:15]. We are then caretakers of our lives and stewards of the world in which we are living. Before the Altar of such a gratuitous God we respond with humble adoration, praise and thanksgiving because His love is greater than our hearts [cf. 1 Jn 3:20]. In our nothingness He gave us existence and in our poverty He filled us with life and goodness [cf. Ps 107:1; Jas 1:17].

There is a saying that every loving father wants his children to grow exactly like him. Every parent wishes his child to possess his or her appearance as well as the ideals. That is why we commonly have a personal identity and also a family identity, a tribal or clan identity because we tend to share our family’s faith and values. This is what formation is all about either at home, at corporate works or in office or in the seminary. Since God is the first Father and the source of all fatherhood [cf. Eph 2:15] then it is no secret that He wants us to be like Him [cf. Mt 5:48]. First, He made us in His image [Gen 1:26] and breathed unto us His Spirit [Gen 2:7; Jn 20:22] through which He entrusted His treasures: intelligence and free will so that when combined with physical prowess each human person can rise into something greater than he is. That is why what we are is greater than the sum of our parts because our parts are not enough to describe the glory and dignity that we possess as children of God (cf. Ps 8:3-5]. What are the things that He wants us to imitate in Him? God is not only Power, Authority, Intelligence but also Pure Act. He is absolute and constant and unchanging as the medieval sages declare: Semper ubique ab omnibus! That which is always the same for all places at all times and all circumstances [cf. Mal 3:6; Heb 13:8]. Yet at the same time He is never dull, He is always acting as the Prime Mover. Thus, the universe is full of action. There are movement of matter, transition from one state to another, the passing of time and the delicate process of life and decay, then the sprouting and withering in season and out of season right before our very eyes and beyond our imagination. It is no wonder that the human person being the masterpiece of creation is not only given authority over the material world [cf. Gen 1:28] but is also required to be active. There is no room for laziness in the world, in every family and society, much more in the Church: ‘If any man will not work, neither let him eat’ [2 Thes 3:10 Douay-Rheims]. Of course, we exempt our sick, the old and the children but it is a universal rule that every human person must contribute not only because he belongs to the family but also because it is innate in human nature: See, Judge, Act. Even sciences start from these basic principles: Observe, Experiment, Analyze and Conclude. Actions of the senses coupled with the actions of the mind.

Man is not a machine. He is not commanded to work like a robot that goes on until breakpoint. Instead, he is called to serve like a soldier with duty and honor, dedication and valor for God and for country. Gen. Douglas McArthur in his famous Address before the Joint Session of the U.S. Congress presented his goal as a primary soldier of the American people in these poetic words: ‘In war there is no substitute for victory’. He was a veteran of many military campaigns but in the twilight of his career he viewed his responsibility and his goal clearly in an uncompromising manner. Our Church also produced the likes of McArthur, Patton, Eisenhower and Marshall in the person of our Saints who likened their evangelization efforts and missionary activities to that of a soldier of the Lord. When our St. Vincent de Paul, St. Martin of Tours, St. Jerome Emiliani or Mother Teresa worked, they gave their best not only for self-satisfaction but for the spread of the faith so that God shall be all in all [cf. 1 Cor 15:28 ]. When Msgr. Martin B. Hellriegel wrote the immortal hymn To Jesus Christ our Sov’reign King here in St. Louis, a friend told me that he wrote the original refrain: Christ Jesus Victor, Christ Jesus Ruler, Christ Jesus Lord and Commander. Jesus the Commander expresses the heart of a spiritual warrior working according to the Commander’s plan, strategy and vision in order to achieve victory over sin and death and over indolence, selfishness, greed and social injustices.

Discipleship is basically described as ‘sitting at the feet of the Master’; listening to his every word to easily remember them, to watch his face to memorize each line and, to familiarize with the tone of his voice and the mannerisms of his body. The disciple can then teach the very ideas of the Master, can embody his spirit so that when on his own the vision of the Master can be transferred to another because the disciple has become a master. A disciple is like a student and a soldier personified in one. As a soldier is expected to work, act, fight and execute the will of his commander to the best of his ability so a Catholic is called upon to do his best in everything that he does for self, family, nation and God. That is why our artisans produced the Pieta of Michelangelo, the Madonna of Raphael and the Last Supper of Leonardo. Our musicians generated the Requiem of Mozart, the Missa Solemnis of Beethoven and the Johannes Passion of Bach. Our architects and engineers produced the columns of Bernini and the wonders of the Cathedrals from Gothic to Baroque that manifest in matter the ideals of Truth and Beauty. Our very own Cathedral Basilica is a magnificent expression of human creativity which gives us a glimpse of heaven on earth. It touches the heart and penetrates the soul.  Tears flowed from my eyes the first time I beheld its interior and for a moment was transfixed. It was hypnotizing, blinding to the eyes and for a moment a taste of eternity. Indeed being is One, True, Good and Beautiful because our God is such. When we give our best in what we do the Good and the Beautiful shine before us reflecting the heart of the Creator. As it is true in arts, music, architecture, engineering and science it is the same business because God considers each of our abilities [cf. Mt 25:15]. The Lord necessitates the best in us according to our capacity and those who responded built up civilizations.

In the later part of our Parable, the Master searched for interests from His servants. The Master was demanding and exacting. He wanted the people not only to work but also to produce. He didn’t give only to allow His gifts to remain stagnant. He requires an increase. Thus, the call is to be greater than what we are. He wants us to be co-creators. If we want to share God’s life and glory then we must share not only in His work but also in His role of creating, providing, teaching, governing, redeeming and sanctifying. There are people who are working yet they do not grow. Work for them is a bitter pill and in turn they give unhappiness to fellows. They are a pain in the neck instead of being a help. There are others who keep on failing not because they lack the talent but because they don’t exert enough effort to practice and perfect their craft. In short they do not put their hearts into it. When we are given a mission there is no substitute for victory. There is always a way to achieve something because the God who gives the mission is the same God who gives the grace. The Spirit of the Lord fills what is lacking in us.

Taking a closer look at the same Parable of the Talent the two servants successfully utilized the money and gained interests out of it while the last of the three failed to do so. What are the reasons for the success and failure? The answer is found in Mt 25:16-17. The first and the second servants traded the money. What does it signify? They worked together with others so that what is lacking in them can be augmented by the talents and skills of partners. On the other side, the third servant dug in the ground, afraid and unsure. He lost because he was afraid to go into the deep, afraid to venture into new grounds and reluctant to ‘share’ with others. Cowards do not win war says Gen. George S. Patton and cowards neither produce successful businessmen nor do they become saints. Grace builds on nature. If the person makes himself indisposed there is no way for the grace of God to be effective in him: ‘The God who created us without us cannot save us without us’ says St. Augustine [Sermo #169, see CCC #1847]. In simpler words ‘it is impossible to awaken one who is pretending to be asleep.’ We need to cooperate with God so that grace will be efficacious and in turn we need to cooperate and share. The episcopal motto of Pope Benedict XVI sums it for us: Cooperatores Veritatis. With the Pope we are collaborators of the Truth and co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord. As Rome was not built in a day New York was not established by one person. The very term business suggests that it is a quid pro quo between at least two parties. By working with our neighbors we become an Icon of the Trinity, the God who is absolute Unity yet distinct as Three.

The issue here doesn’t concern only business success or failure rather if we wish to gain life it is imperative that we work with another. Business is more than gain. Business can be an antidote to selfishness too. It can lead to common good. By the work of our hands we give life to others as watering the soil does not mean enjoying the flowers alone. It will also give life to plants, trees, vegetables and will be home to birds and more. There is a saying that a poisonous lake receives water and keeps it within while a living lake is the one that receives and gives out in return. Thus, a simple business is life-giving and life-enhancing not only to the owner but to the workers and their families and more it improves the country’s economy. Bonum est diffusivum sui. Good spreads by itself says St. Thomas Aquinas that is why the Church calls each of her members to work for the common good. The Good Pope John defined it as “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily” (St. John XXIII, Pacem in Terris #55). From Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII up to Centesimus Annus of St. John Paul the Great the Church is constant in teaching the faithful and reminding all people of good will including the heads of states to work together for peace, justice and economic prosperity. Respecting a human person entails giving him a just salary which is his due and to protect not only his person but also his rights, his family and his property. The haunting flight of Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean in Les Miserables is so powerful because the story puts us to shame. In our midst there are people in prison because they are poor and there are poor because there is a lack of charity in the world where we live.

Finally, the Master rewarded the servants who traded their money while the reluctant was punished. Everything was taken away from the lazy while those who produced gained much more. First, it shows that God is not after the money but he is after our own good. Second, our failure to cooperate with the Divine Will by using our talents not only leads to failure but also to suffering: ‘He that troubleth his own house, shall inherit the winds’ [Prov 11:29 Douay-Rheims].Thus, the Parable’s ultimate concern is Salvation. Working for the good of others results to Eternal Life because God wills that we imitate the heart of the Father and the Son whose love is so real that it generates the Holy Spirit. As the Church is communitarian so Salvation is not only for individual but for all: ‘Who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ [1 Tim 2:4]. Though we do not say that all shall be saved since there is the reality of sin and obstinate refusal we rely on God that He will temper justice with mercy and we do our part by working for the good of all. While on earth then we must strive to be active thus, we encourage our priests to be dedicated in their ministries, our consecrated persons to be courageous in their missions and we inspire our lay to be active in the field of business and politics. Our laity are tasked to use the power of the Gospel to effect the transformation of labor and of politics to build up a civilization of love.

By our work we sustain our lives and we improve the lives of others. The ultimate reward however is that by our works we shall attain everlasting life. Business is not merely for profit but also a road to heaven. The immortal words of the Lord Jesus at the Parousia rings in our ears: “Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.” [Mt 25:40 Douay-Rheims] and at the end of the book of Revelation St. John recorded the Divine Master giving the same message: ‘Behold, I come quickly: and my reward is with me, to render to every man according to his works’ [Rev 22:12 Douay-Rheims]. That is why Justification is never by faith alone it is by faith and good works [cf. James 2:24].

Our business is God’s business first and foremost, so we’d better do it well so that God shall be glorified in us and through us. In everything that we do our basic principles must be love of God and love of neighbor [cf. Mk 12:30-31; Lk 10:27] that at the end of our journey the Fantine and Cossette of this world shall whisper in our ears as we breathe our last: ‘And remember the truth that once was spoken – To love another person is to see the face of God’ [cf. closing song, Les Miserables].