A litany of saints with complicated employment histories

by Kiki Hayden

North Texas Catholic

Unemployed or trapped in a miserable work environment? Saint Nectarios would understand.
Unemployed or trapped in a miserable work environment? Saint Nectarios would understand.

Unemployment, toxic work environments, and poverty have been rampant during the 2020 pandemic. Consider: More than 40 million Americans were unemployed or forced to work fewer hours in June of this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Moreover, a recent global 200,000-person study indicated that 79 percent of people who leave their jobs cite “lack of appreciation” as their reason for having left, further confirming the prevalence of toxic work environments. Finally, headlines in recent months have exposed how ubiquitous harassment in the office has been. It’s no stretch to believe that these latter issues have been compounded by the pandemic.

Maybe you find yourself in one of these unfortunate situations. The saints could relate to this — many lost their jobs and/or endured terrible mistreatment and abuse as they set about living out their ministry and vocation — and they want to help you.

In this time of social distancing, having recourse to the communion of saints is crucially important. St. Paul states in his Letter to the Hebrews, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us” (12:1-2). Here are some saints who can inspire and intercede for us during this difficult time.

 

Unemployed

Job loss, poverty, and painful transitions did not spare even the Holy Family. When St. Joseph fled to Egypt with Mary and Jesus, he no longer had his carpentry workshop, his tools, his network of clients. He had to start from scratch. Returning to Nazareth, he had to reestablish himself yet again. The crazy thing is that God called the Holy Family into both of those situations, carrying them through job instability (Matthew 2:13, 19-23).

Persecution caused many early Christians to flee their homes (and their jobs). Paul encountered tentmakers Priscilla and Aquila as refugees in Corinth (Acts 18:2). Like Joseph, they had to drum up customers from scratch in their new home. Even in this stressful situation, they ministered to many. St. John Chrysostom wrote of Priscilla and Aquila: “Their house I could confidently call a church, or even Heaven itself.” 

Many centuries later, St. Nectarios of Aegina, an Orthodox Saint, was beaten at his first job and denied his pay. Later, when he was a bishop, his jealous colleagues spread rumors about him and got him demoted. According to the Orthodox Church in America’s “Lives of the Saints” page, “His letter of suspension said only that he had been removed ‘for reasons known to the Patriarchate,’ and so all the slanders about him were believed.” Bishop Nectarios was left jobless, homeless, and struggling, his many gifts ignored until a friend found him a position as a preacher, where he was still mocked and tormented.

Saints Joseph, Priscilla, Aquila, and Nectarios, pray for everyone seeking a job to endure their trials with great patience, find a fruitful career path, and to trust in God.

 

Stressful Jobs

 Like St. Nectarios, Saints Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross were unpopular due to their great devotion to Christ and suffered for it. Together they reformed the Carmelite order. According to author Maria Morera Johnson, Teresa of Avila “founded seventeen convents and fifteen friaries… despite opposition from within her order, from the clergy in her community, and from residents in the villages where she established new cloisters.” John of the Cross was persecuted multiple times by his brother priests. “His reform, though approved by the [order] general, was rejected by the elder friars, who… cast him into prison,” wrote Father Alban Butler in Lives of the Saints.

Venerable Henriette Delille is depicted in a painting by Haitian artist Ulrick Jean Pierre. (CNS/Courtesy Sisters of the Holy Family)Venerable Henriette Delille is depicted in a painting by Haitian artist Ulrick Jean Pierre. (CNS/Courtesy Sisters of the Holy Family)
Venerable Henriette Delille is depicted in a painting by Haitian artist Ulrick Jean Pierre. (CNS/Courtesy Sisters of the Holy Family)


Venerable Henriette DeLille of New Orleans was also no stranger to unsupportive colleagues. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website, she encountered “the resistance of the ruling population to the idea of a Black religious congregation; the lack of finances to do the work; the taunts and disbelief of people in her mission; the lack of support from both the Church and civil authority; and poor health.” She overcame all this to found the Order of the Sisters of the Holy Family in that city; the order, now 300 members strong, continues to serve the poor in several U.S. states.

And let’s not forget the martyrs. Saints Nicander and Marcian, soldiers for Rome living in the early fourth century who “decided to give up [their] career[s] when imperial edicts were published against the Christians,” wrote David and Mary Ford in Marriage as a Path to Holiness. The governor (their boss) pressured them to rejoin the army. When Nicander and Marcian stood firm, they were imprisoned, then killed.

Saints Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Nicander, Marcian, and Venerable Henriette DeLille, pray for us to persevere even when we endure persecution or abuse at work.

 

Inspiring Hope

The official Roman Catholic patron of unemployment is St. Cajetan. A priest, he experienced extreme work stress during the Reformation of the early 1500s and “devoted himself to nursing the plague-stricken,” according to Fr. Butler. Also, St. Jude the Apostle is literally the patron saint of desperate causes, so he’s got plenty of experience praying during tough circumstances. (Side note: these two saints are excellent intercessors for medical workers, whose jobs are very stressful right now.) St. Anthony of Padua is a faithful and speedy intercessor for those seeking — well, anything, including a job. And of course, Our Lady intercedes for all her children (us). Meditating on images such as the Holy Protection of the Mother of God and Our Lady Undoer of Knots can help anyone to feel protected and advocated for.

Saint Cajetan faced extreme hardship during his work helping reform the Church.Saint Cajetan faced extreme hardship during his work helping reform the Church.
Saint Cajetan faced extreme hardship during his work helping reform the Church.

No stranger to criticism from within the Church and without, St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote: “It is not difficult to convert work into a prayerful dialogue…a little sacrifice here, a smile there for someone who bothers us, beginning the least pleasant but most urgent job first, carefulness in little details of order, perseverance in the fulfilment of our duty….” This spiritual practice helps us to enter into an intimate relationship with Jesus that brings joy even in tough times. St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who offered her daily sufferings as flowers for Jesus, wrote in her autobiography, Story of a Soul, “Happiness has nothing to do with the material things which surround us; it dwells in the very depths of the soul. One can be just as happy in a gloomy prison as in a palace.”

 

Friends in Heaven

Saints aren’t just historical figures to look up to. They are alive now in heaven, praying with us whether we know it or not. So, when we feel desperate at work (or away from it), we do well to ask the “cloud of witnesses” to pray for us. They will always guide us back to Jesus, who tells us so often through Scripture: have no fear.

Unemployment, toxic work environments, and poverty have been rampant during the 2020 pandemic. Consider: more than 40 million Americans were unemployed or forced to work fewer hours in June of this year.

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