Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Prisoner for Christ: Lessons for the Unemployed

The following blog is a continuation of the A Prisoner for Christ: One Cardinal Learns God’s Peace in his Darkest Hour II:

Over the last two years the anxious pursuit of finding a job has become more common. Unemployment more than doubled since July of 2008 (4.4%). During the last month of 2010 it has lingered at about 9.6%. Many Free Market economists are predicting a double dip recession; which means the current employment rate may not be the worst of it. In any case, there are more people today than in 2008 that have a double burden of providing for a family and looking for a job. For a man, this can be especially trying because he responds to unemployment far differently than a woman (see: first blog of this series/read below).

With that said, what can a Cardinal possibly have to offer to the unemployed? Especially one who was subject to such squalid conditions in a Vietnam prison for thirteen years?

God uses the sufferings of his servants to teach others valuable, sometimes profound, lessons on how to better endure the ordinary- and sometimes extraordinary -trials of life. In 1975 Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan was abruptly taken away from his sacred employment as a bishop in South Vietnam only to be thrown into a hole. What initially tormented Cardinal Francis Xavier, then bishop, was not only having the physical restriction imposed upon his body but having to endure the absence of what formerly fulfilled his soul; namely, his work and mission. As the saying goes, “Hunger is not the worst feature of unemployment; idleness is.” Indeed, Pope Leo XIII once wrote that man’s contribution to the world through his work is the “impress of his personality.” Work is so important to a man that he can make the mistake of defining himself by it.

However, God helped this prisoner for Christ to process the senseless suffering, the idleness and the endless monotony. Within his heart, lying in a dark cell, he heard: “You have only to choose God and not the works of God!” The good Cardinal then related that “from that minute onwards, a new peace filled my heart and stayed with me for thirteen years." Like George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life, he returned to the same world but with a perspective only heaven can provide. A renewed Francis Xavier Nguyen Van then proceeded to teach and evangelize the prison guards. As he put it, the prison had become his shrine.

Unemployed, married men carry a very similar cross to that of Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan. However, unlike the Cardinal, married men are an ambassador of two worlds: the world of their career and the world of their family. A man can be successful in his career but if he fails as a husband or as a father, he has failed in life. To be sure, his thoughts on his deathbed will be filled with regrets! On the other hand, as stated previously, a man can be the best of husbands or fathers and yet if he is not fulfilled in his vocation, that is, his work, he can feel like half a man. There is a divide running right through him. Two worlds can either peacefully co-exist within him or they can clash! Perhaps that is why men statistically have higher crime rates than, higher suicide rates, higher rates of sexual assaults and they are more likely than women to have a midlife crisis. In the creation narrative from the book of Genesis, the only time God said, “It is not good” is when Adam was alone. In order for these two worlds to peacefully work together for his welfare, God and a virtuous woman (wife or mother) are needed. Absent these two factors, man becomes destructive to himself and to others.

With good spiritual reading the unemployed husband and father can manfully brave his trials. He can enjoy the same peace Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan enjoyed in the worst of prisons and see that each day brings with it new circumstances; and those circumstances are the content of God’s will. And all we have to do is accept these circumstances as God’s will- no matter how depressing and hopeless they may appear to be .

To continue, please read: A Prisoner for Christ: Lessons for the Unemployed II