(Published October, 2015)
Forenote: With this article, I am merely exalting manual labor. I intend no criticism of those incapable of it, or who have rightly discerned themselves not called to it at this point!
We live in an age of computers, cars, cubicles, automated machinery to do everything for us, and the like.
Some societal effects of the aforementioned have been positive, but most have been disastrously negative. Among these grim consequences is the emasculation of men.
For make no mistake about it: men are called, by their very nature, not merely to — in the abstract — be the leaders, protectors, and providers of their families. Indeed they must be all those things, but much more specifically, men are also called to work, arduously and rigorously, at demanding and strenuous manual labor with their own hands and feet.
“By the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread” Genesis 3:19.
The great men of the Bible did this:
- Our Lord Jesus Christ. Decades of backbreaking labor in the carpentry shop with His foster father. But not only that, in His three years of public ministry, He would walk for miles and miles, from town to town, often fasting — often spending entire nights in prayer on a mountaintop. And of course, at the end of His earthly life, he carried a wooden cross weighing hundreds of pounds up a mountain after being scourged; a feat few men today could do on their best day in top health.
- St. Joseph. As we know, a carpenter. This was not about fiddling around as a hobby; this was about providing for his family. Especially in his time (without power tools), being a carpenter was incredibly strenuous.
- The Apostles. All of them went on enormous journeys. No comfortable cushioned seats on an airplane for them. Thousands of miles on foot, rather.
- Noah. Noah takes the cake on this. We know from the revelations to Bl. Emmerich that he labored away for one hundred years building this ark; one of the greatest things ever built, no doubt. Not only was Noah so incredibly righteous that, only thanks to him did God decide not to destroy humanity, but Noah was also likely one of the physically strongest men who has ever lived. Jesus tells Luisa Piccarreta that Noah’s labors in building the ark were incredibly meritorious before God and purchased, as it were, the continuation of the world.
- St. Paul. A tentmaker. And making tents in Biblical times was difficult work that involved the patching together of animal skins and carpentry work on the rigid structural elements. But instead of me going into more detail on Paul’s strenuous life, let me just quote him: “… with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. “ 2 Corinthians 11 This man was clearly about as physically tough and strong as you can get.
- Moses and Abraham. Do you think one can just “build an altar” (as both of them did — Exodus 17:15, Genesis 12:7) without having much experience and skill at manual labor with his hands? No way. This is not to mention the epic journeys that both of them undertook by foot; even in their old age.
- King David. We all know that, as a mere youth, he slew a literal giant with a small stone, and then chopped off his head. But David is also considered the model of strength, for of the Glorious Reign of Peace, Zechariah prophesies “On that day the Lord will shield the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the weakest among them will be like David” Zechariah 12:8
Bottom line: if there’s one thing the great men of the Bible weren’t, it’s cream puffs.
So why not follow their example? Here’s a few possible concrete ways you could go about this: things to avoid, and things to pursue.
- Do NOT confuse courage and recklessness. How sad it is how easily men fall into thinking that they need to do extreme sports, take insane risks for a thrill, go on some ridiculous trip, or whatever else, in order to “really live life.” These same people are usually quick to rebuke me for evangelizing in crime-ridden city streets because of how “dangerous” it is. It is hard to imagine a more worldly mindset. Taking a risk is good (courageous) when it is justified based on the circumstances and the end being pursued. Taking a risk is bad (reckless) when it is not justified based on the circumstances and the end being pursued. Running into a burning building to save a child is courageous; running into a burning building to save a cat is reckless. Drag racing on local streets is reckless. A police officer chasing a suspect, or a soldier charging into battle is courageous. Unfortunately there are far more reckless people today than courageous people. Speeding/tailgating, drunken debauchery, motorcycle/ATV/snowmobile hot-rodding, promiscuity, drug use, etc., are everywhere. Few, though, are found taking any sort of significant risk for the Glory of God or the Salvation of Souls. Though this point may seem a bit tangential to this article, it is extremely important: So many men think they are being “manly” by being reckless. They are not. They are being vain, proud fools. And I do not envy one who must meet his maker because he died in the midst of a reckless endeavor.
- Do NOT think you are fulfilling this intrinsic calling by wasting away hours every day lifting weights in the gym, preparing for a marathon/triathlon, or training yourself to win in your sport of choice. I’m not rebuking anyone just for doing these competitions! There’s nothing wrong with these things in and of themselves, but know that obsession with them or fixation upon them is very common among men (and, increasingly, women), and just turns you into a slave. None of these are intrinsic to the natural call of man. None of them serve to provide for your family. They are often directed entirely to the self, and as such, it is doubtful that you will find true and lasting joy in them. This selfishness is often somewhat mitigated (at least psychologically) because, superficially, marathons and the like are often said to be held for some charitable cause — but that’s more like vainly attempting to superimpose a holy meaning onto something than actually doing something thoroughly edifying. Again, nothing wrong with these things in and of themselves, all I’m saying here is don’t try to find in them the fulfillment of your natural call as a man.
- Do manual labor on your home. Perhaps instead of buying a new house as your family grows, you can build an addition, finish the attic, or finish the basement. Looking for a house? Make your home payments more manageable and avoid unholy excessive debt by getting a fixer-upper.
- Don’t know how to? It’s easy to learn; especially with YouTube. Don’t have the tools? It’s very cheap to get what you need. Here’s what you need to get started:
- Basic multitool kit
- 18” pipe Wrench
- Large Adjustable Wrench
- Engineer’s Hammer
- Large groove joint pliers
- Propane Torch
- Bolt Cutters
- Pry bar
- Wrecking bar
- Soldering Iron
- 100 foot extension cord
- Tin Snips
- Miscellaneous assorted hardware
- Large Saw
- Bottle Jack
- Box and Miter Saw
- Metal cutting hacksaw
- Measuring Tape
- Tool Belt
- Caulk Gun
- Power Tools worth having:
- Sledge Hammer/ Wood Splitter Combo
- Expendable items to have plenty of on hand:
- Lubricant (e.g. WD-40 — but get a generic brand)
- Duct Tape
- Basic Caulk
- Mechanics Wire
- Basic common nails (16d)
- Mineral Spirits (cleans anything)
- Thread seal (teflon) tape to prevent leaks at threaded pipe joints
- Lithium Grease (and a simple syringe injector in which to put it. More permanent and effective than WD-40)
- Don’t know how to? It’s easy to learn; especially with YouTube. Don’t have the tools? It’s very cheap to get what you need. Here’s what you need to get started:
- Go on a journey as a missionary or pilgrim. I’m not talking about some ego-stroking endeavor like doing the Appalachian Trail, climbing Mt. Everest (see courage vs. recklessness above), or collecting stamps on your passport (or pictures for your facebook page). I’m talking about something with a noble purpose.
- Pound the pavement for a local God-fearing, holy politician.
- Do a rigorous DWMoM regimen
- Do the Way of St. James in Spain
- Do basic work on your own car. It’s probably not worth getting all the tools and expertise to, say, rebuild your engine, but why not do oil changes, rotor/brake replacements, spark plug/air filter changes, etc., by yourself? You can save thousands of dollars this way, also. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Instead of spending a ton of money on expensive car jacks, stands, and ramps, you can simply place 2X6 pieces of wood in front of your tires and drive up onto them (perhaps stacked 2 or 3 high in a staircase configuration), and then use a bottle jack or the jack that came with your car (by the spare tire). Just be sure to never get under a car supported merely by a jack; at least jam something solid (e.g. a concrete block and some wood) under a structural component in case the jack topples.
- A ½” SAE and Metric Socket Set and Ratchet
- A ½” breaker bar
- A ½” extension bar
- SAE and Metric Combination Wrenches
- PB Blaster to loosen rusted components
- Search on Ebay for replacement parts; you can almost always find them for a small fraction of what a garage will quote you
- Grow your own food. Farming is a beautiful way to do manual labor. Now I’m not talking about having a dinky little garden in your backyard that any old lady could manage. I’m talking about growing enough food that you can largely feed your family with it, and sell some to help support your family as well. Building a coop and raising chickens is also great. If you feel called to this but don’t have enough space in your yard (or local codes don’t permit it), see if a nearby landowner will allow you to use a portion of his, or see if there are nearby “community gardens” that permit what you’d like to do.
- Walk to work or daily Mass. If there’s one (physical) thing society is missing today, it’s walking. Find prayer difficult due to distraction? Praying while walking is often the remedy. In poor health but hate running/going to the gym? Walking will be perfectly sufficient to put you in good health, and is very enjoyable to boot. Societies in which walking is paramount in transportation in daily life have far fewer health issues than those in which it is not. And walking will do you far more good than hours a week spent chasing diet and nutrition fads. Studies are even starting to prove what common sense already knows (such studies are the only ones worth listening to): there is an intrinsic connection between walking and thinking; a connection that does not exist between driving or biking and thinking.
- Start a manual-labor-based side business. A moving business, firewood business, carpentry business, landscaping business, etc. So many options! It’s very easy to form a legal LLC (I have my own — St. Joseph Mechanical Solutions LLC)
- Put aside, or refrain from buying, power tools and equipment that are not necessary. Using manual tools and equipment instead is cheaper, quieter, more peaceful, easier to pray while using, easier to set up, more reliable, and of course, more in line with your calling as a man. I am sure you noticed that the list I presented above has very few power tools — because of that, you can be prepared for virtually any job on your house with an investment of only a few hundred dollars! Hand tools also very well preserve their value.
- Instead of chop saws and circular saws, use a hand saw
- Instead of nail guns, use a hammer
- Instead of lawn mowers, use a manual mower
- Instead of snowblowers, use a shovel
- Instead of leaf blowers, us a rake
- Instead of power washers, use a brush and cloth
- Get a wood stove and heat your home with wood. Furthermore don’t merely order a cord of wood to have dropped off and neatly stacked by your door! You can save a bunch of money by chopping down, chopping up, splitting, and stacking your own firewood. Having a wood-burning stove can change your entire family for the better; winter becomes truly enjoyable having a nice fire to constantly gather around, it will bring your family together in the living room instead of having each person clicking away at his or her computer in his or her own room, and it gives you a great source of God-given natural beauty to wonder at. The list goes on. G.K. Chesterton wrote a great article condemning central heating because of the wonders of having a fire in the home to heat it; the wonders that central heat does away with. This could also save you thousands of dollars.
I can truly say that one of my life’s greatest blessings came from my wife and I choosing to buy, as our first home, a 100-year-old broken down fixer upper. A novena to St. Joseph blatantly lead us to (and solidified the deal with) this house. As I pay the bills (which we are able to keep low in part due to the fact that, as a result of this choice, our home payment is very small!) with teaching Mondays and Thursdays, as well as other afternoons/evenings/Saturdays, much of my days are spent laboring away on this house — jacking it up (houses tend to sink over a century), levelling it, demolishing walls/building new ones, digging footings, etc. I don’t have to waste time or money at the gym because I get all the exercise (and more) I need from this work, which I A) Enjoy, B) Provide for my family with, and C) Can pray powerfully during. Now I was blessed to be raised by my father continually having me doing these things since the age of 5, but even if you did not have such an upbringing, anyone can learn easily. Your wife will appreciate you more, because instead of simply seeing a paycheck, she’ll see the fruits of your labor. Don’t have a wife but looking for one? You’ll find one more easily if you do manual labor. It’s true!
But above all, I write this article because manual labor is extremely conducive to being sanctified. It is so natural to pray while (and through) working with your hands; much more so than, say, clicking away at a computer. This is essential in following the revelations given to Luisa Piccarreta, in which Jesus tells us of the possibility (and importance) of doing all that we do in the Divine Will, for in so doing we prepare the ground for the coming Glorious Reign of Peace.
The physical difficulty of manual labor also serves as a wonderful penance: for make no mistake about it, all of us in this fallen world are called to a life of mortification, penance, and sacrifice. Our love is, in fact, measured by our sacrifice. In manual labor, you can find at once joy in doing it, and also you can find aspects of it to offer up as a sacrifice for the salvation of souls. What a glorious combination! I know that when I’ve had my nose in theology books for too long, I need a few solid days of grueling manual labor; so that I can actually live what I’ve been reading about.
I’d also recommend at times (if you prefer it to simply mentally/vocally praying) listening to the Truth and Life Audio Bible while you work — it’s by far the best narration I’ve ever come across and well worth the cost.
Now, unfortunately many men utterly ruin the sanctificable aspect of manual labor by listening to terrible music (e.g. rock, metal, rap, pop) while working, listening to vain talk radio, cursing while they work if something goes wrong or they hurt themselves, having immoral conversations with people they’re working with (or simply constant idle banter), etc. All of this, sadly, you will hear when passing a typical construction site today. Please don’t fall into any of those traps. If you find yourself in a job that places you in the midst of such things, don’t be afraid to confront the perpetrators and gently ask that they cease, because it is offending you.
Make sure to also not fall into the trap of working at a frantic, rushed, un-sanctifiable pace. You can still work vigorously without working hecticly. Working a bit on the slower side is fine, too, if this helps you to pray.
- I speak much on this blog about the Signs of the Times and the upcoming Chastisements and the Glorious Reign of Peace afterward. Consider that once the end of this era comes, men will return to what men have always done: manual labor. We men are best off ensuring that, even now, we are prepared to return to this fundamental calling of ours. And indeed, one of the most practical effects of the Chastisements is going to be a radical increase in manual labor for your average man. Hauling water (physically — in buckets) long distances. Walking long distances. Building temporary structures. Carrying wounded/ill people. Searching through rubble. The list goes on.
- There are, of course, plenty of exceptions to this advice I here give — as there always are when you get specific with advice, which I always do. Reasons of age, health, vocation, and a whole range of other issues often mean that a certain man isn’t called to much manual labor. That’s up for you to discern for yourself, not for me to tell you what to do! So be at peace, you don’t have to do manual labor to be a good Catholic, or even a great saint.