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By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Home, Work and Respecting Yourself

Should I Quit My Job?

Q: I have worked for a large company for over 18 years, but now I am disheartened by the conduct and ethics of my employers and co-workers. The office politics, the deceit and the greed all sicken me. These people stay just close enough to what is legal to stay out of trouble.

Should I just learn to live with this? I am well paid and can provide nicely for my wife and our five children.

In the past six months, I have been away from my family 65 percent of the time. I do not fish, hunt, play golf, bowl or things like that because I prefer to remain home and do things with my wife and our children.

I am torn between enduring this work environment to provide a comfortable lifestyle for my family and leaving it for something simpler, less stressful. Would another company be any better? Am I sacrificing my family for money and materialism?

When I look in the mirror, I see someone who must continue to do what I know to be right and “put up” with this job so that I can support my family.

A: You are obviously a conscientious person; that will be your best ally in resolving this dilemma.

If you are expected to do much more traveling than was indicated when you were hired, you should probably raise this issue with your supervisor.

Have you spoken to that person about the “office politics, deceit and greed”? Some of what sickens you could also be creating legal liability for your company. The ethical decision may likewise be good business.

Only you can answer the question about the tradeoffs between your income and your working conditions. It sounds as if this situation is becoming a matter of conscience for you.

Whenever people act against their conscience, they self-destruct to some extent. If that is true for you, the material advantages of your present job may eventually be little comfort to you, your wife and your children.

What you have described sounds like a lose-win situation in terms of your job and your family’s standard of living. Perhaps there is a win-win solution while remaining in your present job. It’s probably best to see if some improvement is possible where you are. You could well face the same pressures with another company.

Remaining in your present job, however, might mean losing your self-respect. If so, is providing for your family at its current standard of living still a good deal?

Have you talked with your wife about this dilemma? She can certainly offer better suggestions than I can.

You write that when you look into the mirror, “I see someone who must continue to do what I know to be right and ‘put up’ with my job so that I can support my family.”

Aren’t the two parts of that sentence at war with each other? Can you forever ignore what is right so that you can "put up" with a situation which supports your family while tearing you apart inside?

What if living this way leads to an early death for you? Will your wife and children be better off then?

I encourage you to wrestle with this situation until you can look in the mirror and honestly say, “I know that in the long run I have done the right thing for myself, my wife and our children.”

J. Murray Elwood, a lawyer and business consultant, has recently written Not for Sale: Saving Your Soul and Your Sanity at Work (Paulist Press). You may find his book helpful. You continue to be in my thoughts and prayers.

The Names of the Three Kings

Q: I cannot find the names of the three kings in the Bible. I can’t believe that I’m 65 years old and don’t know this! Where can I find them?

A: Don’t put yourself down for not knowing these names. If you were the greatest Scripture scholar in the world, you still couldn’t find them!

Only the Gospel of Matthew has the story of the Magi (2:1-12) and it does not even say how many there were! In the Middle Ages, these astrologers began to be called “kings.”

At various times, numbers other than three have been suggested. Christian tradition probably settled on that number because the Magi brought three gifts. According to The Catholic Source Book, by Rev. Peter Klein (Brown-Roa), the Venerable Bede (d. 735) described Melchior as old, Gaspar as young and Baltasar as black. Those names and details are not in the Scriptures, though they can remind us that Jesus, the light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6), came to save all people everywhere.

There is an annual custom of marking doorways with the initials of the three kings.

Is Mary Divine?

Q: As a 65-year-old, lifelong Catholic, I have always been puzzled by the title “Mother of God” as applied to the Virgin Mary.

If God always was, always will be and always remains the same, how can God have a mother?

A: God as Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) cannot have a mother. Catholics have never understood the title “Mother of God” in that sense.

If you deny this title to Mary, however, are you also denying that Jesus Christ was divine? You may not make that link, but many people in the fifth century did. This title became official then as a way of settling that issue.

“Mother of God” is the popular translation of the title Theotokos (literally, God-bearer). A Concise Dictionary of Theology, by Gerald O’Collins, S.J., and Edward Farrugia, S.J., says that this title was used as early as the third century. The authors add, “When Nestorius of Constantinople called into question this popular title, the Council of Ephesus (431) condemned him and, in upholding the unity of Christ’s person, proclaimed the legitimacy of the title Theotokos.”

What is at stake here is not so much honoring Mary as acknowledging the uniqueness of Jesus—one person, who is fully God and fully human. Nestorius denied that Jesus was, in fact, one person and said that Mary should be called the Christotokos (Christ-bearer) but not Theotokos.

The Council of Ephesus disagreed because they felt that the title which Nestorius favored cast doubt on Christ’s divinity.

The feast of Mary, Mother of God, is now celebrated on January 1.

Why Fast?

Q: I recently began fasting once or twice a week. Although I see this as reparation for sin and note that Jesus himself fasted, I am not satisfied with that explanation.

A: Any form of self-denial has two possible outcomes. The practice can remind me that following Jesus involves hard decisions and sacrifices or the practice can foster the illusion that I can obligate God to do something good to repay me because of my penance.

Having fasted in moderation to remind myself that following Jesus is sometimes difficult, I may be more ready not to respond angrily to someone else’s thoughtlessness, for example. Fasting can help me live in the truth about God, myself and other people.

Christians fast at times because Jesus said that his followers would do so (Luke 5:35).

Dealing With a Brother's Anger

Q: How do you handle a brother who constantly feels sorry for himself and uses every excuse to distance himself from me and my family?

Recently he has begun e-mailing me about his anger toward our parents, from childhood hurts, and all the struggles he has had to overcome in life.

I feel sorry for him, but every time I try to get closer—we have children of similar ages—he can never make it or has some excuse for not inviting my family to his home.

In a recent e-mail, he explained that, if I try to get closer to him, he will get physically sick. I care about my brother, but I cannot allow him to treat me this way.

A: Although you cannot control his behavior, you can protect yourself from getting sucked into his seemingly endless black hole of resentment.

If he refuses to have physical contact with you, perhaps you should urge him to confine his e-mails to subjects other than his resentment of your parents. The situation you describe sounds unfair to you: He has e-mail access to you to share his resentment, but you have no physical access to him.

Maybe you should try setting your own parameters for this relationship. Thus far you have accepted the ones he dictates.

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

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