By Tim Von Dohlen

The Right Work Ethic

February 23, 2018

January 25-27, 2018, found Pat and me in Orlando, Florida for the annual Legatus Summit of Catholic leaders. The other Austin Chapter members present were Richard Benkendorf who has succeeded me as Chapter President, Lisa and Ken Ellis, Kim and Bill Moore, and Michelle and Paul Tucker.  It was a wonderful event with great speakers, good food, spiritual enrichment and entertainment from a 60’s legend Bobby Rydell.

Pat also had a national Relevant Radio Board Meeting the day before the Summit started.  That evening we were excited to attend a reception at the home of Coach Lou Holtz. He and his wife, Beth, shared that their lovely home had burned to the ground several years ago.

Coach Holtz related how he had told his wife as they stood outside in their pajamas, with him taking pictures on his iPhone of their burning home, “Beth, you can have 24 hours to grieve for our loss of our possessions but the next day the architect is coming over and will design what you want to start over.  We are going forward not looking back”.

What a positive statement about how we should lead our life when tragedy strikes.  God bless Beth and you Coach Holtz for your inspiration and thanks for the hospitality.

I was particularly attracted as a Catholic businessman to two of the presentations at the Summit:

  1. Exploring the Catholic work ethic, and
  2. An inside look at how the women’s movement was initially two different movements – women’s rights and the sexual revolution (to be covered in my March article).

Dr. Paul Voss spoke enthusiastically of the Catholic work ethic and following is my summary of his presentation.

Dr. Voss distinguished this from a work ethic where one devotes all of his or her time to work – day and night.  Here, one may never marry and even has a fear of idleness.  There is a belief that material wealth is the object and pinnacle.  One can get stuck in a rut re: career, home life, friends, family finances, diet, and life generally. As Henry David Thoreau said, “The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation”.

In a survey of 10,000 workers it was found that 70% either hate their job or are disengaged and 30% are deeply involved with their work. To increase engagement, one way is to give praise – do things like send flowers or write a personal note of encouragement and appreciation.

This full-time devotion to work might be described as the American work ethic.

With the Catholic Work Ethic there must be more than just accumulation of wealth.  While it is difficult to divorce oneself from focus on wealth, we can do it with what the Catholic faith gives in the five awakenings:

  • Philosophy – love of wisdom, reading, reflection, thinking, which requires time and silence.
  • Love – emptying of oneself, humility, freely giving.  C. S. Lewis described the 4 loves as 1) affection, 2) friendships, 3) Eros and 4) Agape (charity).  Men especially need to cultivate friendships. In fact, it is said, that as men grow older, men do not have many friends.
  • Prayer – enhanced communication, the real you in contact with the real God.  There are set and spontaneous forms of prayer each of which can be good.
  • Death – creates an abrupt reorganization of life, we should see life as a gift from God and live it with gratitude.  We should Pray as if everything depends on God and Live as if everything depends on you.
  • Beauty – does not command but summons, needs cultivation and requires observation.

In the Catholic Work Ethic leisure is the basis of culture and with work there is need for reflection, time off, celebration of successes and contemplation of your business.

One of the Patron Saints of Business is St. Omobono who died in 1197 and was canonized in 1199. He is the only lay person to be canonized in the Medieval period.

Have you thought about your own work ethic?  Which ethic have you chosen?  Constant work for material gain or a balance amongst putting God at the forefront, family, work, service to others and continued learning.  What is driving you?  How have you prioritized your time?  What is really important in your life?  Are you asking God to guide you in all that you do?

I think of Mark 8: 34-36 when Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.  What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”

“Minutes invested in prayer will give you a greater return than hours spent in ceaseless activity.”  Bob Gass

A wise old man looked into his granddaughter’s big blue eyes and said, “sweetheart, no matter where you go you take your attitude with you – and that’s what makes it terrible or wonderful”.  Yes, life is what you make it!  Which is why the Bible says, “For a happy heart, life is a continual feast.”

When we pray and ask for guidance, we must be open to listen to the call of the Holy Spirit.  I think of the song – Here I am Lord, Send Me.

“In God’s kingdom, calling trumps credentials every time!  And the litmus test isn’t experience or expertise.  It’s availability and teachability.  If you are willing to go when God gives you the greenlight, He will take you to inaccessible places and do impossible things.  Like a doctor on call or a police officer on duty or a firefighter on shift, it’s our readiness to respond that God is looking for.”  Bob Gass

Are you moving toward His call with your work ethic?


Timothy Von Dohlen is the founder and president of the John Paul II Life Center and Vitae Clinic in Austin, Texas. (  For a more robust bio, click here.  – He may be reached at

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