This talk was given at the 2nd Annual Atlanta Catholic Business Conference held at St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church on February 20th, 2010.
The theme of this year’s Conference is “Being Catholic in the Workplace.” Let’s address the obvious question: “Why is this important?” Most of us spend the majority of our adult lives at work. The workplace today can be a challenging environment to be open about our Christian beliefs. Political correctness and rigid company policies have led many of us to compartmentalize our faith in an unhealthy and unnatural way. I often hear people say “I just leave my faith at the door when I get to work.” But, how can we possibly separate our spiritual selves from our physical being?
In Gaudium et Spes, the Second Vatican Council weighed in with this declaration: “One of the gravest errors of our time is the dichotomy between the faith which many profess and the practice of their daily lives… The Christian who shirks his temporal duties shirks his duties towards his neighbor, neglects God himself, and endangers his eternal salvation. Let Christians follow the example of Christ who worked as a craftsman; let them be proud of the opportunity to carry out their earthly activity in such a way as to integrate human, domestic, professional, scientific and technical enterprises with religious values, under whose supreme direction all things are ordered to the glory of God.” How can we overcome secular obstacles to our faith and fully embrace Christ in every aspect of our day, especially work? The Conference hopes to address the obstacles (many of our own making) to our ability to lead fully integrated lives and provide practical and actionable ideas to achieve this worthy goal.
The concept of being Catholic at work is a daunting idea for many and the thought of acting, thinking and leading through the lens of our faith is an alien concept. In my profession, I encounter scores of business men and women who incorrectly perceive “faith at work” as leading bible studies in the break room over lunch or loudly evangelizing to co-workers. It rarely occurs to us to think about our own faith journeys, the example we set for others and the Christ inspired joy we should radiate as the most effective ways to share our faith. Letting others see Jesus Christ at work in us is a powerful form of witness that will attract others who want what we have in our lives.
Ponder the words of Pope John Paul II, who said in his Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici: “The fundamental objective of the formation of the lay faithful is an ever-clearer discovery of one’s vocation and the ever-greater willingness to live it so as to fulfill one’s mission. …The lay faithful, in fact, are called by God so that they, led by the spirit of the Gospel, might contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven, by fulfilling their own particular duties. Thus, especially in this way of life, resplendent in faith, hope and charity they manifest Christ to others.” The mission of the lay faithful forces us to consider the workplace as fertile ground in which to do God’s work. As we know from numerous scripture passages and Church teaching, we are all called to lead lives of holiness and to be witnesses for Christ. Our workplace vocation is necessarily a critical component of responding to that call.
I would like to share a little personal history with you. Until my conversion to the Catholic Church in 2006, I spent over two decades in what I call the “Spiritual Wilderness”-a period in which I had no faith in my life. During this time I led a compartmentalized existence in which I was consumed by my career and climbing the corporate ladder until I met my future wife Sandra in my late 20’s. After we were married and our two sons were born, I shifted my focus to work and family. I am ashamed to admit that frequently in the struggle for my time, work often won. It wasn’t until I went through a life changing personal conversion during a Mass in October of 2005, much like Saul (the future Apostle Paul) on the road to Damascus, that I surrendered to Christ and started down the path which led me and my family into the Church in 2006.
My conversion experience and decision to join the Catholic Church immediately provided the vital missing ingredient in my life. That moment of surrender when I absolutely gave up control for the first time in my life and put Jesus first, has served as the catalyst for a life altering journey in the Catholic Church the last few years. I experienced a conversion, not only in my new faith and devotion to Jesus Christ, but in my world view. I began to see for the first time the vital necessity of integrating all three areas of my life. All of the energy I had used in saying “NO” to Christ for over 2 decades is now being applied in saying “YES” to Him and His Divine Will.
I have shared this very brief description of my conversion story and my life before conversion to illustrate three important obstacles to Being Catholic at Work, which many of you here today may also be facing: Silos, Time and Surrender.
Let’s “unpack” each of these obstacles…
Does the earlier statement, “I just leave my faith at the door when I get to work” resonate with you? Having operated within silos for my most of my life, I have learned how to recognize this challenge in others and it is very, very common. Yet, I would suggest that many of us are here today because we desire a more integrated life, a life in which Christ is at the center of our daily thoughts and actions at work and at home.
I believe that promoting this integration will help us all become better Christians and reverse the negative effects — emotional, moral, and spiritual — of keeping our faith separate from the rest of our lives. As my friend Charlie Douglas wrote in an article titled Moral Hazards in the Marketplace: “Perhaps part of the problem today is that there is a growing cultural demarcation between the sacred and the secular. Increasingly, love and faith are reserved for Church on Sundays, while the workplace demands a focused self-interest and a competitive edge to survive.”
Overcoming this obstacle is not easy, but following the guidance I shared earlier from Pope John Paul II’s words in Christifideles Laici, we must see our daily activities, including our work, as opportunities to join ourselves to God and serve His will. We all play multiple roles in life: parents, spouses, siblings, leaders, employees, students, etc. But, the most important role and responsibility we have is to be Faithful Catholics. Being Faithful Catholics in thought, word and deed at all times will allow us to seamlessly unify our lives and transcend our natural tendencies towards compartmentalization. Easy to say, possibly difficult to do…but necessary nonetheless.
Most days my work calendar is completely filled with meetings and phone calls. Outside of the work day, I am focused on helping my wife get the kids ready for school, family dinner time, evening time with the kids, bed time reading and prayers with the kids, time with my wife, infrequent exercise, answering emails I couldn’t get to during the day and then falling asleep exhausted after reading three pages of the book that has been on my night stand for 3 months! Sound familiar?
Now, let’s discuss what is more important than everything else I just mentioned-Christ and our relationship with Him. The key here is to recognize that Christ should never compete for our time and that living our busy lives and putting Him first are not mutually exclusive! He is not to be considered an addition to our lives…He is the reason for our lives. If we recall the point I made about the need to remove our silos, then we need to integrate our lives with Christ at the center of everything we do instead of viewing the daily practice of our faith as adding more time to already packed schedules.
St. Ignatius Loyola once said, “Few souls understand what God would accomplish in them if they were to abandon themselves unreservedly to Him and if they were to allow His grace to mold them accordingly.”
Surrender…giving up control of your life to Christ, is an enormous obstacle to living out our faith in the workplace or any place for that matter. I remember very well what my life was like before surrendering to the Lord and putting Him first in my life. All I had was family and work prior to that point and I was in charge (I thought) of my own destiny. I dealt with life’s challenges as they came and pridefully took the credit when things were going well. I thought I was being the strong husband and father that my father had been when I was growing up. I thought I was in control. But, God had other plans for me and as St. Bernard said centuries ago, “He who is his own master is a scholar under a fool.”
I shared with you a few minutes ago my conversion experience. I clearly recall that I went into Mass that morning feeling lost-I knew I needed help and that I no longer had the answers. I remember praying silently to God to lead me and acknowledged that I was no longer in charge. I was feeling so weak because I had never asked God for anything before and I didn’t know how to relinquish control. When I prayed those words, gave up control and sincerely surrendered to His will, I felt a surge of strength and a sense of peace that felt like a wind blowing right through me. I had given up over 20 years of stubbornness, ego and pride that had been accumulating since I last attended the Baptist church as a teenager.
Your experience may be quite different from mine. All I can share with you is that when I put my pride aside and humbly surrendered to His will, the Lord gave me strength and a sense of peace which I still feel to this day. Please know that I still struggle with pride and placing Christ first in every aspect of my life and I have problems like everyone else. But, knowing that He will forgive me, love me, guide me and bless me keeps me coming back again and again to the place where I pray the words, “I surrender Lord, please lead me.” Surrendering to Christ is the key to overcoming the other obstacles of silos and time.
You may face different challenges to being Catholic at work, but these obstacles have consistently been issues for me and countless others who I have encountered on my faith journey. The point of this talk, in fact of the entire Conference, is to find answers to the question: What will we do differently tomorrow to be Catholic in the workplace?
I have always been drawn to achievable and actionable ideas and I would like to share these six practical actions for living out our Catholic faith at work, which I am trying to follow:
Devote 1 hour of each day to Prayer and Reading. The time-challenged among us are silently screaming “NO WAY!” But, I am telling you it is absolutely achievable. Would we ever consider not giving our loved ones an hour a day? Doesn’t God deserve at least an hour of our time as well? Here are some easy ways to achieve an hour of combined prayer and faith based reading each day.
- Try getting up 15 minutes earlier each morning to read the Magnificat, In Conversation With God by Frances Fernandez, the Bible or some other great faith book or resource in line with the teaching of the Magisterium.
- Pray the Morning Offering before leaving the house each morning.
- Pray the Rosary on the way to work or during exercise.
- Do the Jesuit Daily Examen (see Prayer section in your Resource books for a copy). The Examen requires you to stop, reflect and pray 5 times a day for just a few minutes. Put it on your calendar and make it part of your routine.
- Say a blessing over every meal, regardless of our companions.
- Pray with our families at bedtime
- Pray a family Rosary
- Read a few pages before we go to sleep.
Let’s make good use of the calendars on our BlackBerry, iPhone, write it on our calendar or do what ever works best, but prayer and reading will only happen if we make time for it. Consider this thought from Dr. Peter Kreeft, “The first rule for prayer, the most important first step, is not about how to do it, but to just do it; not to perfect and complete it but to begin it. Once the car is moving, it’s easy to steer it in the right direction, but it’s much harder to start it up when it’s stalled. And prayer is stalled in our world.”
Devote more time to the Eucharist. Want to fully experience Christ and be closer to Him during the work day? Know what parishes are on your way to work or near your office. Seek out the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in daily Mass when possible and spend quiet time before the Blessed Sacrament in Eucharistic Adoration every week. We Catholics have a wonderful gift in the Eucharist and we should seek Him out at every opportunity.
Be a Light for Christ. What does being a light for Christ mean? How can it be manifested in us? Author Francis Fernandez shares this observation from In Conversation With God, “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You are the light of the world’. The light of the disciple is the light of the Master himself. In the absence of this light of Christ, society becomes engulfed in the most impenetrable darkness. Christians are to illuminate the environment in which they live and work. A follower of Christ necessarily gives light. The very witness of a Christian life, and good works done in a supernatural spirit, are effective in drawing men to the faith and to God. Let us ask ourselves today about our effect on those who live side by side with us, those who have dealings with us for professional or social reasons. Do they see this light which illuminates the way that leads to God? Do these same people feel themselves moved, by their contact with us, to lead better lives?”
Let Love drive our actions. Agape, the Greek word for selfless love, is the magic elixir that should drive our daily work activities. It is by acting in a selfless and charitable way towards others and putting their needs before our own that people will truly begin to see Jesus in us. It is so easy to focus on our own desires and needs, but take up the challenge to make today about serving others. Even the little acts of selfless kindness will have a dramatic impact on the people around us. Our keynote speaker Chris Lowney, author of Heroic Leadership, wrote: “Love enables any company to welcome every sort of talent, irrespective of religion, race, social position or credentials. Love is the joy of seeing team members succeed. Leaders motivated by love start from the premise that people will give their best when they work for those who provide genuine support and affection.”
Practice Active Stewardship. Do you and your company give back to the community? 1 Peter 4:10 says: “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” Get involved, make a difference and contribute; perhaps if we lead, our company will follow. Look for opportunities to reach out to the “Lazarus” in our lives today (from the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus). Lazarus may be a depressed or troubled co-worker, a client who is dealing with personal tragedy or the homeless and hungry outside the walls of our office building. Consider 1 John 3:17: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?”
Start with the end in mind. I can’t think of a better motivation for practicing our Catholic faith in the workplace than this mental image: Picture Jesus greeting you in Heaven with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We have a lifetime, including our time at work, to love and serve the Lord. Will we use it wisely? What will Jesus say to us at the end of our lives?
My intent in sharing these actions is to show how simply we can alter our lives in a way that assimilates faith, family and work and puts us on the path to a Christ-centered life, filled with meaning. I try every day to do the actions I have shared and I assure you that I struggle like anyone else. Our challenge is to practice them not as a bunch of new “to-dos,” but as part of a broader, unifying approach to a balanced and meaningful life that places Christ first in all areas of our lives.
In the practice of our Catholic Faith, we are faced with a choice between a compartmentalized life or an integrated life where faith, family and work are unified and centered in Christ. We are asked to “change our hearts,” let go of our attachments to material things and place Him first in our lives. We are asked to let others see Jesus within us and to share our joy with others. Our humble and virtuous example to others throughout the day will positively influence their behavior and individual faith journeys. An active prayer life-one which turns our day into a conversation with God and firmly places His desires before our own, will open us up to receive boundless grace.
Catholics are meant to stand out, not blend in. Blending in speaks to conforming and making concessions so our faith becomes part of the mainstream…and we need to fight it! We live in difficult, trying times. Families are under attack, our children are at risk, many people are blind to the need to respect and value all life and atheists are one of the fastest growing groups in the world. We have an opportunity, especially in the workplace, to be beacons of light and good examples of Christ’s redeeming love.
I would like to close with a quote from one of my favorite writers, Francis Fernandez and his wonderful series of books, In Conversation With God, “We have to show everyone that Christ is still alive by living heroically the events of our daily lives. The apostolic vocation which we all received at Baptism means giving witness in word and deed to the life and teaching of Christ. People said of the early Christians, See how they love one another! The pagans were really edified by this behavior and those who conducted themselves in this way had favor with all the people, as the Acts of the Apostles tell us.
Our Lord asks us to give a Christian witness through our ordinary lives, engaged in the same ways of earning a living, tackling the same concerns as other folk. We have to act in such a way that others will be able to say, when they meet us: ‘This man is a Christian, because he does not hate, because he is ready to understand, because he is not a fanatic, because he is willing to make sacrifices, because he shows that he is a man of peace, because he knows how to love.’
We make our Lord known through the example of our life, looking for occasions to speak out, not missing a single opportunity. Our task consists to a large extent in making the way to Christ cheerful and attractive. If we behave like that, many will be encouraged to follow it and to bring the joy and peace of the Lord to other men and women.”
We have begun the Lenten season. This is a time of prayer, sacrifice and commitment in preparation for Easter. I encourage each of us to listen, participate and reflect on the lessons you take from today’s Conference and use this as a catalyst to become Lights for Christ in the workplace starting Monday. The world desperately needs it. With the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit we can do it. The time is now.
Thank you and God bless!
Information and online registration is available for the 3rd Annual Atlanta Catholic Business Conference being held on Saturday, January 29th. Register at: http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/acbc2011/