Do we ever stop to consider how many times a day our thinking and actions about our Catholic faith are influenced by a misguided concern for what others think of us?
During the day, how many times have we missed opportunities to stand up for Christ or share our faith? Perhaps it is the conversation we avoid with a troubled co-worker. Or maybe our refusal to publicly make the Sign of the Cross and say a blessing over our meals. Are we reluctant to stand up to someone who is attacking the Church? Is there a person who is quietly curious about the Catholic faith and is only waiting on an invitation to attend Mass with us?
Too often, a misplaced concern for the possible negative opinions of those around us keeps us from embracing our responsibilities. However, it is crystal clear that Jesus expects us to openly share our faith and acknowledge Him before others: “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father” (Matthew 10:32-33). Being a courageous and faithful Catholic in the workplace and the public square is not something of which to be ashamed or to hide.
Christ is our greatest example on how to not be concerned about the respect of others. He always taught the truth, regardless of the audience or his surroundings. His enemies recognized this aspect of Christ’s teaching, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status” (Matthew 22:16).
Francis Fernandez, author of In Conversation with God, makes this observation about courageously sharing the truth: “Christ asks His disciples to imitate Him in this practice. Christians should foster and defend their well-earned professional, moral and social prestige, since it belongs to the essence of human dignity. This prestige is also an important component of our personal apostolate. Yet we should not forget that our conduct will meet with opposition from those who openly oppose Christian morality and those who practice a watered-down version of the Faith. It is possible that the Lord will ask of us the sacrifice of our good name, and even of life itself. With the help of His grace we will struggle to do His will. Everything we have belongs to the Lord.”
He goes on to say that in a difficult situation, we should not give in to the temptation of simply taking the easy way out, for it may lead us away from God. Instead, he calls us to always make the decision that strengthens our faith and holds onto our deepest convictions. How we act in difficult situations, and every day for that matter, reflects the type of Christian we are. I would suggest that not taking a stand for Christ – not openly sharing our true beliefs – may be one of the biggest obstacles for many of us in growing in our faith… and possibly for those around us who are watching our example.
It is not an uncommon trait to see in people. After all, who wants to risk any work relationships because of faith? Chances are you have struggled with worrying about what others think of you. It is a natural human tendency that affects me and everyone I know. We all want others to like us, respect us, and include us. But, here’s the catch… we can’t separate our spiritual selves from our physical being. The faith we profess is part of who we are. We can’t hide it. “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.” (Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et spes)
Five Steps to Being More Courageous at Work
The more we are able to profess our faith, the easier it will be to carry out the actions of that faith. So here are five thoughts on how to overcome our fear of what others may think of us, be more courageous and go about setting a good example:
- Show me that in the policy manual. I have heard many times that expressing our Catholic faith in the workplace is probably “against company policy.” Have you actually seen a written policy addressing making the Sign of the Cross and praying at meals, praying quietly at your desk, going to Mass at lunch or wearing ashes on your forehead on Ash Wednesday? Let me challenge all of us to consider the possibility that much of our fear may be based on a false perception of possible persecution and not reality. Therefore, let’s use our right to live our lives as faithfully as we possibly can. In doing so, we will not only find work more enjoyable, but we will inspire others to do the same.
- Witness through personal example and be a light for Christ. Think about our own faith journeys, how we got to where we are, how we live it day by day with something new to look forward to when we head into work. Think about the example that we could set for others and the Christ-inspired joy we can radiate to those around us. 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. Someone is always observing us. Will our actions inspire them or disappoint them? “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:13-14, 16) Let’s think about our actions and how they can inspire others to live as faithfully as we are attempting to do. Be careful, however, as we do not want our actions to be of a selfish nature. Love as Jesus teaches and others will follow.
- Start the conversation with a little sharing of our own. Transparency invites transparency. We can’t expect someone to open up to us unless we are willing to do the same. Our faith journey is a blessing, meant to be shared. The witness we give may have a profound influence on someone. As we read in (1 Peter 3:15-16): “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.”While we may be eagerto share our faith with others, we are warned here to do so with care and with gentle love.
- Reality Check: Pursuing heaven vs. being popular.Heaven is our ultimate destination and not this place called Earth. Will our critics help us get to heaven? Will they stand up for us during tough times? No, they will pull us into a secular way of life which has little room for God and where materialism and popularity are the fashionable idols of the day. Francis Fernandez wrote that overcoming human respect is part of the virtue of fortitude. He describes the challenges a Christian may endure as, “…rumors and calumnies, mockery, discrimination at work, the loss of economic opportunities or superficial friendships. In these uncomfortable circumstances it may be tempting to take the easy way out and ‘give in.’ By such means we could avoid rejection, misunderstanding and ridicule. We could become concerned at the thought of losing friends, of ‘closing doors’ which we will later be unable to re-open. This is the temptation to be influenced by human respect, hiding one’s true identity and forsaking our commitment to live as disciples of Christ.” Doing what is right is not always easy, but in the long run it is clearly the most beneficial. Why would we not choose heaven?
- Be consistent and lead an Integrated Catholic Life. Do we take our faith with us to work, meals with friends, the kid’s soccer games and neighborhood swim meets? Or, do we only practice our Catholic faith at Mass on Sunday? It is easy to conform to secular expectations, but difficult to publicly show our love of Jesus, live out the Beatitudes, evangelize and lead a fully integrated life. I have always found inspiration on this topic from the wisdom of Pope St. John Paul II’s 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.”
We can’t do this alone and we must pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In my own experience, this is a daily work in progress and it is never easy. But, we should all recognize that there are people looking at us to see our example. They want to learn from and be inspired by our courage. Are we willing to take a stand for Christ? Think about how fortunate we are to live in a Christian country (although our religious liberties are clearly under attack) where all we risk is possible disapproval or alienation from others.
When we take our faith to work, we are standing up to that fear and solidifying the core values that we as Christians believe in. In order to maintain that strength, it is important to live faithfully each and every day, which means in the workplace, too. It will be difficult at times and will require sacrifice, but to live with the love of God every minute of every day is far more rewarding than a little disapproval.
I know this is difficult, but a sacrifice on our part is required. The sacrifice is simply to love Christ more than we love the opinions of those around us. Let’s pray for one another and continue to ask Jesus for strength and the discernment to know and follow his will.
Tomorrow is a new day. Will we have the courage to be a light for Christ to those around us?
(This post is adapted with permission of Randy Hain and Ligouri Publications from The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work.)