“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 and 16.
Most of us spend the majority of our adult lives at work. The workplace today is a challenging environment to be open about our Christian beliefs. Political sensitivity 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 our Lord in every aspect of our day, especially work?
In this article, I would like to address the obstacles (many of our own making) to our ability to lead fully integrated lives and stake the claim that religion intolerant workplaces and company policies are not really the root cause of our challenges to becoming Lights for Christ at work. Even though I write this from the perspective of my Catholic faith, this subject is relevant to all Christians in a way that transcends individual denominations.
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 these well intended people to think about their own faith journey, the example they set for others and the Christ inspired joy they radiate as the most effective ways to share their faith. Letting others see Jesus Christ in you is a powerful form of witness that will draw others to you who want what you have in their lives.
What does being a Light for Christ really mean? How can it be manifested in us? 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?”
Vocation and Apostolate
We all have vocations. The traditional definition of vocation is: An inclination, as if in response to a summons, to undertake a certain kind of work, especially a religious career; a calling. I prefer the Apostle Paul’s opinion reflected in his writing in 1 Corinthians 7:24: “So, brethren, in whatever state each was called, there let him remain with God.” He is giving them a vocation that directly concerns their situation in the world.
Being a parent, husband or wife is a vocation. Why not view your job through this same prism?
Michael Naughton writes in his article, A Labor Day Reflection: Three Views on Work: “A vocation enables work to become more satisfying but understood not solely from the perspective of the self or even from the community, but informed by God’s grace. Work as a vocation transforms the worker and the object the worker produces by God’s grace. A vocation integrates the divine into the activity of work.” I address this idea of integration in depth later, but do you see Naughton’s point?
Viewing our profession as a vocation brings God into our workplace where he can work through us to achieve wonderful things in His name.
Pope John Paul II wrote in 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, we are all called to holiness and evangelization—so, our workplace vocation is necessarily a critical component of responding to that call.
Apostolate is a spontaneous activity which is emitted from Christians at every possible opportunity and is nothing more than the outpouring of one’s love for Christ. Again Francis Fernandez, from In Conversation With God: “Our Lord asks everyone to give good example in their daily lives and in a fruitful apostolate. There are many admirable examples around us, but we have to pray that, among Christians, those who lead and govern, people of influence, parents, teachers, priests and everyone who is any way a good shepherd for others will grow daily in holiness.
Fernandez also wrote this relevant passage, “In a world which in many ways is estranged from God and at odds with a Christian way of thinking, on all Christians, accordingly rests the noble obligation of working to bring all men throughout the world to hear and accept the divine message of salvation (Second Vatican Council, Apostolicam actuositatem). Ordinarily our first obligation will be to direct our apostolic activity towards those whom God has placed near us, those with whom we are in frequent contact. We should be opportunely apostolic, presenting Christ’s teaching in an attractive and heart-warming way. We will not attract anyone to the faith if we are rash and impetuous; we will if we are kind, patient and loving.”
Surrender and Conversion
Before we can be a Light for Christ, we must first experience a total surrender to His will. This surrender is the first step on a long, challenging faith journey that will ultimately bring us closer to Christ.
Surrender, give up control and place Christ first in your life — before yourself, your friends, your job and even your family. The Apostle Paul wrote to the early Christians in Galatia: “No longer do I live, but Christ lives in me and the life I now live by faith in the Son of God.”
Surrender to His Divine will and receive in return all that you gave up, along with the peace and strength of Christ. I never felt stronger in my life than the very moment I finally placed Christ first in my life and surrendered everything to Him. St. Ignatius of Loyola 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.”
Hand in hand with surrender must come sincere personal conversion. Our soul’s conversion mirrors the renewal we experienced in our Baptism. In order to truly make a difference in the workplace, we must pray that the Holy Spirit will cleanse our old selves and prepare us to become renewed in Christ. We must rid ourselves of attachment to unchecked consumerism and materialism, excessive personal comfort, self-centeredness and selfishness.
Pope John Paul II, in addressing the French people at Parc des Princes in 1980, said this about conversion: “Open the gates wide to Christ! Have confidence in Him. Take the risk of following Him. Obviously, this demands that you should come out of yourselves, or your own way of reasoning, or your prudence. It demands that you leave behind your indifference, your self-sufficiency, those un-Christian habits that you perhaps acquired. Yes; that demands renunciation, a conversion, which first of all you must want to want; want to pray for in your prayer, and want to put into practice. Let Christ be for you the way, the truth and the life. Let Him be your salvation and your happiness. Let him take over the whole of your life so that with Him you can live it in all its dimensions. Let all your relationships, activities, feelings, thoughts, be integrated in Him, or, so to speak, ‘Christified’. I wish, that with Christ you may come to recognize God as the beginning and end of your existence.”
The process of surrendering to His will and personal conversion is an ongoing and vital component of our faith journey. St. Teresa of Avila once said, “Christ does not force our will, He only takes what we give Him. But He does not give Himself entirely until He sees that we yield ourselves entirely to Him.”
The Integrated Life
I am involved in a number of ministries and groups whose mission is to promote a “unity of life,” centered in Christ, that will help Catholic men and women integrate faith, family and work. We should follow the call of Pope John Paul II, who said in his Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici: “The unity of life of the lay faithful is of the greatest importance: indeed they must be sanctified in everyday professional and social life. Therefore, to respond to their vocation, the lay faithful must see their daily activities as an occasion to join themselves to God, fulfill his will, serve other people and lead them to communion with God in Christ.”
I believe that promoting this integration will help us all become better Christians and reverse the negative effects — mental, emotional, moral, and physical — of keeping our faith separate from the rest of our lives. As my friend Charlie Douglas wrote in his 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.”
The challenge is to adopt new practices and strategies, not as a bunch of new “to-dos,” but as part of a broader, unifying approach to balance and integration. It isn’t easy, but worth the journey.
Now let’s explore some of the obstacles we may face (real and perceived) to living out our faith at work and offer tangible solutions for overcoming them. These obstacles are examples from the numerous conversations I have had with working men and women over the past few years on this subject.
• “I am afraid of losing my job if I am open about my faith at work.”
Look carefully at your company policy regarding this issue…if there even is a policy! Setting a good example, sharing your joy and reflecting Christ back to others is in no way a violation of any company policy of which I am aware. There are extremes in everything, so organizing a bible study group at work may not be the most appropriate choice. But, letting others see Christ at work in you is the most fundamental and important way to be open about your faith at work.
• “Authenticity, integrity, empathy, love and other characteristics of Christianity are not valued in my company, in fact they are discouraged.”
I am often comforted and encouraged by the Apostle Paul’s advice in his letter to the Philippians (Phil 4:8): “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” We need to choose whose opinion we value more highly — God’s or the leaders of our company. Hiding your true Christian self is unhealthy and dangerous and not pleasing to God. Weigh carefully the price you may be paying for submerging your beliefs (and true self) to benefit your career versus the reward you may be forfeiting in heaven.
• “I just don’t have the moral courage to be open about my faith.”
This is one of the most honest and frequently given excuses I hear. By definition, moral courage means you are willing to act on your convictions even if it costs you something, such as social acceptance or convenience. It is easy to conform to secular expectations, but difficult to publicly show your love of Jesus, live out the Beatitudes, evangelize and lead a fully integrated life. Consider the Apostle Paul’s letter to Timothy (2 Tim 4:1-5): “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths. But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry.”
• “I love the Lord, but I don’t always know the appropriate thing to say about my faith, especially at work.”
It is said that St. Francis of Assisi once offered this advice, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” Don’t worry about being “good enough.” We are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. It is through the love and charity we give others and our daily example of Christ’s love within us that shows others we are Christians. If we are truly acting as Lights for Christ, people will be drawn to us and the Holy Spirit will work through us — if necessary, the words will come.
• “I am not comfortable sharing anything personal, especially about my faith.”
Transparency invites transparency! We can’t expect someone to open up to us unless we are willing to do the same. Your faith journey is a blessing, meant to be shared, and the witness you 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.” More directly, our Lord said in Matthew 10:32: “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my father in heaven.”
Being a Light for Christ — Practical Actions
Since my personal conversion and entry into the Catholic Church, I have spoken with friends and larger audiences through my writing about the responsibility of being Lights for Christ at work. I assure you I struggle with many of the issues and solutions highlighted in this article. But, I encourage all of us to not see this as a simple choice, but as a true calling from our Lord. Following are practical and achievable actions to help us turn our work into faith-inspired vocations and allow others to see Christ within us:
• This simple, yet powerful word makes all the difference and must be at the heart of your apostolate at work. Prayer is a conversation with God. The best kind of prayer is the one that transforms our desire into His desire. It can happen any time or place, especially throughout the work day. Would you give your family at least an hour of your time a day? Of course! Why can’t we give the Lord an hour a day? It’s not as difficult as you think. Start the day with prayer. Before you check email or read the paper, offer the day up to God, thank Him and ask for his forgiveness, help and blessing. When you drive to work, pray the Rosary or any prayer that has you thinking of God. Think of prayer as any moment you turn your thoughts away from yourself and towards God.
• Pray the Jesuit Daily Examen throughout the work day. Basically, we are asked to stop five times throughout the day for a few minutes of reflection and prayer. Each stopping point has a specific purpose such as the Prayer of Thanksgiving, Praying for Insight, Praying that you will find God in all things that day, Praying for your desires and what you seek from God and finally, a Prayer about the Future and what you will resolve to do tomorrow. It is best to actually put these five-minute blocks on your calendar so you will be reminded.
• Pray at every meal-public and private. It is important for us be thankful and acknowledge Christ and ask for His blessing. Spend less time worrying about what your co-workers and clients think! I am diligent about this and have had so many grateful friends and clients thank me for doing what they were nervous or reluctant about doing.
• I suggest that a critical component of faith at work is the practice of unburdening yourself to the Lord in prayer. Letting go of the stress and frustrations that affect us throughout the day and giving them to Jesus in prayer is critical to our well being. Our Lord said in Matthew 11:28-29: “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden light.”
Change Our Hearts and Minds
We live in a culture drunk on consumerism and materialism. Many of us work in jobs that force us to pay a heavy price in terms of emotional and physical stress as well as time away from our families. For what? Bigger paychecks often equal bigger houses, bigger cars as well as fewer friends and fewer meaningful hours with loved ones. This may well be the hardest for us to accomplish — detach ourselves from the pursuit of wealth for wealth’s sake and put more time and energy into our relationship with Christ and helping others.
I was struck by the clarity of this quote from the U.S. Catholic Bishops in Economic Justice for All: “Changes in our hearts lead naturally to a desire to change how we act. With what care, human kindness, and justice do I conduct myself at work? How will my economic decisions to buy, sell, invest, divest, hire, or fire serve human dignity and the common good? In what career can I best exercise my talents so as to fill the world with the Spirit of Christ? How do my economic choices contribute to the strength of my family and community, to the values of my children, to a sensitivity to those in need? In this consumer society, how can I develop a healthy detachment from things and avoid the temptation to assess who I am by what I have? How do I strike a balance between labor and leisure that enlarges my capacity for friendships, for family life, for community?”
Share in God’s Creation
We are called to share in the work of creation through our vocations in the workplace. Michael Novak says in Business as a Calling: Work and the Examined Life that we “…bring the creator’s work to its intended fulfillment by being co-creators in a very grand project.”
In Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical on human work, Laborem Exercens, he wrote: “The knowledge that by means of work man shares in the work of creation constitutes the most profound motive for undertaking it in various sectors. ‘The faithful… must learn the deepest meaning and the value of all creation, and its orientation to the praise of God. Even by their secular activity they must assist one another to live holier lives. In this way the world will be permeated by the spirit of Christ and more effectively achieve its purpose in justice, charity and peace . . . Therefore, by their competence in secular fields and by their personal activity, elevated from within by the grace of Christ, let them work vigorously so that by human labor, technical skill and civil culture, created goods may be perfected according to the design of the Creator and the light of his word.”
Let Love Drive Your 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 your own that people will truly begin to see Jesus in you. 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 others.
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.”
Exemplify a Life Filled With Virtue
Why do we not talk about virtues anymore? Virtues should define our behavior and lives in a way that is pleasing to God. The Catholic Catechism says: “Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life.The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good.”
Focusing on the daily practice of virtues is critical, given that they may be precisely what is needed in order to unite the spiritual with the secular in a true unity of life. Pope John Paul II wrote in Christifideles Laici: “The lay faithful should also hold in high esteem professional skill, daily and civic spirit, and the virtues related to social behavior, namely, honesty, a spirit of justice, sincerity, courtesy, moral courage; without them, there is not true Christian life.”
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.” It is the right thing to do and is ultimately good for business to be viewed as someone who genuinely cares about the community.
Get involved, make a difference and contribute; perhaps if you lead, your company will follow. Look for opportunities to reach out to the “Lazarus” in your life 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 your 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?” and Hebrews 13:16: “Do not forget to do good and to impart; for by such sacrifices God’s favor is obtained.”
Share Your Joy
The first Christians had the good fortune to be the first to share the Good News. Imagine the joy they felt in sharing Christ’s message of love to everyone. The stood out as happy in a suffering world, just as Christians have an opportunity to do today. Jesus promised them (and us) this joy at the Last Supper when he said in John 16:22: “So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” Do we reflect joy at home, at work, with friends? We have so much to be truly thankful for in our relationship with Christ, His divine grace, our families and countless other wonderful things. But, being joyful must lead to sharing that joy and the ability to express the truths of our faith in a way that shows the depth of our belief and love. Fernandez, in In Conversation With God, quotes the writer C. Burke: “Only convinced Christians have any chance of convincing others. Half-convinced Christians won’t even half-convince anybody. They won’t convince at all.”
C.S. Lewis wrote that the greatest sin is pride and the virtue that opposes pride is humility. 1 Peter 5:5 says: “Likewise, you younger members, be subject to the presbyters. And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for: ‘God opposes the proud but bestows favor on the humble.” Humility is a vitally important characteristic for Christians in the workplace. Humility is reflecting on our motivations for our actions and letting go of the outcome, meaning that we can enjoy the experience of life, and not be obsessed with expectations others have of us or that we have of ourselves.
Humility is trusting the work of the Holy Spirit. It is recognizing and being able to articulate our deepest desires for ourselves. When we are self aware, we can find ways for self-expression…and know when to alter our behavior and actions to be more appreciative of our friends and co-workers. Luke 14:11 says: “Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.”
In conclusion, I will acknowledge that becoming a Light for Christ at work is not easy, nor is it supposed to be. From what I have shared here, we have all been called to a mission by Christ. We are asked to choose 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 challenged to know our moral non-negotiables and not cross ethical boundaries. 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.
Christians are meant to stand out, not blend in. Blending in speaks to conforming and making sacrifices 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. We will be judged one day on the fruits of our apostolate and hope to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
I would like to end 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.
“Normally 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.”
Think about the corruption and greed on Wall Street, the sub-prime crisis, Enron and all the countless companies who have made headlines in the last few years for doing the wrong things. Now think about how much these same companies would benefit from having Christians, acting with moral courage, virtue and selfless love, running their organizations in an ethical manner.
Changing the workplace this way would absolutely transform the world!
Think about it.