How do we integrate our faith with our work?
If you think about it, most of us will likely spend the majority of our adult (awake) lives in the workplace. A typical eight-hour work day accounts for a third of the total day, with the other two-thirds devoted to sleeping, family, friends, faith, and so on. In the practice of our faith, do we consider the workplace as an opportunity to be open about our Catholic beliefs or do we ignore this vital time and only think about being Catholic the other sixteen hours a day?
Many of us will agree that the workplace today is perceived as 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. People sometimes 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:
“This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age. . . . The Christian who neglects his temporal duties, neglects his duties toward his neighbor and even God, and jeopardizes his eternal salvation. Christians should rather rejoice that, following the example of Christ Who worked as an artisan, they are free to give proper exercise to all their earthly activities and to their humane, domestic, professional, social and technical enterprises by gathering them into one vital synthesis with religious values, under whose supreme direction all things are harmonized unto God’s glory” (no. 43).
How can we overcome secular obstacles to our faith and fully embrace Christ in every aspect of our day, especially work?
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. Many people have incorrectly perceived “faith at work” as leading Bible studies in the break room over lunch or loudly evangelizing coworkers. 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 St. John Paul II 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” (no. 58). “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’” (no. 15).
The mission of the lay faithful forces us to consider the workplace as fertile ground in which we can do God’s work. As we know from numerous Scripture passages and clear Church teaching, we are all called to lead lives of holiness and to be witnesses for Christ. Therefore, our actions in the workplace necessarily become a critical component of responding to that call.
Obstacles to Integration
There are numerous obstacles in the way of us achieving the integration of our faith with our work, but in my experience three of them consistently surface: silos, time, and surrender.
Obstacle 1: Silos
Does the earlier statement, “I just leave my faith at the door when I get to work” resonate with you? Having lived a compartmentalized existence for most of my life, I have learned how to recognize these “silos” in others and it is very common. Yet, I would suggest that deep down many of us desire a more integrated life, a life in which Christ is at the center of our daily thoughts and actions at both work and home.
I believe that promoting this integration will help us all become better Christians and reverse the negative effects—moral, emotional, and spiritual—of keeping our faith separate from the rest of our lives.
Overcoming this obstacle will not be simple or easy, but we must follow the guidance I shared earlier from Pope St. John Paul II in Christifideles laici and see our daily activities, including our work, as opportunities to join ourselves to God and serve His divine will. We all play multiple roles in life: fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, leaders, employees, students, and so on. 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 unify our lives and rise above our natural tendencies towards compartmentalization and silos. I know this is easy to say and possibly difficult to do, but it is necessary nonetheless.
Obstacle 2: Time
Do you have challenges, like me, with having enough time each day? 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, youth sports, 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 two pages of the book that has been on my nightstand for months! Sound remotely familiar?
Where does our relationship with Christ fit into our busy day? 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. Let’s stop viewing the daily practice of our faith as adding more time to already packed schedules and instead focus on integrating our lives with Christ at the center of everything we do.
Obstacle 3: Surrender
If we refuse to surrender, sincerely giving up control of our lives to Christ, we face an enormous obstacle to living out our faith in the workplace or any other place. I know full well what my life was like before surrendering to Christ in 2005. I said “no” to Him for over two decades and the effort was exhausting.
Now I say “yes” and that has made an enormous difference in my life. All I had was family and work prior to my conversion and I thought I was in charge of my life and future. 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 charge. I still struggle every day with pride and making sure Christ is first in every aspect of my life. I have the same challenges as many who are reading this post, but knowing that He will forgive me, love me, and guide me keeps me coming back again and again to the place where I pray the words, “Lord, I surrender. Please lead and I will follow.”
The key to overcoming the obstacles of silos and time is surrender. 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. The question to answer for ourselves is simple. What will we do differently to be fully Catholic in the workplace and not leave our faith at the door?
Six Practical Ideas for Integrating our Catholic Faith with Work
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.
1. Devote one 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 fifteen minutes earlier each morning to read Scripture or some other great Catholic book or resource which follows the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.
- Pray the Morning Offering before leaving the house each morning.
- Pray the Angelus throughout the day.
- Pray the Rosary or five decades of it on the way to work or during exercise.
- Do the Jesuit Daily Examen which I have written about before. The Examen requires you to stop, reflect, and pray five 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 or at least a few decades of it if you have young children.
- Read a few pages of Scripture or a Catholic spiritual work before going to sleep.
Let’s make good use of the calendars on our smart phones, or whatever calendar works best, but prayer and reading will only happen if we make time for them.
Consider this thought from Dr. Peter Kreeft from his essay, Time: “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.”
2. Devote more time to the Eucharist.
Do we want to fully experience Christ and be closer to Him during the work day? Know what parishes are on our way to work or near our 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. Masstimes.org is very helpful in finding the nearest churches for Mass and visits to the Blessed Sacrament. We Catholics have a wonderful gift in the Eucharist and we should seek Him out at every opportunity.
3. Be a light for Christ.
What does being a light for Christ 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?” (Vol. 5, 69–70).
4. 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 at work 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.
5. Practice active stewardship.
Does our company give back to the community? 1 Peter 4:10 says, “As each has received a gift, employ it for 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 in Luke 16:19–31). Lazarus may be a depressed or troubled coworker, 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: “But if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” It is important to remember that stewardship is more than writing a check or donating online.
6. 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. Imagine Jesus greeting us in heaven with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23). The road to heaven necessarily leads through the workplace. 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?
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,” to 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.
We have an opportunity, especially in the workplace, to be beacons of light and good examples of Christ’s redeeming love. We can’t be two-thirds Catholic. It doesn’t work and is counter to our calling. I encourage each of us to reflect on the lessons in this post. The world desperately needs it. With the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit we can do it. The time is now.