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In February, 2009, St. Peter Chanel Church hosted the 1st Annual Atlanta Catholic Business Conference. The Saturday half-day Conference drew over 160 Catholic professionals and business people to hear acclaimed national speakers and authors Dr. Michael Naughton, Dr. Paul Voss and Dr. Phillip Thompson speak on the subjects of ethics, virtue, leadership and most importantly, work/faith integration. The Vision Statement of the Conference sums up the overarching theme of the day: Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the teachings of our Catholic faith, the Catholic business people and professionals in our Archdiocese and beyond will be given the necessary catalyst to foster the spiritual growth critical for integrating their faith and work lives.
Why is this Conference important? Why focus on integration? Let me answer these questions by taking you back over 3 years ago to my own conversion into the Catholic Church.
Prior to that time, I had lived over 20 years in what I call the “spiritual wilderness” – no faith life, no church and God was not the focus of my life. I kept my work life and family life very separate and often, I am ashamed to say, my family existed for my work instead of the other way around. My conversion experience occurred not just out of a desire to “be Catholic” or “join the parish.” My true conversion happened during a riveting moment in an October 2005 Mass when I surrendered to His will and put God first in my life. I had never done that before. That surrender and “dying of self” which I experienced changed everything for me and the seeds of my passion for integration were firmly planted.
With a clear focus on God first, Family second and Work third, how could I live my life in a way which would be pleasing to God? It was clear that my old method of leading a compartmentalized life would no longer suffice. I needed to lead an integrated life where I could be the same person at all times and put His will first in every aspect of my life. I found it relatively easy to integrate faith and family, as I suspect many of us do. The real challenge I felt was integrating faith and work. I was fortunate during this time to meet a fellow parishioner (who is now a close friend) named Jim Schippers. Jim had recently founded the St. Peter Chanel Business Association and the mission of this parish ministry was (and is) to promote a unity of life, centered in Christ, that helps Catholic men and women integrate faith, family and work in their lives.
I joined up with Jim and together, through the grace and blessings of our Lord, we grew the ministry with a combination of interesting and informative speakers at our monthly meetings who shared their faith journeys and inspirational messages and also our monthly e-newsletter which provides book recommendations, articles, helpful website links and other information to promote the idea of leading an integrated life. The ministry meetings are open to other parishes and we average over 100 attendees at each meeting-that number is growing rapidly.
Through this ministry and the exposure I have had to so many Catholic professional and business people through my business career as the leader of an executive recruiting firm, I have made some important observations:
- Catholics rarely connect their faith with their work. The idea of acting, thinking and leading through the lens of our faith is for many an alien concept.
- Many only define faith at work as having a crucifix on your desk or leading lunch time bible studies in the break room instead of the more achievable concept that people should be able to see Christ at work in you.
- Many Catholic professional and business people are unfamiliar with the rich treasure of Catholic teaching (which should guide us in the secular business world) the Church and Christ have to offer. Think about Scripture, the Catechism, the Beatitudes, Catholic social teaching, papal writings, the Virtues, etc.
- Most Catholics I encounter are very interested in integration after we discuss the idea because they see a way to connect our faith to the place where we spend the majority of our adult lives.
The recent 1st Annual Atlanta Business Conference, the St. Peter Chanel Business Association, the Woodstock Business Conference out of the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown, the focus on the integrated life and the numerous other ministries and groups sprouting up all over the country are important because they promote the idea of a consistent and integrated life and represent a way for Catholics to see their work as a vocation and apostolate, instead of just a job. Consider what would happen if the millions of Catholics in this country became “lights for Christ” in the workplace and through acts of selfless love and the guidance of Christ and the Church’s teaching began to positively change their actions and inspire others to do good. We would permanently change the world.
What can you do to get involved and lead a more integrated life? It is important to think of this concept as more than just an idea-you have to live it. You can’t occasionally experiment for this to be successful. Here is a list of 5 actionable ideas which will help you achieve integration:
- Pray. You will not succeed in this effort without a prayer life. Do a daily Rosary, pray before the Blessed Sacrament during Eucharistic Adoration, pray in the morning, pray throughout the day, pray with your kids, offer your burdens up to the Lord in prayer…just pray. I also highly recommend the Jesuit Daily Examen.
- View your work as a vocation. Dr. 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.” To be clear, notice the use of the little “v” in vocation. Our first Vocation (big “V”) as lay people is our marriage and family-our work should always be secondary.
- Join or start a Ministry that promotes this effort. Look around your parish for ministries that might help you in your effort to integrate or start one with the blessing of your Pastor. The Business Association concept is a good way to start because it will bring business and professional people together in the parish (and from surrounding parishes) and with the right structure/format, will be the catalyst for encouraging integration on a large scale.
- Educate Yourself. There are a number of incredible Catholic authors who have written about faith and work. I suggest reading Michael Naughton, Michael Novak, Peter Kreeft, James Nolan, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Fr. Robert Spitzer, Gregory Pierce, Fr. William Byron and Chris Lowney to name a few. There is much wisdom to be found in two incredible documents: Pope John Paul II’s Christifideles Laici and Vatican II’s Gaudium et spes. Also, Scripture, the Catechism, the Beatitudes and Catholic social teaching are critically important resources.
- Surrender and put God’s Will before your own. This is the most challenging, yet the most rewarding and most necessary item on this list. If we are humble and God is truly first, everything else will fall into place and integration will occur naturally. Consider Saint Augustine’s famous motto: “Love God and [then] do what you will.” In other words, if you truly love God and His will, then doing what you will, will, in fact, be doing what God wills.
Integrating your life is not a cure all. But, putting God first and blending your faith in with every aspect of your life will promote balance, peace and help you on your faith journey towards a deeper relationship with Him. I can only share with you my experience and the experiences of the men and women I know whose lives have been positively impacted by this effort, but I truly believe Catholic professional and business people would see a dramatic change in their lives if they would embrace this idea.
Integrating our faith and work is especially needed in these challenging times if we are to have hope and stay focused on doing the right things. The next step is moving beyond just ideas, conferences and ministries and making integration a movement. Thank you and God bless you.