I recall a lunch I had last year with one of my new clients, a senior human resources executive of a sizable national company. Our working partnership had been very business-focused since the beginning, and I wanted to forge the kind of stronger personal connection that I enjoy with most of my other clients.
We made small talk about a number of subjects until our food arrived. I said I was going to say a blessing over our meal and she was welcome to join me. As I made the sign of the cross and started to pray, I noticed that she also made the sign of the cross. I smiled to myself and said a quiet prayer of thanks for the opening I had been given. Between bites of salad, I asked her which parish she attended. She gave me a funny look before responding with the name, then added, “that’s a long story.” I told her I would love to hear it and for the next half-hour we talked about her faith journey, how much she loved her parish, her devotion to the Blessed Mother, and her prayer life.
The awkward business-focused exchange at the beginning of the meal had been replaced by a warm conversation about our shared Catholic faith. I certainly achieved my goal of a stronger personal connection.
As we were preparing to leave, she shared that she never spoke of her faith in business settings and really enjoyed our discussion. As we were leaving the restaurant, we speculated on why Catholics don’t discuss faith as openly as perhaps our Protestant brethren do. I suggested it may be fear of persecution or lack of confidence in defending the teachings of the Church. She suggested that it all came down to simple courage. I asked her to explain. Her response was, “When you made the sign of the cross in a crowded restaurant and said the blessing for all to hear, I realized that I never do that. My fear of saying a simple blessing is a clear reminder to me that I don’t have the courage to share my faith outside of my comfort zone. I am grateful that you don’t have that issue, and also for this wonderful conversation.”
Driving back to my office, I reflected on countless other business meals over the last few years that had turned into faith discussions, perhaps because of the simple act of making the sign of the cross and blessing the meal. I don’t know whether I see this as courageous as much as following the call of Christ and the teachings of our Church. It is certainly food for thought and worthy of careful reflection.
What would happen if everyone who reads this makes a simple commitment to make the sign of the cross and say a blessing over every meal from now on, regardless of our companions? How many incredible faith discussions would happen as a result of this simple and public act of faith? I could easily argue the other side and share the possible negative outcomes, but can we live as faithful Catholics if we are paralyzed by fear?
The answer, I believe, is that it is not only our duty, but our privilege to acknowledge Jesus and our faith. Through these small gestures that show our faith to others, we are fulfilling our promise to God to be disciples of his word and showing him our love as he calls us to do. Were we to live in fear of showing our love, it would not only weaken our faith but also make us more susceptible to steering away from God. Demonstrating your faith does not require you to make grandiose gestures, but merely a simple acknowledgment, or reminder, will help to keep your faith strong and abiding.
The sign of the cross in this business lunch example is a clear and obvious sign of our Catholic faith. What about others? The sacraments are visible signs of invisible grace instituted by Jesus Christ for our sanctification. The crucifix, saints, rosary, scapular, miracles, ashes on one’s forehead on Ash Wednesday, etc. also are clear signs. As we consider the signs of our faith in the workplace, we need to realize that our actions and our behavior are being observed by those around us. For many, the first “signs” that we are Catholics may be visible in how we treat our coworkers, the way we make decisions, how we spend our time, or how we give back to the community. In the interest of upholding the practical theme of this article, let’s examine the most effective signs of our faith, revealed in our willingness to show courage, humility, devotion, and joy in the workplace:
Being courageous about integrating our Catholic faith with our work can take many forms. The example of my lunch meeting and the sign of the cross was construed by my client as an act of courage. Consider the courage we can demonstrate by consistently doing the right thing at work and choosing good moral and ethical options in the face of judgment and criticism from others. Our willingness to place the needs of people before the bottom line is an act of courage sorely needed in business today. Finally, demonstrating simple bravery in sharing our faith with others at opportune moments can be the inspiration for them to join the Catholic Church and begin their journey to heaven.
Humility is the virtue that overcomes the sin of pride. We all struggle with being prideful, especially in the workplace. Taking credit for our successes and working for self-satisfaction instead of giving glory to God is a clear example of pride. Perhaps a more insidious problem I have often observed is that of false humility. Recall the Scripture passage in Luke’s Gospel about the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9–14). The Pharisee looked with disdain on the tax collector as the man humbly declared his unworthiness and begged for forgiveness during his prayer. The Pharisee, on the other hand, was more concerned with boasting of his virtue and piety, and how he looked to others. He lacked humility and self-awareness. The tax collector’s example is the better one to follow. God knows of our good deeds, and that is what matters. There’s no need to brag to others. We can set a much better example if we are humble and ask our Lord for guidance and strength as we acknowledge our inadequacies.
Being pious in the practice of our Catholic faith can make a great impression on others. While we want to avoid the poor example of the Pharisee, being open and humble in the practice of our faith can be the foundation for conversation with others who observe what we are doing. Consider committing an hour to Eucharistic adoration each week. Attend daily Mass when possible. Go to frequent reconciliation. Set aside time for prayer each day. These acts of devotion are clear signs of our faith that keep us on the right path, while potentially providing inspiration to others.
I would argue that joy is the most profound sign of our faith we can exhibit to others in the workplace. Joy violates no company policies. Joy is contagious. Joy is a welcoming invitation to others.
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! They 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: “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” (John 16:22). Do we reflect joy at home, at work, and with friends? We have so much to be thankful for in our relationship with Christ. Being joyful should lead to sharing that joy with others and a willingness to express the truths of our faith in a way that shows the depth of our belief and love.
What’s in your Catholic Briefcase?
As we try to show courage, humility, piety, and joy as signs of our Catholic faith, there are tools for those of us who need to make significant, heartfelt changes immediately. We can determine the tools we need by answering these questions:
- Do I make the sign of the cross and say a blessing over all my meals, regardless of my companions?
- Do I wish people “Merry Christmas” or “happy holidays/season’s greetings?”
- Can people clearly see Christ at work in me?
- Do I show joy to others?
- Do I look for Christ in others?
- Do I attend daily Mass as often as possible?
- Do I go to frequent reconciliation?
- Do I observe all holy days and always attend Sunday Mass?
- Am I willing to be unpopular for taking stands in defense of Christ’s teachings?
- Do I share the beauty and truth of my Catholic faith with others?
- Do I show excessive pride over my achievements, or am I humble and give the glory to God?
- Do I serve others with love and compassion?
- Do I set a good example for others in how I practice my Catholic faith?
- Do I truly place God first in all things or is he merely contending for a piece of my time each day?
As we ponder the list, we should also consider the obstacles that impede our desire to integrate our lives and demonstrate the signs of faith outlined in this article. We allow fear, lukewarmness, greed, pride, and a host of other negative influences to affect how we think and act regarding our Catholic faith and our relationship with Jesus. The opinions of others often mean more to us than our relationship with him.
Saint Paul tells us that we should “…rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18). He makes it sound so simple. Then why do we struggle to do something that is easy, and that we should truly want to do anyway? We all deal with various forms of adversity. Some of us are unemployed, some are dealing with illness, and still others are struggling with a death in the family. The sex abuse crisis and the unwarranted attacks on Pope Benedict and the Church have made many Catholics gloomy and frightened. These are real obstacles to our faith that should be acknowledged.
The Church needs us to overcome these obstacles and live out our faith in the midst of the world. It is our obligation and our duty. The workplace is where we will spend the majority of our adult lives, and we can’t exclude this vital arena from the practice of our faith. Remember we are not alone. Be encouraged by this declaration: “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me” (Philippians 4:13).
Our faith in Christ, our courage, our humility, our piety, and our heartfelt joy will see us through difficult times, so we may be a good example for others. What kind of example are you setting for others today? What signs of our faith do others see in you? What will you do differently tomorrow?
Reflection and Discussion
- Have I had opportunities, such as the one Randy Hain had with the client over lunch, to make the sign of the cross? If so, how did I respond to those opportunities to say a blessing over the meal? After reflecting on this chapter, how might I act differently in the future?
- Of all the possible signs of faith, Christ-inspired joy can often have the most impact on others. What are the obstacles, if any, to me being joyful about my Catholic faith? What can I do to eliminate these obstacles?
- When I finished answering the list of questions in this article, did I see room for improvement? Make a list for future reflection on possible improvements and consider sharing it with accountability partners.
- Do I think first of the opinions of others in the public practice of my Catholic faith? Why? Do I fear judgment? Criticism? Is it possible that this could be an opportunity to explain my faith to others?
This post was adapted from The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work with the permission of Randy Hain and Liguori Publications.
Randy Hain, Senior Editor for The Integrated Catholic Life™, is the author of The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work which was recently released by Liguori Publications. The Catholic Briefcase is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble online and your local Catholic bookstore.
The Catholic Briefcase was recently voted the Best Catholic Book of 2011 in the About.com Catholicism Reader’s Choice Awards.
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