Christ cannot stop being who He is as he walks around the land, sleeps in the boat, has dinner with friends, preaches to the multitudes or performs miracles. Similarly a Christian cannot stop being Christian in all aspects of life, including secular activities. I copy from St. Josemaria Escriva in The Way, n. 353: “Nonsectarianism. Neutrality. Old myths that always try to seem new. Have you ever stopped to think how absurd it is to leave one's Catholicism aside on entering a university, a professional association, a cultural society, or Parliament, like a man leaving his hat at the door?”
St. Josemaría is not inviting us to make a show of our Catholicism, or to act in a way that is not compatible with our reality as lay members of the Church. What he wants is that each of us, in our particular circumstances, consider carefully the external and clear demands of unity of life in our work and social life. It takes courage (which can be considerable, given the circumstances of the times) to make our faith present, to make it tangible even, to let others see our good works and the motive behind them, even when at times we may be criticized and attacked, since there will always be some who will misunderstand our motives.
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Having unity of life means living, in practice, an operative faith that translates itself in our work and in all the activities we carry out. It boils down to converting our work into prayer.
Am I keeping God in the closet? The noted address of congressman Henry Hyde in Notre Dame (1984) highlights the importance of maintaining our Christian identity in public life; and, by contrast, it also presents the danger of living a life “neatly” split into compartments: work, prayer, relationships may suggest three separate and distinct areas, but in reality they should be fused together like the notes of a chord, forming in the end a single harmonious musical score. Every single aspect of our being —our will, intellect, affections, everything!—play their part skillfully, resulting in the simple and strong unity of life that pleases God and draws others to Him.
How can I attain the harmony of unity of life as I go about my work? Combining a right intention, sound principles, and behavior that is consistent with both.
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A right intention—Unity of life exercised in our work depends first of all on our rectitude of intention, what drives me?, on a clear and firm decision to work for love of God and not out of ambition or other forms of selfishness, seeking only the glory of God and not human glory or personal satisfaction.
No one can serve two masters (Mt 6: 24). We cannot compromise; our intention has to be transparent. But despite our desire to work for God’s glory, we all find that it is easy to lose that rectitude in concrete occasions; and side by side with an upright intention, we discover within us other motives that are less noble. What to do then? Turn to our Lord in your heart and simply tell Him: this task I have in my hands is for you and not for me!
Doing things for God, to honor Him is also a call to work well. In fact, very well, so our work becomes the sacrifice of Abel (Gen 4: 4). Whoever works with a right intention always tries to work well. Always, not one way when others are watching and another way when no one is around. God is always watching, and therefore I try to fulfill my duties perfectly to please Him. On grey days, when the cloud of monotony looms low, a child of God tries to place the finishing touches out of love, thus converting work into prayer: that last spell check many times is heroic!
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One way to strengthen our rectitude of intention, the pillar of our unity of life, is to seek God’s presence in our work. Perhaps we can offer our work up as we begin it, renew our offering as often as possible, and give thanks when finishing it. We can also ensure that the practices of piety, especially the Holy Mass, overflow into a continuous conversation with God throughout the day. “Forgetting about God” in our work would be a sign of a weak unity of life and not simply of a tendency to become distracted. When one is truly in love, one doesn’t forget the person one loves.
Sound principles—Rectitude of intention is essential for unity of life, but we can never forget that our will needs to be guided by reason enlightened by faith. There are people who fail to live in accord with their Christianity on a day to day basis not as a result of bad intention, but because they lack sound knowledge. When people don’t seek to form their conscience, and fail to get to know the moral implications of their profession in depth, they are in danger of accepting as their norm what they see others doing. And acting with “good will,” one can still fall into mistaken behavior or commit grave injustices. And also, when one doesn’t know how to weigh up matters prudently, one can fail to do the good that ought to be done. The lack of sound principles is a serious obstacle to achieving a coherent life.
Having principles is key to do the right thing without falling into extremes or settling for mediocrity. Without that, we may give in to the confusion of thinking that the alternative to a defect is the opposite defect: e.g., to avoid being rigid, it is necessary to be weak, or so as not to be aggressive, one ought to be “soft.” In practice, holding that view indicates lack of understanding on what is virtuos living. Achieving the right balance is the summit between two defects: it is possible to be energetic and gentle at the same time, to be both understanding and demanding in one’s duties, to be truthful and circumspect, cheerful without being naïve. In words of Jesus, be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Mt10: 16).
The principles we need to attain unity of life are Christian principles, not merely human ones. Their guiding light is not just right reason but reason enlightened by a living faith that in turn is informed by charity. I cannot be satisfied with practicing only human justice in certain areas of work—e.g., fulfilling the letter of the law—and in other areas Christian justice, sweetened by charity, but rather, as a follower of Christ, I should strive to live always and in everything his justice (not mine!). To have Christian principles, an essential light for unity of life, I also must commit to lifelong learning: formation, and especially time dedicated to studying Catholic doctrine. It would be rash to rely on one’s “intuition,” and fail to put the effort required to attain a sound intellectual grounding. However, theoretical knowledge alone is not enough. Christian coherence requires doctrine assimilated through prayer. Make it personal.
Daring—As well as knowledge and love, unity of life requires putting these into practice, because love is deeds. That they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven, (Mt 5: 16) says our Lord.
I should examine myself frankly: is Christianity spreading to those around me? When there is unity of life, it is only natural that those around us notice it. A person who hides his Christian beliefs out of fear of being “pigeonholed” would lose integrity and coherence. They would fail to be salt or light and their works would be supernaturally sterile. The Lord says to each of us, through the prophet Isaiah: I will place you as a light before the people, so that my salvation can reach the ends of the earth (Is 49: 6).
Sometimes it is hard to have the courage to act in public in accordance with our holy faith, but our Lord warned: For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory (Lk 9: 26). Jesus also encourages us with a wonderful promise: So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven (Mt 10: 32). There is no room for ambiguity. We cannot be afraid to speak of God. We do so both with our words, since Christ himself commanded us to go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation (Mk 16: 15), and with our example: faith working through love (Gal 5: 6).
It is only natural that those alongside us see our faith expressed in deeds. With even greater reason should this be true when materialism and hedonism hold sway around us. If one’s faith takes a long time to be noticed, this could be a sign of double standards rather than naturalness. Unfortunately, this is what happens to those who relegate their faith to the “private sphere.” This attitude, if not stemming from mere cowardice, could be the result of thinking that one’s faith should not play a role in one’s professional conduct. And rather than reflecting a “contemporary” lay mentality, this attitude would be reproducing a “laicist” one, which tries to eliminate God from society and also often dispenses with the moral law.
This is the exact opposite of the ideal of placing Christ at the pinnacle of all human activities (Jn 12: 32) to which we have been called. Although most of our Christian witness will happen with those around us, through our friendships, and with our colleagues, one to one, this does not exclude the possibility that at times it will be good or even necessary—an imperative of our unity of life—to speak out in the public forum and defend Christian morality. Obstacles may abound, but faith gives us the strength we need to defend the truth and help those around us to discover it.
However, we know that even when we avoid extremes, it is easy to allow oneself to be influenced by a laicist mentality and to be convinced, for example, that in some professional spheres it is preferable never to speak of God because it would be “out of place” or could cause surprise, or because others might think that our position on professional issues is “influenced by our religion.” That is when the temptation presents itself to hide our Christian condition, and precisely when we need to display it.
Christian coherence, unity of life, is a gift from God, and at the same time a conquest that demands personal struggle. This unity is forged in one’s work by dint of specific decisions to act facing God and with apostolic desires. With God’s grace we have to aspire to love God with our whole being: with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength (Mk 12: 30), at all times, in all circumstances.
Contributed by Sonsoles DeLacalle, MD, Ph.D. Dr. DeLacalle is a parishioner in the Athens Catholic Community. She is the Director of the Office of Advanced Studies and an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences in the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.