Don’t forget to bring God to work

I belong to a prayer group on Facebook. People post their intentions, and the other members pray. It’s a great use of social media.

The other day I posted, as I sometimes do, a request for the members to pray for a transaction I’ve been working on in my real estate business. It’s been stressful, and caused me some pretty significant anxiety. The other members, as always, were very supportive and assured me of their prayers. But then one very faithful member asked if I think it’s appropriate to ask for success in business negotiations. She wasn’t objecting, mind you. But apparently she had done the same on another prayer site, and was told this was not a proper topic for a prayer request. She went on to tell me that she thought it was perfectly appropriate, since her business is really an apostolate, and they make rosaries. Surely worthy of prayer.

And I started to wonder — are rosary manufacturers the only “businesses” we can pray for? Do we have to be somehow engaged in direct, Church-related ministry before God wants to hear what we’re up to?

I think, as Christians, we tend to divide the world — and our lives — into the “sacred” and the “secular.” “Sacred” is Sunday Mass. Prayer time. Evangelization. Work is only sacred if it’s for the Church, or directly related to evangelization. Everything else — our softball teams, the PTA, our grocery shopping, our non-pilgrimage vacations, and especially “the business world” — is purely “secular.” God is interested in the former. The latter, He doesn’t care about so much.

Is that true?

St. John Paul, in his encyclical Laborem Exercens, tells us that work is a fundamental aspect of man’s life on earth, and the place where he joins with God in His work of creation, and fulfills his early commandant to “subdue the earth.”

That same St. John Paul II, in his beautiful book Love and Responsibility, defines what he calls the “personalistic norm,” which states that the only proper and adequate response toward a human person is love. In the negative, because each of us is created in the image and likeness of God, no person can never be seen merely as an object of use.

The “business world” is simply the place where these two concepts meet. To me, that makes it a sacred place. And God cares very much what happens there.

When we walk into work on Monday morning, we don’t leave the personalistic norm at the door. We are persons created in the image and likeness of God, joining with other persons created in his image, to accomplish some work here on earth. And we are called to that as Christians — loving each other, doing our best, and through that bringing Christ into our workplace.

And we need his help to do that.

If we dismiss the “business world” as merely secular, we risk dismissing God from our lives during the 40+ hours we spent at work every week. And, to the extent that we apply these ideas to the “business” side of ministry, we corrupt that as well. I have been told by ministry leaders that poor treatment of their employees was justified because “We’re have to run it like a business.”

That’s not how any business, sacred or secular, should be run.

C.S. Lewis once wrote that “you have never met a mere mortal.” In the same way, I think you have never done anything that is merely “secular.” We are working out our salvation, every minute of every hour of every day. That includes our time at work.

Whatever the work you do, the God who has numbered the hairs on your head wants very much to be involved in it. He wants you to pray — for your co-workers, for your safety, for your mission. And yes, for the success of your endeavors, if that is his will.

Don’t forget to bring God to work.

COMING UP: Relativism: An obstacle to the pursuit of truth

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When I was a kid, my favorite television show was The Partridge Family. Mostly because I was completely enamored of the late David Cassidy, whom I was convinced I would marry some day. But also because the show featured just the kind of mildly corny humor a seven year old is inclined to enjoy.

I remember one joke in particular. Keith (David Cassidy) is trying to give big brotherly advice to Danny (Danny Bonaduce). He says “If you just believe, you can be anything you want to be.”

Danny responds, “Great! I want to be a black woman.” Laugh track ensues. Because everybody knows that a pale white, red-headed, freckle-faced kid cannot grow up to be a black woman.

I was thinking about that scene as I was listening to Bishop Robert Barron Feb. 6, giving a riveting talk on relativism to a packed house here in Denver. As he spoke about the philosophical underpinnings of relativistic thinking, I realized that joke couldn’t be told today. Because, as a society, we don’t seem to agree that race, gender, or just about anything else, are based in any kind of objective truth.

Bishop Barron spoke of a video you may have seen. A rather short male interviewer asks college students what they would think if he told them he identifies as a woman. Then an Asian woman. Then a 6’4” Asian woman. They hesitate at times, but all ultimately agree that if that is his “truth,” then he is indeed entitled to be a tall Asian woman.

That is the ultimate expression of relativism.

Relativism, boiled down, is essentially the belief that there is no “objective” truth that is true for all. Rather, we as individuals, each establish our own subjective “truths,” and we live “authentically” to the extent that we honor these individual “truths.”

The speed with which we have descended down this path is breathtaking. When I was in my 20’s (which was not long ago at all — right???), I used to debate abortion at Berkeley. Not exactly a friendly audience — I remember mentally noting exits, including windows, that I could utilize if things got out of hand. But they showed up, and they listened, because there was still some understanding in society that there was such a thing as truth, and hence an openness to listen to others to see if together we could arrive at that truth. Or, at the very least, that I could employ the truth as I see it to convince you that your understanding of the truth is flawed.

Not so today. Open discussion of controversial issues is almost nonexistent on most college campuses. Of course. If I have my truth and you have your truth, what would be the point? We are just supposed to respect each others’ truths and move on.

But the problem is that we all have to play together in the same sandbox. Somebody’s truth has to rule our social interaction. If we can’t come to an agreement about whose truth is truer, then the only option left is force. And so, instead of listening to what you have to say, I attempt to forcibly shut you down. I smash windows. I disrupt your talk. Or, alternatively, I call on the authority of the university to do that dirty work for me while I hide in a safe space with my crayons and puppy videos.

Pope Benedict XVI called relativism a “dictatorship.” And, ironically, it is. The philosophy that purports to allow everyone to believe as he wishes, actually allows no one to believe in anything but relativism. And because there need be no rhyme nor reason behind any individual belief, enforcement through persuasion becomes impossible. Hence, the inevitable clash of ideologies. And it will be the stronger, not the most persuasive, who will prevail.

Parents, please — teach your children that there is such a thing as truth. That yes, we may disagree with others about what that truth is. That we respect people — all people — regardless of their beliefs. (Another objective truth.) But beneath the disagreement, there is a truth. There is a God or there isn’t. Jesus Christ is divine or He isn’t. Sexual expression has an inherent meaning or it doesn’t. Gender is fixed or it isn’t.

[And parents, if you want help with this, get your hands on Chris Stefanik’s book Absolute Relativism, and check out his YouTube videos on the same subject.]

In any disagreement about objective truths, someone is right and someone is wrong. Or perhaps both are partially wrong and neither grasps the full truth. But the truth is there.

In the old days, our goal was to find it.