There was a great divorce centuries ago between our faith life and our work life. They cited irreconcilable differences as the reason. The fallout since has been ugly.
The missions of these two important aspects of our life seem to be diametrically opposed to one another. And rather than try to reconcile those differences we humans have chosen to live a divided life; our faith and our work living apart from one another.
From the very first chapters of the Old Testament, before the fall, Adam and Eve walked in friendship with God. God told Adam to till and keep (care for) the garden of Eden (Gen 2:15). They were living an integrated life, at least for a while.
Since the fall of Adam and Eve, our worlds of faith and work have been living separate lives due to the tug and pull of temporal allures railing against our spiritual nature. I think the official divorce decree came with the industrial revolution, when our country and others shifted from an agrarian economy to the industrial economy, pulling labor from the fields and family to urban centers and removing the rhythm of God, families and work.
A motto of St. Benedict’s, a sixth century saint, was “Ora et labora.” The Latin phrase translates as the command, “Pray and work.” In three words, he told his monks that prayer and work are not at odds with each other; they are allies.
One of my favorite quotes from St. Francis de Sales who lived in the late 16th and early 17th centuries is, “It is an error, nay more, a very heresy, to seek to banish the devout life from the soldier’s guardroom, the mechanic’s workshop, the prince’s court, or the domestic hearth. …Be sure that wheresoever our lot is cast we may and must aim at the perfect life.”
Fairly recently, in Gaudium et spes (43) Pope Paul VI wrote in 1965 that “This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age.”
Why did Pope Paul the VI call living a divided live — the split between faith and daily life — among the more serious errors of our age? Why do we ignore his prophetic writing?
It’s because it was God’s intention from the very start that we, his creation, live an integrated life. Living an integrated life means that our faith informs and directs our actions and decisions in all areas of our life — including business. We see the lack of living an integrated life — a lack of integrity — played out from the upper most echelons of all sectors of society, including our Church, down to our neighborhoods.
Integrated comes from the word integrity. The word integrity evolved from the Latin adjective integer, meaning whole or complete. If a person acts the same way regardless of the context or situation they may find themselves in over the course of a day, then it’s said they have integrity. The perfect life, per Saint Francis de Sales, is using Christ as the model for your actions.
Here’s the thing: We were born into the secular world. It’s the only world we would know unless we had parents who taught us about the spiritual realm, about a loving God, his son Jesus Christ our brother, and the Great Commission he assigned us.
Even for those of us who were lucky enough to have parents to help form us, or at the very least send us to Catholic schools or Sunday school, we only saw two potential separate and distinct career paths in our future: a secular path that leads to work in the business world or a sacred path that leads to Holy Orders.
In presentations I give to business leaders, I often say that God, through the Catholic Church, has given each of us three vocations.
Our first vocation is called our universal calling: a calling for all of humanity to know, love and serve God, our Father. I’m old enough to remember the Baltimore Catechism, but not old enough to have been taught it — the universal calling is outlined in lesson 1 – #4 . The reason why we are to know, love and serve God in this world is so that we can know, love and serve him in the next.
Our second vocation is to be a gift to others, or as the Church calls it, the gift of self. Gift of self manifests in the world as the sacrament of marriage, holy orders or consecrated single life.
The third and last vocation is that of our daily work. Our vocation of work simply provides the means to provide for our families in terms of food, shelter and education, and to help others through corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
I continue the presentation by introducing our great nemesis Satan, who doesn’t create anything but instead steals, destroys and deceives among other things to get us off track. He doesn’t hesitate to flip those vocations on their head, and our secular society obliges.
Our work then becomes our universal vocation. The secular world tells us our work, our productivity, our position, our status and the power, money, fame and all the goodies that come from it define us and gives us meaning and purpose.
The vocation of gift of self is flipped from making oneself a gift for others to making others a gift for oneself.
God comes last in the order of secular vocations, if at all. The secular world has turned away from a loving God and instead replaced him with a vague sense of spirituality. Proof of this is the growing attendance of soccer games, full gyms, and packed sports stadiums on Sundays. If we don’t love God and know that God loves us, then how can we be expected to love our neighbors?
The world of business has been reduced to utilitarian calculations. The human person has shifted from being the subject or center of work, according to social teaching of the Catholic Church, to an object, equal in value to other objects like a plant or equipment, replaced or disposed of as needed. We lack the love to see the difference.
What’s Love got to do with it? Until next time.
Editor’s note: This column was published just prior to the passing of the legendary Tina Turner on May 24, 2023. Thank you, Tina, for the inspiration!