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Building the kingdom in daily work


The e-mail discussion group on faith and work that I maintain -- 800 strong and growing and you are welcome to join -- has been discussing how the practice of the spirituality of work might be a response to terrorism.

Bob Raccuglia, an association executive in Chicago, writes: “It is clear that good, even heroic work does not require that we be perfect. For example, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is a flawed character who makes plenty of mistakes performing his job. Yet the way he has exercised leadership during the past weeks is an inspiring example of what we would hope for from a public official in such a crisis. He has acted with compassion, resolve and courage. Likewise, I imagine that the firefighters and police officers who have shown such heroism did not all have unblemished records. But they rose to the occasion in the moment of need.

“What they seem to have had in common was an underlying spirit of service. Mayor Giuliani clearly loves New York and the people of New York. The firefighters and police knew they were there to save lives. They acted accordingly. To paraphrase the Bible: Doing your job when it counts covers a multitude of imperfections. In the course of doing one’s job, challenges arise. It doesn’t take a perfect boss or a perfect worker to meet them. To gain competence, to cultivate an attitude of service and responsibility, to be willing to lay one’s self on the line -- these are the characteristics that seem to make the difference. They are enough.”

And engineer Mark Dudziak, from Atteleboro, Mass., comments: “Many of us spend up to half of our waking life in the workplace, and it is here that we have most of our outside human contacts. If we assume that within our own circle of family and friends -- where we spend most of the rest of our time -- spiritual priorities are shared by all (a big assumption, I know), then the place where we can really change the world is at work, where there exists a continuum of spirituality levels. Short of dropping our lives and going off as a missionary, this is where we have the best opportunity to share God’s presence in us with others. I’m not talking about in-your-face evangelization, but attitude and lifestyle.

“In situations like the current crisis, this can take the form of sharing our hope and focusing on the remarkable good which has resulted, i.e., the heroic efforts of people to give of themselves to help those in need, our new realization of and sharing in the sufferings of those throughout the world who live with our current fears every day of their lives, the new togetherness we now share that is breaking down walls of hatred and mistrust that could not have been penetrated any other way. When we hear talk in the workplace from some people of revenge or mistrust of people of certain ethnic or religious backgrounds, we have the opportunity to share our own views and potentially reach far beyond our own circle to impact the greater community at large. Clearly, we will not be able to reach every person every time, but if our example at work builds for us a reputation of trust and integrity, our words and deeds will at least be heard by those around us and create the small sparks that may one day grow into greater flames of faith.

“Even in everyday situations, our genuine spirituality can be shared in dozens of ways each week. When a co-worker is being put down by others, we can speak a word in their defense. When a potentially dishonest path is being pursued with customers, suppliers. etc., we can voice our concerns and the possible fallout that can result. When the stress of crises on the job is bringing someone down, we can offer words of perspective and lend a hand to help them over the hump, even if it means allowing some of our less critical tasks to slide. We can drop our competitive nature and need to rise above others and simply do our best work, giving public praise to others when they do a job well and sharing in their joy when they are rewarded.”

Dudziak ends with a confession each of us needs to make as we try to live a spirituality of work: “I wish I could say that I live this way each day, but sadly I fall far short of the vision. But God is still at work within me and each of us, so the short-term goal is just to keep moving forward toward that long-range goal.”

That long-range goal, it seems to me, is what we Christians call “the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven” -- a world much more like the way God would have things, a world in which no one would feel the need or have the ability to fly a plane into a building or mail a virus to anyone. The primary way most of us help build that kingdom is through our daily work. We’d best get busy doing it in the most spiritual way we can.

Gregory F. Pierce is the co-publisher of ACTA Publications and the author of spirituality@work: 10 ways to balance your life on-the-job. To join his e-mail discussion group, send a message to SpirtualityWork@aol.com

National Catholic Reporter, November 9, 2001