Faith in the Workplace
By Fr Joe Babendreier
“My wife told me this morning that she wants a divorce. What do you think I should do?”
Jack hesitated to answer. He sat at his desk listening to Alex talk about his wife and a divorce, wondering what this was all about.
They had been working together for the same company for years, but they were in different departments and hardly spoke to each other. Alex could have asked a dozen others. This was their first serious conversation.
“How long has this been brewing? Is this the first time she’s mentioned divorce?” Jack asked.
Alex wrinkled his face and sighed. “Yes. The first time. Listen, Jack, I’m sorry to dump this on you out of the blue. I don’t know how to handle it. I don’t know who to talk to. I didn’t see it coming. I thought she was happy with me. All of a sudden, she’s talking about getting a divorce. I would really appreciate it if you could help me with this thing.”
Jack closed his eyes and prayed silently to the Holy Spirit for guidance. Then he sat staring out the window for a minute. “Ok, Alex. We don’t know each other that well, and I’ve never met your wife. I’ll tell you what I think you ought to do. Go home early tonight. Buy some flowers. Write a little note saying, ‘I love you!’ Big letters. Stick it in the flowers. Make it clear. Make it visible. And make sure you smile.”
Alex glared back. “That’s crazy, Jack. She wants a divorce. She must hate my guts. She was screaming at me this morning. It was serious. How can you talk about buying flowers? That’s ridiculous. I thought you were going to give me contacts for a lawyer or something like that.”
“It may sound stupid. But, Alex, you’ve got nothing to lose. Besides, you love her, don’t you? You’ve been married for a long time. You have children.” Jack paused a moment to let that sink in. Then he continued: “You came in here asking me for my advice. So, I’m giving you my best advice. I really think this is what you need to do. Go buy the flowers. Go home early. When you get to the door, don’t enter. Knock on the door. Wait for your wife to open. When she does, give her the flowers—gently—and tell her that you love her.”
Alex was not entirely convinced. He decided to try Jack’s idea simply because he couldn’t think of anything else to do. He bought the flowers, wrote the little note and got home by 4:00 in the afternoon.
Talking about God
After knocking, Alex stood feeling like a complete fool, knocking on the door of his own house. His wife opened the door. Her mouth dropped and she just stood staring at Alex. He managed to say, “I love you.”
She burst into tears. Now it was Alex’s turn to be shocked. “What’s wrong?”
His wife said, “I can’t believe this! I thought you had completely forgotten that it was my birthday. That’s why I was so angry this morning.”
Alex had forgotten but he kept that to himself. He took his wife out to dinner and they had a wonderful evening together. The next day, Alex dropped by Jack’s office to thank him for the advice. “I can’t believe it actually worked. I thought it was the stupidest piece of advice anyone had ever given me. I owe you one, Jack. I’m truly grateful.”
After Alex explained everything, Jack said, “Can I ask you a question—a bit personal?” Alex nodded. “You came to me for advice. You could have talked to a dozen other guys. I’m sure you know some of them better than you know me. Don’t get me wrong: I was really happy to help. I was just wondering: Why me? Why did you choose me when you needed help? We hardly ever talked before.”
“It’s because you’re the only one in the office that ever talks about God. That impressed me.”
Apostolate of Friendship
Jesus wants all of us—even ordinary Christians like yourself—to spread the Gospel. He tells all his disciples: “I call you friends because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father. You did not choose me. No. I chose you. And I have commissioned you to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (Jn 15:15-16).
You can spread the Gospel. Being an ordinary Christian, you’re going to do it in a way that’s different from the way bishops, priests, nuns and missionaries do. You have a different role. It’s just as important as the role of priests and nuns, but it’s different. Your role is to spread the Gospel by being good friends with the people you work with, sharing with them the things that are important to you.
The story of Jack and Alex is a typical example of this, “apostolate of friendship”. The incident happened a few years ago in a big city in Europe. With the pagan influence common in Europe these days, it is becoming ever more unusual for anyone to mention God’s name, using that name with respect and faith.
Jack didn’t stand up in the office and preach the Gospel to his colleagues. Nobody would have listened to him. Instead, Jack’s faith was visible because of the way he lived, and that prompted Alex to ask him for advice.
Others will Notice
If you’re living your faith at work, people at work will notice. As Jesus explained it: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain top cannot be hidden.”
Anyone who insists on being honest will be noticed. Anyone who is eager to serve others just for the joy of serving others will be noticed. Anyone who remains calm and cheerful in midst of difficulties will be noticed. Anyone who refuses to accept bribes will be noticed. Anyone who avoids gossip will be noticed. Many will be especially impressed if they see you being patient and understanding with others when they make mistakes.
A man will stand out in the crowd if he insists on being faithful in marriage and shuns loose talk. A woman becomes known among her friends for being “different” if she rejects the contraceptive mentality deeply engrained in modern culture.
Saint Josemaria explained it this way. He was once giving advice to a young man who talked about living his faith “with naturalness”—without being a priest or a missionary, just being an ordinary Christian.
“You ask me, ‘In a pagan or in a worldly environment, when my life clashes with those surroundings, won’t my naturalness seem artificial?’”
St. Josemaria replied: “Undoubtedly your life with clash with theirs. That contrast, because you are confirming your faith with works, is precisely the naturalness I ask of you.”
Just like the First Christians
The early Christians made an impact on that pagan world not through force but through faith. Most of them were ordinary men and women, with families and jobs. They lived in a world where bloodshed, promiscuity and corruption were commonplace.
The faith of those first Christians could be seen simply because of the way they lived. As one ancient preacher said in a homily to the Christians of the early Church: “Jesus said, ‘Everyone who acknowledges me, I in turn will acknowledge in the presence of my Father.’
How shall we show that we acknowledge Christ? By doing what he says. Let us show our faith in him by our deeds: by loving one another, by not committing adultery, by not finding fault with one another or being envious. Instead, let us be chaste, merciful and kind.”