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‘Faith and Work’ – a presentation by Ruth Durick, OSU


‘Faith and work’ is a very broad topic which can be approached in several ways.
What I’d like to do this afternoon is to, firstly, look at our context; then at what we can learn from the person of Jesus about faith and work; how we might model our workplaces; what are our expectations; and then perhaps a look towards the future.

The context is made up of many elements. There is the actual workplace, whether it’s an office, a religious community, a health facility, a home service, an advice centre, or an outdoor office in the marketplace walking alongside others – there’s a great variety even in one organisation in the physical context of work. Then there are the people who bring life to the workplace, people in all their variety with varying skills and qualifications; varying temperaments, ideas, imagination and capacity for relationships. Any workplace is part of a much larger web of life and activity.
One of the gifts of the modern study of science, philosophy and theology is the deepening realisation that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves, whether we are thinking at the local, the national, planetary or cosmic level. We are part of an emergence of life where everything is connected, and which is very exciting. We are also part of something which is dying in order to give way to this new emergence. This is happening at the same time that we are experiencing on our earth a growth in nationalism, an increasing fearfulness of someone who is ‘other’, a begrudging sharing of our resources with those who have less, a closing of our borders, our hearts and our minds to those in need.

Our world is intensely relational at every level. The relationships which we develop at work are perhaps the most important foundation for a gospel-centred life in the workplace. Each of us brings our own gifts to the workplace where we find ourselves. We bring everything which we love – our family, our friends, all those who have helped shape the person we are today; we bring everything which we are good at- our talents, our skills; these may have built up over more or less years of experience. We bring our prior learnings and experiences, our qualifications whether they have been earned in a place of higher education or in the field of life experience. Above all, we bring something for which we can be paid in order to help support our family, those we love, and our life; if we work as a volunteer, we are bringing all of this plus a special interest in the work for which we are volunteering. All of you who are working with the Sisters of Charity bring who you are to work. Each person in the workplace needs to be honoured in their own dignity and in the gifts that he or she brings to the team. So, we bring to work our passion, our mission, our profession and our vocation.

Don’t be put off by that word ‘vocation’. So often in church circles we use language which can lead to exclusion. Often when the word ‘vocation’ is used it is in a context of religious and priestly vocations. Indeed, today it is sometimes used to refer only to priestly vocations. This word refers to everyone, to you and me – whether we are married, single, members of a religious congregation or a priest. Each of us has a vocation to holiness living in the spirit of the Gospel of Jesus. The measurement of that vocation is not something which we can carry out except by the measurement of the gospel itself.
How often do we hear the words ‘practising Catholic,’ or ‘practising Anglican’ or ‘practicing’ any brand of religion – what does this mean? There is a measurement carried out in the Christian churches – a survey – which counts the number of people at Mass on a given set of Sundays. I know many people who are catholic, who regard themselves strongly as Catholic, but who might never be included in the measurement of practice because it is so narrow. We need to be careful of language which leads to exclusion, which becomes a distancing instrument which can lead to people feeling alienated from the community.
When I was a young member of my order, I recall people referring to some of the sisters as ‘very spiritual.’ I didn’t know what that meant and perhaps even today I don’t really understand it. I do know that it gave me a Key Performance Indicator which I continually failed to meet. So much so that I thought it would probably be the end of my life as an Ursuline because I felt incompetent in the life of faith and spirituality. Gradually I came to understand that each person develops their faith and spirituality in a distinctive way that comes from the action of the Spirit in their own life and community and not in someone else’s life.

Another word which can be used often, and which can be disenfranchising is the word ‘just’ or sometimes the word ‘only’. I recall one day I was talking to some students about their hopes for the future. Some were talking about wanting to be lawyers, doctors, physicists. One girl said to me ‘I’m just going to be a primary teacher’. I said to her – ‘just.’ She looked at me. We then spoke about the role of primary teaching and the important foundations which these teachers lay down in order for children to grow into the best people they are capable of becoming. There’s nothing ‘just’ about it. It’s an incredibly important role in our society.
On another day a student was talking about her mother’s work and she said, ‘Oh she’s only a cleaner”. If you think of hospitals where there are skilled surgeons, specialists and physicians. Or schools with hundreds of students, talented teachers and lots of buildings. Or even our offices and religious communities. How can we fulfil our primary task if we were not able to work in a clean and healthy environment where there were competent, committed, enthusiastic cleaning staff? Everyone is important.
So, our workplace, our team, has a rich diversity of faith and spirituality and we need to be attuned to how this is expressed in our daily lives.

I’d like to now look at two stories from the gospel which highlight how Jesus would like us to be – at work, in our lives, in every aspect of our living.Jesus had what we might call a flexible working situation; I’m not sure what enterprise agreement governed his conditions.

He doesn’t seem to have been provided with a uniform or an office. He travelled a lot for work. His hours seemed to vary from week to week – perhaps he was a casual? He didn’t have a long working life, but it was very effective. He sat with his companions, he reached out physically to touch the sick and those in need of healing. He didn’t want a special place set aside because of seniority; he often asked some hard questions and posed challenges to current thinking.
These two gospel passages are both about Samaritans – wanting to be gender inclusive I have chosen the Good Samaritan (a man) and the Samaritan Woman. We have heard the words Good Samaritan juxtaposed for so long that we don’t readily realise how provocative such a title is.

In the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10), Jesus encounters the smart alec lawyer. This man would be well versed in the law of Moses and, despite what he says, he wasn’t really interested in his own eternal life – or anyone else’s for that matter – but he was more interested in putting Jesus in a difficult space – to test him.
Jesus was smart and asked him what was written in the law. The lawyer responded, ‘you shall love your God with all your heart and with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself’. So far, all is good. Jesus commends him on his correct answer. But the lawyer pushes the envelope here – he still wants to trap Jesus. “Who is my neighbour?” he asks. Really, he broke the rule of any legal cross examination – don’t ask a question in court to which you don’t already know the answer.

So, Jesus then tells this parable about the man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, who fell into the hands of robbers who stripped him of all his belongings, beat him and left him half dead. We can be fairly sure this man was a Jew who had just been to Jerusalem either on business or to the Temple for religious duties.
Two people came along – first, a priest came by but passed on the other side. He feels under no obligation to give assistance because rules governing such things are documented in the law and he doesn’t feel he has any obligations to the man lying half-dead. Also, it could be that the man is already dead, and the priest wouldn’t want to make himself ritually unclean by touching him. The next person to come by is a Levite who would have had oil and wine with him because of his role with sacrifice in the temple. He could have given assistance, but he didn’t. If the priest did nothing to help why should he?
The next person to come by is a Samaritan. This man would be in most danger of anyone in this territory. He is out of his home country and there is a high likelihood that the injured man is a Jew. He is not really a neighbour since there was great enmity between Jews and Samaritans. For Jews, the Samaritans were very low on the social ladder.
This man took a huge risk. The other two saw the injured man and walked by. The Samaritan came near to him, he was moved with pity, with compassion. Because of this inner movement in his heart he then did what the other two should have done – he bandaged the man’s wounds, he put him on his horse, took him to an inn and paid the owner for his stay there until he was well enough to go home. He cared for the man, he clothed him, he offered financial help. He fulfilled his duties of mercy and hospitality.
You can imagine the smart alec lawyer is probably fuming by this time. When Jesus asked him, who was the real neighbour how could he not answer that it was the Samaritan. This wasn’t the end of it, though. Jesus then said – you go and do the same!
So here we have Jesus teaching us who is really our neighbour – all people; especially those who are regarded as the enemy. How do we respond when one is in need? With compassion, with care, with hospitality, with practical help no matter who the person is. Look at the image of the painting by Qi – we can see the self-righteous priest and Levite going their way – they are insignificant in the painting. Larger than life is the man who was beaten, the Samaritan and his animal – eyes!

In John’s gospel we have the story of the Samaritan woman. Again, we have Jesus the Jew encountering a Samaritan; and not just any Samaritan but a woman into the bargain! And further still she is someone with an irregular marriage situation! If you look at the picture of Marco Rupnik’s mosaic, Jesus and the woman are holding together the water jar. She has come, on her own, to the well to draw water. She would be here on her own perhaps because she is not accepted by the other women who would normally make a social event of drawing water. Through conversation it becomes apparent that she is seeking something deeper in her life; Jesus offers her the water of life which he can give. He does this despite the situation of her personal life. He reaches out, he accepts her. If you look at the lower jar you can see that the woman is pouring out the ashes of her life into Jesus’ hands. She is completely at ease with him and she goes to tell everyone she meets about this man who has told her everything she has ever done. She is a messenger of the gospel.
These two encounters can give us some strong clues to our own lives and how we work together in the spirit of the gospel, because this is what we are called to do in our mission with the poor, the aged, with those in need of healing, the marginalised.
3. We are given the example of the least in a group actually showing us what is the true essence of our mission – how do we tap such a resource in our own workplace? How do we create spaces where we can all listen to what each person brings to our workplace, to listen to what each has to offer?
One of the most important activities identified in the culture of any organisation is the quality of listening which happens there. This is true in any workplace, large or small.
We can look at four different types of listening; I have used these from Otto Scharmer who elaborates on them in his work on Theory U for organisations.

A. Downloading -Type 1
When I hear stuff I already know. What I hear confirms what I already know.
‘yeah yeah’ I know that already. So, I often decide at the beginning of the sentence that I know what’s going to be said and I download what I think I already know. I’m listening from inside my own head. I hear what I expect to hear.

B. Factual – Type 2
Something new emerges – new information which might challenge what I already know. So, I switch off my inner voice which says ‘I already know this’ so that I can listen to some new information. I focus on what is different from what I already know, I have an open mind – so I collect new data. E.g. Darwin who always travelled with a notebook.

C. Empathic – Type 3
The feeling level – Engaging in real dialogue and paying careful attention and thus becoming aware of a shift in the place from which I am listening.
To feel with another person, we must have an open heart; we connect with the other person from within. This is new territory in a relationship. We forget about our own agenda and begin to see how the world appears through someone else’s eyes. We move into their shoes.

D. Generative
This is when we experience being connected to something larger than ourselves.
This moves us beyond where we are and connects us with what is emerging. This requires of us not only an open heart but also an open will, our capacity to connect to the future – we are connected with something deep inside. Through each other and the team with whom we work we are connecting to possible futures as well.
When you operate from level 1 – Downloading – what you hear reconfirms what you know – you don’t learn anything new.
When you operate from level 2 – Factual listening, what you hear disconfirms or challenges what you already know and makes you notice what is new out there in the universe. (example of Darwin)
When you operate from level three – Empathic listening your situation is redirected to seeing the situation through the eyes of another
When you choose to operate from level 4 – Generative – you realize that you are no longer the same person you were – you have gone through a subtle and profound change that has connected you to a deeper source of knowing, about yourself, about others and about the future. It’s good to think about how you listen in your workplace. What kind of listening happens in encounters, in meetings, in planning, in dreaming and visioning?

Do you experience –

  • An open mind,
  • An open heart and
  • An open will – in yourself? In others?

This is always a challenge in working in relationship with each other. Jesus’ stories show us very clearly that new information can come from the most unlikely places, that the potential for new relationships which can build a stronger working team can happen when we least expect and if we are open – in our mind, our heart and our will – then the future can open in a way no one ever expected.

Jesus also gives us a window on hope in showing us, through these stories, that there is possibility, no matter how difficult the situation seems; that there is compassion to be found in the most unlikely places – perhaps we are the bearers of that compassion, or perhaps we are the recipients;
Are we open to the invitation?

Walter Bruggeman in speaking about the Christian vocation says: “What a stunning vocation …, to stand free and hope-filled in a world gone fearful, and to think, imagine, dream, vision a future that God will yet enact.”

It is not surprising that the first major encyclical of Pope Francis is called Evangelii Gaudium – the Joy of the Gospel. His life bears witness to this fact -we have never seen a Pope who smiles so much, who shows so much compassion in his greetings and meetings with people. He tells us that the joy of the gospel is such that it cannot be taken away from us by anyone or anything. The evils of our world – and those of the Church (and really, we have been surrounded by these in recent times) must not be excuses for diminishing our commitment and fervour. He goes on to say that one of the more serious temptations which can stifle boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, ‘sourpusses’!
These are strong words in favour of joy and hope and optimism!
There is a quote from Pedro Arrupe sj which I love, and which gives me hope in the dailiness of our lives: “Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, What you will do with your evenings, How you spend your weekends, What you read, Who you know, What breaks your heart, And what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” ―

We can say that faith, spirituality, relationships and work are not parallel universes but an integrated whole. Our imagination of the future can be as unlimited as we allow; our choices for the future, if they are prompted by the gospel of Jesus, will be based on compassion, mercy and justice. Our embracing of the future should be in a spirit of hope, In your own documents you have a compelling invitation for the future, and I quote: “What each of us gives to the future depends on our continuing, sensitive, and courageous response to the signs of the times, finding God in all things in the spirit of our motto Caritas Christi urget nos (2 Cor 5:14)… the love of Christ urges us.”

The work of everyone here contributes to a valuable ministry of the gospel in the spirit of Mary Aikenhead. Each brings their own gifts and contributes in an essential way to the ongoing life of these ministries.
In conclusion I would like to pray this blessing for you all – with thanks to John O’Donohue Blessing

May the light of your soul bless your work
With love and warmth of heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your inner self.
May the sacredness of your work bring light and renewal
To those who work with you
And to those who see and receive your work.
May your work never exhaust you.
May it release wellsprings of refreshment
Inspiration and excitement.
May you never become lost in bland absences.
May the day never burden you.
May dawn find hope in your heart,
Approaching your new day with dreams,
Possibilities and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed,
Sheltered and protected.
May your soul calm, console and renew you.
– John O’Donohue, Benedictus: A Book of Blessings p.160

Brendan Byrne, The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel, Liturgical Press, 2000.
C. Otto Scharmer Theory U: Leading from the future as it emerges. Berrett-Koehler Publishers 2009
Evangelii Gaudium

Sr Ruth delivered this presentation at the Sisters of Charity Twilight Gathering, their annual staff development day in September.  It is reprinted here with her kind permission.

When we have so much to praise the Lord for, we must not complain.
True affection is to rejoice in the happiness of our dear ones. Never allow a sentiment of resentment to enter into our hearts.
Pray, reflect and consult – and may the divine spirit direct all to God’s greater glory.
May our dear Lord Jesus fill your hearts with His own love. Amen!
We must have patience with others as He has patience with us.
Under every difficulty try to pray fervently.
We have much to thank Him for, even for those little drawbacks on our comforts and conveniences.
Do pray that justice may be accomplished in peace and that truth may prevail.
Go on now as steadily as you can, relying on the Divine assistance and fear not.
What we do ought to be done well.

The Sisters of Charity acknowledge the First Peoples and traditional custodians of this land where we live. We respect, value and honour their history, culture and spirituality. We are committed to standing in solidarity and to actively working for justice, peace and harmony in this land.

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