By Kathleen Naab
NEW YORK, MAY 31, 2012 (Zenit.org).- When Benedict XVI is in Milan this weekend, one of the topics he’ll address is the theme of the event that draws him there, which is the 7th World Meeting of Families, focused on the elements of celebration and work and their intertwining with family life.
Author Kevin Lowry himself deals with this theme in his new book “Faith at Work: Finding Purpose Beyond the Paycheck.”
Lowry spent 20 years in secular financial and executive management roles, but he currently serves as chief operating officer of The Coming Home Network International. He and his wife, Kathi, are converts to the Catholic faith and have eight children.
ZENIT spoke with the author about balancing faith, family and work and how to do it in today’s secularized world.
ZENIT: Benedict XVI on May 16 mentioned the UN World Day of Families, dedicated this year to the balance between family and work, a theme similar to this weekend’s World Meeting of Families. The Pope said work “should not hinder the family, but should rather sustain and unite it, and help it be open to life and to enter into relationships with society and with the Church.” What does this reflection from the Holy Father bring to your mind, in light of all that you share in your book?
Lowry: The Holy Father’s insight is well taken — maintaining balance between family and work can be difficult, but it’s a worthy struggle. In the book, many of the perspectives resulted from my own mistakes in this area. However, there is always hope! I am convinced that our work can reach the heights described by the Pope, with God’s grace.
One of the chapters in the book is called “Get Me Off This Roller Coaster!” It discusses how to integrate work with faith and family through a plan of life. Now, I adore my beautiful wife Kathi and our eight children, but in practical terms I haven’t always acted like it — for years, I worked like a maniac and spent long hours away from home.
Then our seventh child, David, was born. He had profound medical problems before and after his birth that caused me to evaluate everything in a new light. My priorities shifted, almost overnight. I ended up making a career change and placing a much higher value on spending time at home. Yet even as I imagined this move taking me off the “fast track” to success, the Lord used it in wonderful ways I couldn’t have anticipated. In retrospect, it was clearly the right decision. Since that time, not only did my work provide less hindrance to the family, it did help us to be open to life and enter into new relationships as the Pope describes. I couldn’t see it at the time, but clearly God had a plan.
ZENIT: Members of the Church hierarchy have been reiterating lately the importance of laypeople living their faith — as laity, we are in places where bishops and priests are not, including of course, the workplace. Why is it so difficult to bring one’s faith to work?
Lowry: I think there is a mistaken notion that living our faith at work means that we’re called to proselytize, or preach at others. Not only is this ineffective, it ignores the fact that the Gospel can’t be forced upon anyone — God created freewill, and we need to respect and honor his design and Jesus’ example (remember how people walked away in John, Chapter 6?)
In my humble opinion, the workplace is the front line of the new evangelization. We need to propose the Gospel in a way that honors the dignity of our co-workers: first and foremost, we need to live it ourselves. To the extent that we model the virtues in our work, being a good Catholic and being a good worker should cause us to act in precisely the same way. There is no contradiction here! Put another way, by being good Catholics we should become better workers, and by being better workers we should become better Catholics.
There is a tacit acceptance of the “check your faith at the door” mentality in far too many cases today. We have bought into a deception that in order to respect others, we must suspend our beliefs. This is nonsense. In fact, Gaudium et Spes clearly addressed this matter: “This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age.” (43) Rather, the answer lies in a radical integration of our faith and work — doing the best job possible (since we’re working for God) while praying for our humble efforts to be sanctified.
ZENIT: There is much concern globally about religious freedom — not only the outright persecution of Christians and other minorities in countries of the Middle East or Asia, but also in the West. Your own bishops in Canada have just released a pastoral letter on religious freedom, which touches on some of the threats to freedom in the workplace. How do you see the role of Catholic laity in this struggle?
Lowry: Ideally, the Catholic laity should be leading the struggle, although we’re very late to the party. It’s interesting — we have lived in the soup of moral relativism for some time now, but some emerging ideologies today are absolutist. Some also contradict Church teaching and therefore conflict at some point is unavoidable.
The bishops are right to sound the alarm on religious freedom, since the impact on society will be broad and deep. However, the laity needs to be involved since government policy, at some level, endures based on the will of the people. If prevailing societal values move decisively away from Christian morality, policy is sure to follow. An example close to home is that of Canada, where the restrictions on religious liberty are breathtaking considering that more than 40% of the population is said to be Catholic.
The only proper response appears to be lives of radical holiness and commitment to Christ. I am reminded of the words of Simon Peter, again in John, Chapter 6: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
ZENIT: What do you think is the most important message for those starting a career in our Western consumeristic society?
Lowry: Live your faith. In a chapter of the book called “Maximizing Value” I make the case that money is not the ultimate value of our work. Rather, the ultimate value of work is service. Money is certainly important, but it’s not the most important thing, and it’s incapable of providing a true sense of purpose. That can only be provided through serving others as we strive to imitate Christ.
From a practical standpoint, it’s so tempting for those starting a career to be influenced by others surrounding them, family, friends, co-workers, etc. My wife and I have led personal financial courses on many occasions, and seen first-hand the stress that comes along with excessive consumer expectations and corresponding financial commitments. This is directly contrary to our human freedom. The biggest culprits for future financial downfall are cars and houses. However, these are reflective of attitudes of the heart.
If we take our faith seriously, it’s always wise to set a lower standard of living, keep debt and other commitments to a bare minimum, and plan for future events such as the birth of a child. People used to think my wife and I were crazy for wanting more children, but what’s more important — a child, or a new car in the driveway?
5. The Church’s social doctrine has a lot to say about living faith in the workplace. But Catholic social teaching is often unfamiliar to the “people in the pew.” What have been your insights as you study social doctrine in preparation for your role as a Catholic leader and author?
When the Church speaks, it’s always wise to listen. Coming from so many different backgrounds, we Catholics sometimes evaluate what the Church says through cultural “lenses” or with many preconceived notions. Yet Christ spoke to all of humanity – in fact, I have met many non-Christians
who are extremely respectful of our faith since they recognize its correspondence to natural law.
Another theme of the book that I continue to appreciate in new ways is the foundational nature of the virtue of humility. I have only been Catholic for twenty years, and in that time, have only begun to scratch the surface of the depth and beauty of our faith. Yet the more I learn, the more I recognize that the faith calls us to allow the gospel to permeate every aspect of our lives. This isn’t easy, but if we believe the promises of Christ (and I do), it’s worth it.
As I tell my kids, being Catholic doesn’t make things easier, but it gives them purpose. I hope Faith at Work provides encouragement to many people to live the faith to its fullest, including in their daily work!
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On the Net:
“Faith at Work: Finding Purpose Beyond the Paycheck”: http://gratefulconvert.com/book/