BOOK REVIEW: All we are saying is give faith a chance

By  Sr. Monique-Claire Lerman, FMM, Catholic Register Special
  • January 29, 2007
God at WorkGod at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement by David W. Miller (Oxford University Press, 222 pages, hardcover, $38.95).

In God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement, David W. Miller commits "to recognize the faith at work movement as a movement; to understand its roots and historical trajectory leading to its current form and substance; to offer a framework and language to analyse it, challenge it and assist it to realize its significant social possibilities; and to raise questions for further research." This is a tall order. 

Miller offers very scholarly research into the historical and sociological evolution of this movement in the first four chapters. Chapter five outlines the American church and the theological academy's response to the faith at work movement. This is followed by an invitation to grasp the mechanics and dynamics of the faith at work movement in chapters six and seven. Miller concludes in chapter eight with his understanding of its role and future. This book is an academic treatise where the author presumes a certain audience. It is not accessible to all. 

Historical, sociological and philosophical terms, spanning from the 1890s to the present,  are elaborated with an understanding that they have been mastered by the reader as familiar realities.  For example, references to Pope Leo XIII's landmark social encyclical Rerum Novarum are made with only a sweeping explanation of its content and its impact on Roman Catholic social teaching. 

 As a reader, I set out on a wonderful discovery of the faith at work movement. Thanks to Miller's analysis, I learned the essence of its roots and evolution. It has been transformed, debated and fine-tuned depending on the understanding of the relationship between the spiritual and the material, as well as mission.

However, there are very few concrete examples of personal experiences of this movement. The author tends to stay at the level of the corporate, ecclesial and  academic worlds. We do not grasp what the faith at work movement has changed in the life of the individual.

As a Canadian Catholic reader, I was interested to see this gentleman's understanding of organized religion, particularly the Roman Catholic Church. He presents the American reality. I did not always recognize my church in his attacks on the churches' inaction or indifference toward the corporate world. This has not been my experience. 

Miller ends his book with a challenge: "The church and the theological academy have a choice: they can sit on the sidelines, ignore the movement and let it pass them by, or they can learn from it, engage it and help shape the theology and practice of faith at work."

I asked myself where I was with respect to this question as a final professed religious working five days a week in the head office of an international NGO. I have been blessed to be living this faith at work movement. I am not in a structured group, and I do not radiate my faith in my work place. Yet, every morning when I come to work, my co-workers know there will be moments of God throughout the day. I have discovered it is much easier than one thinks to fully live one's faith in a secular environment.

In July 2006 my sisters gave me a lovely porcelain angel named Sarah. I took the angel to the office. It has been travelling from desk to desk with a very simple card stating that it is there when things are tougher, and that it comes with the promise of prayers. I am a Franciscan Missionary of Mary, and by definition a woman of prayer. All I have to do is watch on whose desk Sarah has landed. I then go home and e-mail my elderly sisters in Ottawa and Montreal with Sarah's latest prayer requests.

My co-workers are not all Catholics. They represent different faiths and beliefs. Ours is a secular office. Yet they look forward to Sarah's visit when the days are tougher, and they treasure the faithfulness of our sisters in their prayer ministry.

Being a Franciscan Missionary of Mary, a woman of prayer, does not hinder me in my administrative job. If faith is truly part of one's life, one will see it in one's self and in others.

I have learned over the years that fear and misconceptions have often stifled faith moments in an office. We need to give faith a chance. It may surprise you as your CEO delightfully tells you that every year he takes part in a full production of the Christmas story. It may burst forth in hope through his joy of knowing that you went to his church to see it. It may slide in through the ethics that gently settle into administrative procedures — decisions to do our part to save God's creation, extra efforts freely given to get the job done and care for the person working with us. These ordinary features of working life constitute a quiet but resolute transformation. All of a sudden, we can grasp that vision of something beyond us, something greater than us — a moment of God. 

It is a gift to live with God in one's life. It is a gift to be nurtured and treasured. I can live the reality of faith at work, because of my sisters' encouraging lessons about the vitality of daily prayers. I move forward in this faith journey due to the RCIA program at the University of Toronto's Newman Centre. As these men and women journey toward a better understanding of being a believer, I am challenged to turn the cruise control off and truly discern where I can make faith more present in my life.

Finally, I am shaken into action by David W. Miller. He reminds me there is a choice to make about how to live the relationship between faith and work. As I get ready for another day at the office, the choice has been, is and will always be mine to make. So with my co-workers, I set out to live God's moments for us in a Toronto office building.

(Lerman is a Franciscan Missionary of Mary who lives and works in Toronto.)



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