A word that has come up a lot in conversations with friends and students and coworkers lately is the word integration – integration of our faith with life, whether at work or in school or in family etc. Many of us live lives that are compartmentalized where faith is that thing we do on Sunday morning and when we get together with our Catholic friends, but everywhere else we bury any outward signs of the fact that we are Catholics.
I used to work at another university where, when students found out that I was Catholic (I kept a small icon on my desk), they would vent to me that they had to hide their faith in class or risk not being called on for discussions. If the professor found out that they were Catholic, any of their arguments or points would be ridiculed. So they learned to keep quiet about their faith for the sake of a grade.
I myself have left a job in the past, knowing that because the way political correctness was going, I would sooner or later be called upon in my position to support programs that I could not in good conscience support. Rather than face that dilemma, I avoided it by finding a new position where that conflict would be less likely to happen.
I think part of the problem is that we have been trained from a very young age to compartmentalize. The idea of separation of church and state is pounded in to us at an early age without ever really looking at the origin of that idea and what it really means. Some of us were told not to talk about religion or politics because conflict might arise. We were told that should all just get along. We were told by “experts” that our resumes should not indicate any religious beliefs (a little hard to do when you spent half your career in Church related jobs …
So what to do? How can we integrate our lives and our faith?
Part of it is to begin to get a sense of what integration of life and faith might look like (or the flip-side: what integration does not look like). Integrating work, school and faith does not mean that we must be holy-rollers or bible-thumpers or that we must have a big crucifix hanging in our office or cubicle, or walk around campus brandishing our rosaries (although, we should not have to hide our rosary either!). It means that faith is part of who are and we shouldn’t have to hide our faith or put up with people –even those in authority – who denigrate our faith.
As all things, it starts with prayer. Pray for the Holy Spirit to guide you. Pray for opportunities to love those around you, even (or especially when) they are difficult to deal with. Pray for courage to be ourselves. It can be scary to take of the masks we hide behind.
If we live our faith out in the open, we may be challenged by people who do not believe as we do. This requires that we continuously learn more about our faith and also how to explain our faith to others. Knowledge is power and knowledge of our faith is a great remedy against the fear of being challenged for our faith by others. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to say “I do not know”. This is the beginning of wisdom. However, follow up and find out – look it up in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, ask a priest or campus minister or DRE (and hey, if it is really complicated, they might have to look it up as well).
Join a group to support you. The Newman Center was founded to support students, faculty and staff at non-Catholic colleges who want to learn more about their faith, who want to discuss their faith and ask questions without fear of being ridiculed. But there are many other opportunities to join together with others who will support your faith: prayer groups at the parish, men’s groups, women’s groups, classes on specific topics, music ministry groups etc. Find a group where you can simply be yourself and be loved for you are.
Questions for reflection: have you ever felt like you had to hide your faith? Has anyone ever challenged you faith?