At St. Emma’s Monastery, the entire design focuses one’s attention on God’s presence. The peaceful grounds. The quiet atmosphere. The religious imagery. The chant. The habits. The rhythm of life. Everything.
But God asks for and deserves our love at St. Emma’s and at home. But is that possible? In a world of email, phones, Internet, constant buzzing confusion, moments of focus – being in the zone – are the exception rather than the rule. Are we laypeople – people called to be in the world and to sanctify it – given a Sisyphean task, a task in which we are doomed to failure? If so, we worship a cruel God.
But focus is indeed possible. The focus – or devotion – of St. Emma’s is as available in the office as in the monastery. St. Francis de Sales expressed the idea this way:
When God created the world He commanded each tree to bear fruit after its kind; and even so He bids Christians,–the living trees of His Church,–to bring forth fruits of devotion, each one according to his kind and vocation. A different exercise of devotion is required of each–the noble, the artisan, the servant, the prince, the maiden and the wife; and furthermore such practice must be modified according to the strength, the calling, and the duties of each individual.
If this is true – and it has to be to acquit God of the charge of treating us as mere playthings – there must be a way to maintain focus or devotion in this kaleidoscopic world. Many books have been written on this topic and many more will be. Here, though, are three ideas for replacing the kaleidoscope with a telescope.
First, wear liturgical colors or include a reminder of the changing liturgical season in the your office or cubicle. Why? Father John Bartunek, who wrote the linked blog post, explains:
The colors of vestments, banners, and altar clothes changes with the liturgy. White, gold, red, purple, rose, green – each liturgical color is associated with a season, or with a particular type of feast-day. This visual variation is a powerful took for stimulating our awareness of the story of salvation, of which each one of us is an integral part. You don’t have to put colored veils all over your corporate cubicle, but it will help you to give a liturgical rhythm to the personalized décor you have there.
Maintaining rhythm requires a conscious commitment and therefore counteracts the focus shattering effect of a very busy world. Of the two options, I like the idea of wearing the colors better. Of course, the ladies have it easier, but the range of colors in ties makes it quite easy for those us who have to wear the corporate uniform. Done that way, the color becomes a constant and very personal reminder of God’s presence and of our commitment to Him and His Church.
Second, as Fr. John puts it, “punctuate your day with short work breaks for prayer.”
This is like taking a spiritual coffee break. Psychologists recommend that we take a break from engaging tasks at least every two hours. So, in general, one break in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one at lunch make for a healthy work rhythm. If you can add a conscious prayer in each of these little breaks, you will find it much easier and more natural to stay connected to the Holy Spirit during the work day.
Unlike the colors, which derive their rhythm from the Church calendar, the rhythm here is the rhythm of work, a rhythm that we sanctify with our prayer. This will be more difficult due to the social constraints of the workplace. But these can be turned to advantage:
Sometimes the challenge of finding a way to do this without being too obvious or intrusive towards your coworkers is itself a powerful tool for reminding you that God is present and active in your soul and interested in your work.
Just as a sentence begins with a capital letter and ends with a period so, too, does the workday. Opening prayer is important but closing prayer is probably more so. Fr. John explains why:
At the end of your work day, when you are closing up shop, renew your spiritual offering – hand over to the Lord the work that you have done that day, turning it in to him, spiritually speaking, the same way that you would turn in a report to your boss, or check out at the time clock.
This is incredibly important. It creates a clear boundary between work and the rest of life. It offers what was done to the Lord rather than merely what we intend to do. This naturally leads us to think about what we offered – was it a proper offering? Was it pleasing to the Lord? Work is no longer all-encompassing and all-demanding; it is a thing to be sanctified and then offered.
Finally, “live the Lord’s day well.”
This is counterintuitive – the Lord’s Day is not supposed to be a work day, so what does it have to do with helping us practice God’s presence in the work place? Everything.
The reason is that we redeem and sanctify our work by uniting it to Christ through the Mass. Fr. John explains:
During the week, as we put our talents to work in building up society and improving the world around us (the main purpose of human work), it is easy to forget that if our friendship with God is healthy, that activity has the same kind of redeeming value as Christ’s activity in the workshop at Nazareth
But we can only give this meaning to our activity insofar as we are united to Jesus Christ, who rebuilt the bridge between God and the human race. And who do we unite our work to Christ’s work? How do our feeble and flawed human efforts get swept up into Christ’s redemption? Through the Sunday liturgy.
When we live our work week towards the Sunday liturgy, all our work, however humble it may be, does take on redeeming value. This is expressed in the liturgy through the rite of the offertory. Sometimes when we put our donation in the basket we think we are doing God a favor. But actually, from a liturgical standpoint, that is the moment in which we are taking all the work we have done during the previous week and linking it, intentionally, with the work Christ did for us through his passion, death, and resurrection, which will be celebrated and re-presented during the Mass. Through the Mass, therefore, all the activities and personal encounters we have been part of during the previous week come into contact with God’s saving grace and are swept up into God’s redemption of the world.
Work is thus no longer opposed to the sacred; work itself becomes sacred. As the nuns at St. Emma’s might say, “ora et labora.” When united with Christ, labora becomes another “ora” – only prayer is left.
Rhythm and reminder. Daily. Weekly. Seasonally. Eternally. By consciously joining ourselves to that sacred rhythm, we sanctify our work and all of our lives. The rhythm and reminder of St. Emma’s becomes the rhythm and reminder of our workdays; we ready ourselves to join our sisters at St. Emma’s in an eternal rhythm of love.
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