Categories
Elle Stone Ink Slingers Saints Spiritual Growth

When Work Sucks  – Bringing St. Augustine into the Workplace

 

October Blues

October has been…a tough month, sisters.  I think it’s awesome that the world is stuffed with tiny gourds, pumpkin spice lattes (pumpkin spice everything, really), and window stickies of witches on broomsticks, because this is such a great escape for me from how tough October really has been.

For us that work on an academic calendar (students, teachers, youth ministers, moms with school-age children), September was magical.  The world was new. I was filled with hope for the new year.  Everything was possible, all doors were open.

By October, the grind got me down.  Reality made an extremely unwelcome appearance.  The challenges are stacking up. Our resolve, although it’s made a good show, is more and more falling short.

Recently I’ve been talking with dear girlfriends of mine, truly holy women of God, who are falling to the October blues.

One’s a third grade teacher, whose students are struggling to learn discipline.  She’s being tough but fair, and…parents are enraged. They’ve basically started a vendetta against her.  That’s…that’s rough.

Another is a family member who works for the church.  Her program is on FIRE. It’s awesome. But she’s surrounded by coworkers who do less than nothing.

A third girlfriend of mine is a mom whose son is exuberant and energetic.  His pre-K classroom is inhibiting, lacking time for play and exploration. His teachers want to get him tested for ADHD because he can’t sit still.

Finally, I have a dear friend who’s lost all motivation in her classes.  She’s just…thrown the towel in. The professors are sending her to the moon and back over things that have little to nothing to do with her path of study.

 

ANGER

One thing that is so interesting about these women is that the October Blues don’t have them sad, miserable, or dejected.

Instead, these things have made them ANGRY.  

I talk with these holy women, and I’m hit by the force and power of their ANGER.

At first, this was odd for me.  Anger doesn’t feel like a holy response.  Anger feels like we’ve taken our calling to bring Christ into the workplace and shoved it into the trash bin.  It feels like the devil has already won, pulling us into these dark places.

Not so!  At least, if we do it right.  

 

Daughters of Hope

I found awesome insight from St. Augustine of Hippo.  He has such a crazy great quote for these workplace dramas.  Take a minute to read it a couple times, let it sink in:

“Hope has two beautiful daughters: their names are anger and courage.  Anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”

We come into work in September, full of this HOPE.  This excitement, this joy. Then we’re surprised in October when all we feel is anger.  St. Augustine, man, what a smart guy. This anger is not IN CONTRAST to the hope we felt before.  This anger is A DIRECT RESULT of our hope.  We come in with hope of being a good teacher, of having a strong church staff, of a great school year for our kids, of invigorating classes.  And then we see how flawed things really are—and we are filled with a holy, righteous ANGER.

 

Stuck

Although this anger is good and right, we do risk falling into the devil’s trap when we get stuck in anger.  Hope moves to anger, but if we don’t move out of anger we fall into a cycle of bitterness and resentment.  

St. Augustine calls us to a next step—a really terrifying step, actually.  He calls us to move from anger to COURAGE. We must have the courage to change things.  Instead of just staying angry forever, we have to change what we can.

And whoa man, this is BOLD.  There is so often at work that I try to stay under the radar, not causing waves.  Being the “yes woman” or the “nice girl” on staff. Sometimes this is out of genuine kindness, but TBH, a lot of the time this is because I’m not brave enough to go against how things are.

 

How do?

So, how do we foster this courage, and how do we live out true hope in the workplace?  Here are some ideas. I have very little work experience, but I am blessed to be surrounded by holy and experienced working women.  They have given me these amazing tokens of wisdom that help me navigate the toughest work situations.

1. Pray for discernment.  Get digging!  Before you do anything to change things at work, you need to get to the root of the problem.  Your coworker annoys you—why? But really, why? Don’t just say it’s because they steal the stapler, because that’s not good enough.  A huge part of this is you need to open yourself up to the possibility that you might be the problem. At the same time, don’t beat yourself up for things that aren’t your fault (I feel like us women fall into this ALL THE TIME).

2. Tackle personal failings in confession.  So, some things were your fault.  Take them to confession. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.  This Saturday. Go. Make a commitment to change, and pray for God’s grace to do so.

3. Take responsibility.  Although some things might not be your fault, you can still take responsibility for improving the situation.  Your child might have a horrible teacher, which is not your fault. But you can take responsibility—you can make the commitment to supplement your child’s education, you can meet with the teacher, you can request a new teacher.

4. List five tasks/goals.  Delineate your five central goals or tasks at work (or at school/with your kids).  These are the five things that constitute you doing a good job, the five things that will mark your success.  Have your boss, your spouse, or a college mentor sign off of them. Your hope will THRIVE off of having tangible ways of measuring success.

5. ID Breaking Points.  At the end of the day, there will only be so much in your power to change.  But you need to decide what is going to far. Maybe your boss loads you with more tasks in a week than there are hours in year.  Maybe your professor is genuinely impossible. Maybe a teacher is killing the resolve and the joy of learning in your child. These are breaking points, and you know when these pop up, you need to act.

6. Increase the amount you say “no.”  This ties in directly with points #4 and #5.  Once you have your tasks/goals and breaking points, you need to say no to that which goes beyond them.  Practice saying no, even in silly situations. You’ll find a balance. I feel like we women feel like saying no is unkind—that we’re denying others our help when we say no.  However, if we’re aware of our limits, then there is a humility in accepting our limits and say “no.”

7. Make a plan for honest communication.  Spend a day and listen to how many times you hear yourself say that “everything’s fine” at work when it’s really not.  I do it ALL THE TIME. This is another thing that I need to practice, like #6. When someone asks me if things are fine, and they’re not, I have to work on saying the words to express that.  When someone offers to help, I have to practice accepting that help. I was amazed by how much my workplace changed for me when I started honestly expressing my needs.

8. Kill with kindness.  This one is a bit of an aside, but it has worked for me so well that I have to share it.  That angry parent? That nasty coworker? That inept teacher? Send them a thank-you note.  I’m serious!  Find something honest for which you can thank them (don’t thank them for their smile if all they can do is scowl).  You’d be amazed at how much relationship building you can achieve through a surprise (almost sneak-attack-style) dose of gratitude.

Categories
Adrienne Catechism Doctrine Faith Formation Ink Slingers

What is Grace?

Immaculate Conception with Saints, Piero di Cosimo, 1495

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Bible, we are saved by grace alone.  But, what is grace?  What does saved by grace alone mean?

I must admit that I cannot do any better a job explaining what grace is than what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says on it, nor the simpler Baltimore Catechism.  So please consult these links for explanations from  genuine writers and theologians.  However, often we learn better first from a friend in common speech than a formally written text.  So, here we go, my friend.

http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c3a2.htm

http://www.catholicity.com/baltimore-catechism/lesson09.html

To understand grace, first we must understand who we are.  We, humans, are souls first and foremost.  We are souls tethered in time and space by our earthly bodies.  Similarly, angels (God’s creations before us humans), are souls as well, but in contrast, they do not have bodies and thus are not bound in time nor space, similar in that way to God.

Grace is a share in God’s life; it is a free gift to our souls from Him.  There are two kinds of grace, actual grace and sanctifying grace.  Actual grace is an unmerited favor that God bestows upon us by His generosity, like what we mean when saying, “By the grace of God we made it to the airport on time.”   The other kind of grace, sanctifying grace is what I’d like to focus on.  In the Bible, this kind of grace, or a soul in the state of this kind of grace, is often referred to as being or having Eternal Life.

The Fall of the Rebel Angels, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1562

The angels were all created in a state of grace, and were living in harmony with God in Heaven, until a third of them, lead by the angel of light Lucifer (also known as Satan), chose against God and were cast into Hell.  The fallen angels, being creations of a higher order than humans, were damned immediately for all eternity.  It is these fallen angels who are the masters of evil.

The souls of our first parents, Adam and Eve, were created with sanctifying grace, a share of God’s life, dwelling inside.  Their souls were alive in God.  Like the angels, they too had a perfect union with Him.  They were created in a state of Original Justification.  However, they were beguiled by the Serpent (a disguise of the fallen angel Satan), and chose of their own free will to disobey God’s one rule for them.  They ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge knowing full well that God had warned them they would die if they did so.  When God punished Adam and Eve afterward, their bodies did not die but it was their souls that died.  They lost the grace in their souls they had been created with.  They no longer had God dwelling in their souls.  They were now separated from Him.

The Fall of Man, Michelangelo,

Furthermore, their children would also be created in a state of separation; the souls of their children would be created without grace, without God’s life, dwelling inside.  This is what we call Original Sin.  This does not mean humans are created evil, for God does not create anything in a state of evil.  All of us offspring of Eve are simply not created in a state of grace, not in an automatic friendship with God, the way Adam, Eve and the angels had been.

Without grace in our souls, without God dwelling in our souls, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  The gates of Heaven had been closed after the fall of Adam and Eve.  However!  God took pity on us lowly humans, and instead of casting us to hell immediately, He promised us a Savior – someone to restore our souls with God.  When Christ defeated death on His Cross, when He died for our sins and Resurrected, He reopened the gates of Heaven.  He made Heaven attainable.  It is Christ that brings us the grace our souls need in order to be restored and in order to enter Heaven.

We first receive sanctifying grace in our Baptism, which is also known as regeneration.  This is why Baptism is so very, very important to all humans.  God uses an element of His creation, water, as a vehicle to apply Christ’s saving grace that our souls need to be “reborn”; to become alive again in God and to be eligible for Heaven.

The Last Supper, Leonardo Di Vinci

Moreover, we receive grace through the Eucharist.  When we partake of the Eucharist, we are partaking of Jesus’s body, blood, soul and divinity.  While God uses water in Baptism to apply Christ’s grace to our souls, it is through His creations of bread and wine that God continues to feed our souls more of Christ’s grace during our earthly lives.

When we choose to sin, whether it is mortal or venial, we adversely affect the grace in our souls.  In a venial sin, we remain in a state of grace, but our souls are just a bit ill or injured.  In a mortal sin (a sin of grave matter done in full knowledge and with full consent, like Adam’s and Eve’s) the grace in our souls is actually lost – the way the angels, and Adam and Eve lost their grace.

However, when we approach Christ in the Sacrament of Confession with genuine and contrite sorrow, another one of God’s creations, a human, specifically a priest, is used to restore grace in our souls, whether we’re in a state of mortal or venial sin.  It is a wonder God is so patient and forgiving toward us humans, but let us be thankful He is!

In a closely related side note, I would like to briefly mention what the Immaculate Conception of Mary means in this context.  Jesus, as the second Adam, and being God made man, of course came to this earth in a perfect state of grace (not having been created, but simply made incarnate).  Also, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the second Eve, was given the privilege of being created in the same state as her predecessor, Eve.  Her Immaculate Conception means she was created with God’s grace already dwelling within her soul, in view of the merits of her Son, Jesus.

The topics of Justification and Sanctification are natural follow ups to this discussion of grace, but we’ll stop here today.  I hope perhaps this explanation has helped some readers of Catholic Sistas understand these topics, as it’s not always easy to understand!  I leave you with some Church Father quotes, as they are better and holier writers than I’ll ever be.

St. Justin Martyr in A.D. 151

In his First Apology talks about persons seeking to become Christians and quotes Scripture:

Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, Unless you be born again, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” John 3:5 Now, that it is impossible for those who have once been born to enter into their mothers’ wombs, is manifest to all. And how those who have sinned and repent shall escape their sins, is declared by Esaias the prophet, as I wrote above; he thus speaks: “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from your souls; learn to do well; judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow: and come and let us reason together, says the Lord. And though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white like wool; and though they be as crimson, I will make them white as snow. But if you refuse and rebel, the sword shall devour you: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.” Isaiah 1:16-20

St. Augustine in A.D.412

In The Merits and the Forgiveness of Sins, and the Baptism of Infants he explains the necessity of Baptism and the Eucharist and quotes Scripture:

The Christians of Carthage have an excellent name for the sacraments, when they say that baptism is nothing else than “salvation,” and the sacrament of the body of Christ nothing else than “life.” Whence, however, was this derived, but from that primitive, as I suppose, and apostolic tradition, by which the Churches of Christ maintain it to be an inherent principle, that without baptism and partaking of the supper of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the kingdom of God or to salvation and everlasting life? So much also does Scripture testify, according to the words which we already quoted. For wherein does their opinion, who designate baptism by the term salvation, differ from what is written: He saved us by the washing of regeneration?” Titus 3:5 or from Peter’s statement:The like figure whereunto even baptism does also now save us?” 1 Peter 3:21 And what else do they say who call the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper life, than that which is written:I am the living bread which came down from heaven;” John 6:51 and The bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world;” John 6:51 and Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, you shall have no life in you?” John 6:53 If, therefore, as so many and such divine witnesses agree, neither salvation nor eternal life can be hoped for by any man without baptism and the Lord’s body and blood, it is vain to promise these blessings to infants without them.

 St. John Chrysostom in A.D. 388

In The Priesthood he speaks of how priests make possible the sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist and Confession for our Salvation, and quotes Scripture:

For if any one will consider how great a thing it is for one, being a man, and compassed with flesh and blood, to be enabled to draw near to that blessed and pure nature, he will then clearly see what great honor the grace of the Spirit has vouchsafed to priests; since by their agency these rites are celebrated, and others nowise inferior to these both in respect of our dignity and our salvation. For they who inhabit the earth and make their abode there are entrusted with the administration of things which are in Heaven, and have received an authority which God has not given to angels or archangels. For it has not been said to them,Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.” Matthew 18:18 They who rule on earth have indeed authority to bind, but only the body: whereas this binding lays hold of the soul and penetrates the heavens; and what priests do here below God ratifies above, and the Master confirms the sentence of his servants. For indeed what is it but all manner of heavenly authority which He has given them when He says, Whose sins ye remit they are remitted, and whose sins ye retain they are retained?” John 20:23 What authority could be greater than this?The Father has committed all judgment to the Son?” John 5:22 But I see it all put into the hands of these men by the Son. For they have been conducted to this dignity as if they were already translated to Heaven, and had transcended human nature, and were released from the passions to which we are liable. … For if no one can enter into the kingdom of Heaven except he be regenerate through water and the Spirit, and he who does not eat the flesh of the Lord and drink His blood is excluded from eternal life, and if all these things are accomplished only by means of those holy hands, I mean the hands of the priest, how will any one, without these, be able to escape the fire of hell, or to win those crowns which are reserved for the victorious?