The National Catholic Review
Ministry in an age of cubicles and office parks
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For me creativity and frustration are two sides of the same coin. And one of the most frustrating times for me as a priest was when I was appointed a pastor at the age of 55. I had spent my entire priest life as a teacher--high school, seminary and university. I had not worked one day in a parish and now I was a pastor of a church with a large Hispanic population. What do pastors do? Well I began an activity that proved so fruitful that I have continued it for nine years. I began visiting parishioners at their workplace.

Now on the Labor Day weekend I offer the parishioners of whatever church I am stationed at (I have long since ceased to be a pastor and am now a parochial vicar) to sign up for a workplace visit. And in the last nine years I have visited about 250 parishioners.

It works like this: On Labor Day I preach at all the Masses on the spirituality of work, or the dignity of labor or on the church and unions. Then I invite the congregation to sign up for a workplace visit. I tell them it will only last 10 minutes, and that I am not seeking a tour of their plant or office. I simply want to talk with them briefly at their workbench about their job.

Often I will begin with the two questions that Studs Terkel asked people in his book Working. “What you do?” and “How do you feel about what you do?” After we talk about their work, I give them a copy of a workers' prayer by Cardinal John Henry Newman. I then write up the visit for next Sunday's bulletin. At the end of the semester, (I still think as a college teacher) I mail each of the workers I visited an invitation to meet with me for a one-hour group discussion on the relationship between faith and work. At the end of that session I give them a copy of Gregory F. Augustine Pierce's book, The Mass is Never Ended, which seeks to connect the Sunday liturgy with the work week that follows; and a complimentary subscription to "Initiatives," a newsletter published by the National Center of the Laity that addresses workplace spirituality.

This has been a wonderfully enlightening experience for me. When people come to Mass they come from somewhere; namely, their home and their workplace. When I look out over the congregation at Mass, I now see not only families but workers. For me this is the beginning of the Sunday / Monday connection. After all, outside of their family, where do most people spend their time? At work. And isn't this where they meet the people whose values are often most different from theirs? As Pierce never tires of saying, this is where the rubber meets the road, where people really do carry out the dismissal rite (actually a commission rite) to spread the Gospel.

After the Protestant Reformation, when the church tried to regain those areas of Europe that favored the Reform, one of the strategies' involved getting priests out of their rectories and encouraging them to make home visitations—and it worked! In the early part of the 20th Century the French priest worker movement enjoyed similar success as brothers and priests worked in the factories side by side with French workers. In my ministry I try to apply the same approach to the modern era. The church is present not only in the suburbs where we build our homes but also in the industrial parks where we work.

The author Joe Holland has written that the spiritual energy of our institutions comes no longer from priests and nuns but from dedicated lay people. Practicing the spirituality of work, and helping people understand that work is not simply an economic activity but rather a way for us to cooperate in God's plan for a better world, is exactly what Pope John Paul II had in mind when he talked about a new evangelization. And besides, where else could a priest meet some many of his parishioners in so short a period of time?

Rev. Anthony Shonis is parochial vicar at Holy Name of Jesus Church in Henderson, Kentucky.

Comments

WALTER LITTLE MR | 12/17/2009 - 9:44am

Fr  Tony, you make me proud of you and our presbyterate. Your vast experience is being shared with thousands of priests and people across the country.  Your imaginative and creative ministry challenges us to reconsider how we spend our valuable time. It also answers the frequently-asked question "How to get our people coming to the Eucharist again." Keep sharing your gifts.


  

Annalee H. | 9/7/2009 - 2:29pm

Fr. Shonis rightly aligns his work with that of his parishioners.  Visiting them at their workplace puts value on their role as laypersons, by showing them that their life's work and it's environment is as much a "vineyard" as his.  We need to be conscious of how our actions and attitudes can potentially affect others working with and around us; do we attract or repel?  As Christians, we should model the Gospel humbly and lovingly throughout the week, and not save our witness for Sundays.

At a high school awards dinner for our senior sons, an Augustinian deacon addressed the gathering saying, "If you do not make your contribution to the Body of Christ, it will not be made."  His simple words really struck a chord with me and my husband. We all need to hear this!  How sad to go through life and not realize God's work is in our hands...

My favorite hymn for expressing our "co-mission" is We Are Called, by David Haas. "Come live in the light, shine with the joy and the love of the Lord!  We are called to be light for the Kingdom, to live in the freedom of the City of God ~ We are called to act with justice, we are called to love tenderly, we are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God."  Certainly Spirit-filled words to live by.

David Power | 9/7/2009 - 1:16pm
I tried to send some information to those interested in the sanctification of work as espoused by St Josemaria but it has not shown up here yet .If you could find and print what I wrote I would be very happy.Thanks,David
David Power | 9/6/2009 - 3:22pm
It is strange that the first commentator has never heard of Opus Dei which is all about the Sanctification of Work.The books written by St Josemaria address many of the difficulties of this area.If you contact your local Opus Dei Office they will be very happy to give you all the relevant information and help you in this spiritual path.Good luck and God bless
Deacon Thomas Dubois | 8/28/2009 - 11:37am

I applaud Rev. Shonis for his tangible efforts in making the "Monday connection" with the gospels. His example demonstrates our call to wholeness and helps us to recognize how we may be partitioning our lives.

The French "worker priest" movement that he mentions was part of the genesis of the restored diaconate. From zero permanent deacons in the late 1960s, this vocation has grown to over 16,400 in the U.S. today - and most of these deacons are employed in secular occupations.

Being both clerics and workers, the presence of Catholic deacons in the workplace makes a difference. Deacons are reminders that we are all called to cooperate in building the kingdom by doing our work honorably and honestly.

Deacons in the workplace are also spiritual resources for coworkers in times of need.  In my own experience, I've had many people come talk with me about problems, concerns, or issues both personal and work-related. I've been asked to lead prayers for groups and I've been called to hospital bedsides because I'm someone they know and trust.

As clerics, deacons are then called to bring the workplace perspective back to Mass so that the practical experiences of living our faith can be shared with our communities.

j | 8/26/2009 - 1:13pm

Finally I hear from a priest who gets it!

We are told not to "compartmentalize" our Faith.  We are told that our Faith is to be lived just at Mass on Sunday.  I get all that.  But I don't believe that I have ever heard a homily on how to live out my Catholic Faith at work.  Shouldn't my Faith guide me in my business decisions?  Shouldn't it give me direction in such things as hiring and firing employees?  How much to charge customers?  How to manage people?

My theory about the preachers of the Prosperity Gospel is that they draw huge crowds not because they promise wealth but because they speak to people where they are - at work.

Those of us who work spend more time in the workplace than anywhere else.  Surely our Faith should guide us in this area.  If any priests are listening, could we please get some help on this?