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Transforming Pagan Place  

by Fr. John Rausch

          For two years I attended a Tuesday Night Group with a dozen business people. We read the Sunday’s Scriptures and reflected about the office, factory and marketplace. The group told stories and focused on making the Gospel concrete in everyday life.

              Stuart, one of the members, said he worked for an accounting firm in Atlanta. Every year his firm threw a lavish Christmas party in a swank hotel. Inspired by the TNG he told his boss he would skip the party because he saw a conflict. On Wednesday nights he and his wife worked at the homeless shelter in downtown Atlanta, and he could not reconcile his Wednesday ministry among Atlanta’s poorest with the Christmas party and its elegance. In fact, he challenged the firm to donate his portion of the expenses to the shelter. At first his boss resisted saying the request would set a precedent, but Stuart prevailed. The amount the firm would have spent on one couple fed 35 people at the shelter.

The challenge for believers today comes frequently as creative opportunities to transform the marketplace from a pagan-place to a Christian-place. The economic system promotes frivolous consumption, while advertisements further products based on vanity, power, prestige and greed. The market lacks a moral compass and cannot differentiate between profits from authentic creation of wealth, or from the exploitation of workers, the environment or communities. But, people of faith can make a difference.

I once asked a group of Catholic parishioners, "What’s the difference between a Christian in business and anyone else?" The stammering answers grasped for imaginary straws: A Christian would be more honest, or would treat workers more fairly, or would respect the environment.

My question appears disingenuous. One need not be a Christian to be honest, fair or respectful. And, reasons for virtue may cover the spectrum from "It’s just good business" to a personal conviction about human dignity and the common good. To the casual observer both a Christian in business and a highly ethical person may act the same.

However, the difference lies in a vision. The person of faith sees God’s power at work in the world and believes that power can transform society. God’s forgiveness can heal violence, God’s generosity can share wealth and God’s love can insure a dignified life for every human person. Believers act like the hands and feet of God in the marketplace. But, the hands and feet of the Body of Christ need one another.

The Tuesday Night Group offered its members an opportunity to grow in their social commitment. As a result, one manager raised the wages of his workers. Another shared his bonus with his support staff. A third effectively saved a family from foreclosure on its home.There is a follow-up to Stuart’s story. When he returned to the office the Monday after the Christmas party, he felt like a pariah. Folks avoided the company conscience. Gradually on an individual basis co-workers approached him with their own stories. One told how he supported a boy’s home for nearly twenty years, another how his spouse volunteers half time with the Red Cross. Slowly Stuart realized the overtures did not focus on Caribbean vacations or new red sports cars. By his action Stuart had transformed the level of awareness at the office from self-indulgence to service of others.

Believers need their own Tuesday Night Group like those of the Charismatic Prayer Groups. Meeting weekly, believers will find time for prayer and reflection. They will maintain their personal values and challenge one another to live a spirituality that will ultimately transform the marketplace.

Fr. John Rausch, a Glenmary priest, teaches at the Appalachian Ministries Educational Resource Center, Berea, Ky.   His column appears monthly in many Catholic journals and in ours courtesy of the Friends of the Good News.  Join the Friends of the Good News and help spread the Gospel.
Read other articles of Spiritual Enlightenment in the September 2000 edition of The Charismatics or return to the Main Menu by clicking on the blue.