The cost of being Christian in the public space

The cost of being Christian in the public space

By Fr. Gilbert Fungai Banda, SJ 

Can one bring Jesus into the workplace? Or, how can one express their beliefs in the public domain? Many people may feel that Jesus would not be popular in the public domain, especially the workplace. Many more would be convinced that being truly Christian is inconsistent with some business practices.  For example, telling someone that they are fired, but Jesus still loves them would seem contradictory and hypocritical. Does that mean being Christian only consists of being loved, appreciated and agreeable with everyone at all times, even to the point of not confronting some injustices for the sake of “peace?” 

 

In order to be an authentic Christian, Christ is our role model par excellence. The Gospels offer us scenes where we can meet Christ. However, if we want to be like Christ, we must be initially filled with a strong desire to be like him. Without such a desire, we lack the inborn drive or the intrinsic motivation to let the old self give way to the new self. Put differently, a willingness to die to self gives birth to a new self. The desire to be like Christ can help us to go beyond mere reading of Gospel accounts. In addition, this desire makes us humble to an extent that we are able to allow Christ’s personality mirror into ours. This mirroring can help us to do a moral inventory in which we are able to identify what we need to let go, what we need to keep and what we need to adopt. 

 

How then can we cooperate with Christ? Is there a formula or are there some prayer exercises that can help us read the Gospel accounts in ways that can help us to imitate Christ? St Ignatius of Loyola in his little book called the Spiritual Exercises, devises a number of methods that can lead us to an inner transformation. This transformation can allow us to imitate Christ or to be Christ-like in our daily contexts. 

 

Again, in the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius states that his aim is to help people get rid of “inordinate attachments” so that they can attain interior freedom. With this interior freedom, one is able to love and embrace Jesus and his value system. This is to say that, when we lack this interior freedom, we are unable to imitate Christ because we will be enslaved to a lot competing desires. In many instances, these desires will be in sharp contrast to each other to an extent that we will be feeling torn apart, agitated and confused whenever a major decision has to be made and when a temptation has to be resisted. 

 

What are “inordinate attachments?” They are desires which contaminate in us God’s will to an extent that our desire for Him is dampened. For example, a person who wants to express his Christian principles by being faithful in delivering his duties at a workplace can also be plagued by a compulsive desire for expensive and luxurious cars. While there is nothing morally wrong in having a good car, a compulsive desire for a car, however, can easily tempt them to misappropriate funds entrusted to their care. 

 

It is possible that one can desire to be like Christ at one point and may be filled with a spirit of defiance towards Christian values at another. Such defiance can be manifested through justifying actions that are contradictory to the Christian vocation. The habit of justifying unjust acts can be interpreted as “spacious reasoning” or “rationalisation.” As human beings, the capacity to be rational distinguishes us from other animals. However, when we abuse this capacity, we rupture our relationship with God and we endanger our spiritual growth. The more we compromise our Christian values by use of “spacious reasoning” is the more Christianity can appear “irrelevant” and “outdated.” Consequently, “spacious reasoning” can numb our conscience. In brief, our conscience is that sacred space in us where God can touch in order to inspire the direction of our lives. 

 

Even though most human beings desire to be good, the path towards goodness is usually narrow and uncomfortable. Many are tempted to look for shortcuts. For example, a shortcut to success, wealth and fame. It is possible that our hunger for success can outweigh our desire for righteousness. Even though we may admire the person of Christ as an ideal role model, we may be tempted to argue that being like him can stifle our worldly ambitions. Does it mean that being a Christian is inconvenient to success? I don’t think so! In fact, most shortcuts to success are pitfalls to destruction.

 

Though following the “narrow path” can be painstaking, it leads to solid results and formidable success. The path that is wide contains shortcuts. In addition, the “wide path” is usually marred with jealousy, backbiting, cheating, dishonesty, laziness and a lot of deceptions. Surely, we cannot build solid progress if we are to take such a path! The greatest obstacle in our quest for success, however, is impatience. Impatience makes us vulnerable to the temptation to take short cuts that usually divert us into the dangerous “wide path.” 

 

An awareness of “inordinate attachments” within us is crucial, because it leads to spiritual growth. This spiritual growth gives one the capacity to regularly discern the source of most desires that arise within us. With this discernment, one can identify desires triggered by God so as to embrace them and those triggered by the evil one so as to reject them. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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