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It's take-your spirit-to-work day.

Too many parishes fail to recognize our 9-to-5 work worlds as arenas for the sacred.

INCULTURATION IS A BIG WORD THESE DAYS IN THE church. This helpful concept recognizes that, before we preach and share the Good News, we need to understand that such communication takes place within an established culture, and not in a vacuum. Any would-be evangelist needs to know and appreciate the culture of the intended hearer--and that much of what's already in the culture is of God; that it authentically reveals the sacred and is to be celebrated.

Which leads me to my question: When's the last time you heard a homily that recognized that you work for a living? How often does what you experience at Mass on Sunday touch on the realities of your work life?

So here's a wake-up call to parish ministers: If you want to practice inculturation with most of the people in your church next Sunday, do not ignore a large part of their culture-their work. And way too often it is ignored.

I remember hearing a homily one Sunday on the parable of the talents. The homilist gave an enthused plea for people to "put your talents to good use--as lector, eucharistic minister, with the mother's club, on the parish council, etc."

Now, all of these are fine ministries, and it was nice of him to invite people to contribute to the common good of the parish. But, as laypeople, our ministry is to the world through the work we do--whether paid or unpaid. Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours on the job. In the homily on the talents, we heard not a word about that.

I looked around the congregation as he spoke. Sitting across the aisle from me was a guy who owns his own business. He hires and fires. He negotiates contracts. He decides whether his workers will have health benefits, sick days, or comp time when their child is ill. He decides whether to comply with environmental laws or whether to skirt those and dump pollutants into the local waste water. Not a word to him.

A few rows in front of me was a supervisor for the local Social Security office. Her work determines whether old and infirm neighbors get their checks accurately and on time. Daily she strives to transform a bureaucracy into a human care agency. Not a word for her.

In the congregation were financiers and cashiers, stay-at-home moms and carpenters, and a few worried people who had recently been laid off. There were middle managers who may have been sitting there wondering if they had the gumption to confront their bosses on policies that edge a little too close to illegal or immoral. There were stock clerks who daily make the decision not to rip off their employer, and managers who daily make the decision to respect and honor their employees' contributions. Not a word that acknowledged any of this reality.

Workplace cultures have their own languages, their own rituals, their own customs, their own sense of right and wrong. They have their own sense of the sacred, of sin and redemption, of faith, hope, and charity. This is an arena in which most people find God--or not. And yet I've often found that in the parish, work is portrayed as evil at worst, a distraction at best. Quite frankly, that's an insult.

So I have a suggestion for any preacher or liturgy planner who wants to know and appreciate the culture of the workplace: Pick up a copy of author Greg Pierce's new book Spirituality@Work (Loyola Press). It's based on his own experience and insights about the spirituality of work as well as the results of a lively and soulful conversation he carries on via e-mail with people from many walks of life who want to explore the spiritual disciplines of the workplace (join in at

The contributors to Spirituality@Work have "words of life" to speak to the business owner, the social service agency manager, the stock brokers, trades people, cops, carpenters, and childcare providers. They have hammered out 10 spiritual disciplines that can infuse what happens on Sunday with what's happened last week and is about to happen in the next. Such a connection is crucial. Joseph Davies, a contributor to the book and a Denver lawyer, husband, and father, tells fellow workers, "As long as the ordinary incidents of daily life are seen as separate from, or even opposed to, spirituality, we will be frustrated because we will have defined ourselves as essentially separated from that which we seek."

It's time to see work--even the difficult, exasperating, nitty-gritty moments of work--not as something we need to be saved from, but as the very place where our true calling awaits.

TOM MCGRATH, executive editor of U.S. CATHOLIC magazine.
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Title Annotation:sermons should recognize value of work
Author:McGrath, Tom
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2001
Previous Article:Blessed be the ties that bind.
Next Article:Watchful silence.

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