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Faith in the workplace

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, October 6, 2005

It’s been a busy week for the Supreme Court. They opened the 2005-2006 session on Monday, with rookie Chief Justice John Roberts presiding. At the same time, the justices must be spending some of their free time wondering about Harriet Miers, President George W. Bush’s nominee to fill Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s seat.

Closer to home, we celebrated the annual Red Mass at the Basilica on Sunday, a liturgy at which Bishop John D’Arcy and the other presiders and participants asked the Holy Spirit to bless in a particular way all those in the legal profession. The Red Mass takes place each year, not coincidentally, on the Sunday prior to the opening of the Supreme Court’s current session. Also on Sunday, in fact, Bush attended the 52nd annual Red Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C. with Roberts, who is Catholic.

Against the backdrop of these events, we might spend some time considering this juxtaposition of faith and professional life. The question of how much of a role our faith should play in our professions has been endlessly debated and an answer is almost never agreed upon – as we can tell by listening to political candidates during each election cycle. Consultants receive large sums just to tell these candidates how much is too much or too little when bringing their religious beliefs into their campaigning.

Roberts never had to campaign for his new job, unless you count his Senate hearings. In a session on Sept. 13 before the Judiciary Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein asked then-candidate Roberts if he believed in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute. Roberts replied that the First Amendment guaranteed both no imposing of religion as well as its free exercise. He concluded by stating, “I do know this, that my faith and religious beliefs do not play a role in judging.”

Though Notre Dame graduates are well represented in public offices of all kinds across the country, probably most of us will not become elected or appointed public servants. We should, however, not hesitate to enter the fray and ask ourselves how and when we might bring our own beliefs to bear in our workplaces. No matter which way you look at it, America has always been and will probably continue to be a religious country. A religious sense (whether connected to a particular church, synagogue or mosque or not) remains just beneath the surface of our lives at all times, except in particular moments when it bubbles up in a more public way. Perhaps we ought not be afraid to bring the values of our faith to bear on the professional decisions we will make over the next, well, forty or so years, for those of you who are seniors.

Examples of those who have disregarded even basic moral teachings become headline news: did Dennis Kozlowski really regard the tenets of any faith tradition when he and his buddies stole $600 million from his own company, Tyco; $1,000,000 of which he used to throw his wife a birthday party? And yet, outrage at the scandals that brought down Tyco, WorldCom, Enron and others has led to a more explicit welcome for moral and faith-based formation as part of many professional training programs.

Ronald Alsop wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal that more and more “[Business schools] are offering courses dealing with spirituality and personal fulfillment in the workplace. What they want to teach students is the importance of remaining true to their convictions – whether rooted in organized religion or personal morality – amid the many conflicting demands and temptations they will likely confront during their careers” (Jan. 11, 2005).

Whether you are reading this as a first year student who’s so far from a career decision you’re just thankful you don’t have to declare a major yet, or a senior who already has your plans laid out or a veteran at your chosen career, you probably have opportunities before you every single day in which the values and beliefs of your religion can influence your choices. Make the most of each and every one of them.

Kate Barrett is the Director of Resources and Special Projects for Campus Ministry. She can be contacted at Barrett.28@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.