When I was a kid, my faith and my life went together pretty easily. I learned a very practical faith from the nuns in school and my parents at home. No lying. No violence. Cooperate. Be generous. Think of others. Be trustworthy. Work hard. Do what you’re told. It was a useful ethical code, grounded in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ parables, and other teachings of the gospels. Faith and life were one.
Things got complicated when I went to high school. The Christian Brothers who ran the school taught the familiar Christian code, but other values were important among the students—things like popularity, swagger, and cunning. It seemed to me that my classmates were more like the pagan Romans we studied in Latin class than the early Christians—admiring power and beauty rather than humility and service. People who cheated got ahead of people who played by the rules. Boasting, threatening, and sneering got you into the in-crowd. Showing off got you dates. A gap began to open between what I believed and the way I lived.
Things got more complicated still when I went to work. One of my first jobs out of college was working as a newspaper reporter. I worked with many wonderful people, but I also dealt regularly with scoundrels and liars. I often had to do favors for these people to get what I needed. I learned the advantages of telling less than the full truth. I learned how to manipulate other people. I learned how to get what I wanted and not worry too much about what I did to get it. I went to Mass on Sunday, and for the rest of the week I did what I thought I needed to do to get by.
For many years now I’ve been trying to break down that wall between what I believe and what I do. It helps that my career was in religious publishing; my colleagues were nicer than the fixers and “consultants” I dealt with as a reporter in New Jersey. But I still have challenges. Sometimes things don’t go my way, and I feel resentful. Sometimes I’m sure, absolutely sure, that I know what people should do, and I’m amazed and hurt when they do something else. Sometimes, hard as it might be to believe, I’m wrong. Sometimes I give into these feelings of resentment and pride and make things miserable for other people as well as myself.
Two things have helped. One is to be aware of myself, especially of my weaknesses. Certain things touch me off. Certain reactions of mine are almost certainly excessive and inappropriate. I’m on the watch for them.
The other is to look for signs of God’s presence throughout my day. Breaking down the wall between faith and life isn’t just a matter of doing the right thing when you’d rather not. It’s also a matter of finding God in all things. God is there in church on Sunday. But he’s also there in the meeting at work, in the lunch date with a friend, in the errands we run. Just look.