A Work-Life Balance: A Fallacy

In my early days of full time employment I spent far too many hours trying to impress. This placed an ever increasing stress on my fledgling marriage to my supporting wife. Without any children at the time it was made all the clearer that time at work equated time away from her, a notion she took personally.

My boss, an astute and experienced man, noticed a weight on my mind. This is when I first came across the idea of a work-life balance. This expression alludes to a harmony where the time at work and the time at home comes to a comfortable point of stability, a point which may change over the years and varies from person to person.

The advantage of this thinking is that it brings to the fore the importance of each element. It makes us examine the role each plays and make any adjustments needed. The one big failing of this begins in the name: work-life balance. It alludes to a separation of work and life. I propose that there is only life.

Life is a precious gift that we give to others. Men fully alive, St. Irenaeus says, give glory to God. It is by how our life is lived that we will be judged (and we will be judged). This makes life far more important than any work we do, even the work of God. Work is ultimately finite, life is everlasting.

Work on the other hand is not an end in itself. When we treat work as an end it is insatiable in its need and prowling in its desire. Work has a hook on which money hangs and many have been reeled in. There are stories of men on their deathbeds wishing they had spent time with family and friends over time in the office. Perhaps this is what they mean by a work-life balance but I think the scales are heavily tipped to life. As the saying goes, we work to live not live to work. Work is a means used to support a life we choose to live.

I remember years ago hearing a story from a dear priest I knew. A fisherman was sitting on the beach relaxing after a days work catching fish, so the story goes. He had his boat moored, his nets cleaned and his fish sold. It was about mid-afternoon.

A young business oriented man walks past and sees the fisherman relaxing on the beach enjoying his fish over a fire. The young man approaches him and says ‘Sir, why are you sitting here? There is still hours in the day. You could be catching more fish.’ The fisherman replies, ‘And then what?’ ‘Well, you could sell those fish and make more money’ says the younger.

‘My family and I have enough. Why do we need more money?’ ‘You could buy a bigger boat’, the young man continues. ‘And then what?’ ‘Well then you can catch more fish and sell those for more money.’ ‘And then what?’ ‘Well, then you can get an even bigger boat, perhaps a fleet which would catch a lot more fish and make more money!’ ‘And then what?’

‘Well, when you have many other boats, other people working for you and more money coming in you can relax and take it easy.’ The fisherman replies, ‘What do you think I’m doing now?’

Hey, Grab the rope!

Gradualism. In the last week it has been sweeping through Catholic circles quicker than Ebola through the USA. Rebirthed during the Synod of the Family graduality has been like a hot knife through butter dividing the bishops and the faithful into two though somewhat unequal camps. But what is it and what is all the fuss about?

Gradualism is the name given to the understanding that a person is on a journey toward God wherever their path in life leads. Atheists have a particular view of the world interpreted by the facts presented to them. People of other faiths live to the standards of that faith in which some of the truths of God are revealed. Society by and large accommodates and recognises the use of free will though not rarely the source of such a beautiful gift. To whatever their understanding of truth people live their lives. Gradualism recognizes the varied states in life.

The benefit of gradualism lies in pastorally approaching ones recognition of their journey to God; in meeting them where they are. These approaches can change dependant on their place on their journey. Like when discussing the faith one would not talk about the church’s teaching on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist to an atheist, the recommendation of annulments do not extend beyond the Catholic community except where such things occur in other church’s law or in secular laws.

The problem with gradualism is when the person is not on the journey to God but away from him. In meeting the person where they are we hope to proclaim the mercy of God in the hope of their repentance, echoing the first proclamation of Jesus. How this is done is one of the concerns of the synod. But the teaching of the church must remain the same. Allow me to use an analogy.

Imagine a cliff with a steep but graduated slope. On the top of the cliff are the people of faith. These hold true to the teachings of the church. Anchored among them is a rope which hangs over the cliff. People are found at various places down the cliff. The rope is there to help them up.

Now the people down the cliff are the people we encounter. To them we preach. Some may choose to grab the rope on which they are saved, some may not. We can only offer the rope not make them take it. The placement of the rope is our pastoral approach. Pastoral approaches change to the need of the person; the positioning changes, the end may feed one place or another. The rope strands are the teachings of the church which together reveal the fullness of the truth. The quality of the rope is unchanging. It is rooted in the church whose hands are secure at the top of the cliff.

Gradualism addresses the recognition of the location of the people on the cliff and the need to move the rope accordingly. What seems to be occurring in the synod is that the vocal minority Kasperian camp wants to weaken the rope by removing a strand. Who wants to grab a fraying rope? The question I pose is with regard to gradualism, who is moving and closer to what?

There have been many examples of the insatiability of liberalism: the latest of these is the pressure to accept a redefinition of marriage. The various attacks against marriage calls for the church to respond. But how will it respond? This will be a defining moment in the papacy of Francis, whatever be his bias. Does he feed into the secular pressures and risk never filling their perceived need or does he hold firm to the truth that will set them free?

Two opportunities exist. First, the church reasserts itself as the bearer of all truth and still changes the pastoral approach accordingly. Second, because of such a lively debate during the synod the bishops return to their postings invigorated in their faithfulness to the church and in their fraternal fellowship. Lets hope the synod can bring consensus in pastoral approach and renewed faithfulness in its teaching. Pray the Holy Spirit guides their hearts and minds. Pray now!

Women: Excluded or exalted?

The mercy of God appears in all shapes and sizes. In the to and fro of our daily lives we often miss it. Sometimes we don’t understand it, sometimes it is not what we expect. This is more so, I think, in the long history of mankind, in particular the modern and popular understanding of the history of the chosen people of God; salvation history. Mercy, as is often the case, leads to so much more than itself as it is not an end itself but draws us into a deeper relationship with God, as does love, beauty, goodness, truth, and so on.

In the times of the Jews from not long after its inception men were considered dominant. They were the protectors and providers of their wives and their families. This was the case up until recent years, perhaps it still is in parts. When women were not protected or provided for they were vulnerable to a host of exploitations. Perhaps they still are in parts. Additionally authority, like anything else, can be abused which lead to the mercies of God being twisted for the benefit of the self and not for God. This lead to oppression and so forth.

Before the blessed self revelation of God in Jesus, God gave the Law. It is well known that some key figures in the history of the Hebrews had many wives; I think it was King Solomon who had the most. Nevertheless, this was a mercy extended by God to his people. Widows and other vulnerable women needed the protection and provisions of men. Allowing polygamy was a conciliatory mercy from God to women particularly for their protection.  The ideal would have been to create a society in which women, married or otherwise, were not vulnerable.

In comes Jesus: God’s mercy further extended. Jesus shows us the way in so many things and his example of his treatment of women, in particular widows, shows us the intrinsic dignity of all people and the protection required of the vulnerable, children included. By living the way of Jesus this ideal society is brought another step closer to reality.

Mary has a foundational and unequal role in the perception of women. The Mediatrix of mercy is uniquely exalted in the Catholic and Orthodox churches like no other human ever, male or female. Above all creation there is no one like her. Her preciousness extends to all humanity but is seen fully within the church.

Therefore, somewhat ironically, the patriarchal church Jesus left behind has in its view an example of perfect manhood in Jesus (not the lest by his treatment of those in need) and an example of perfect womanhood in Mary exalted. To uphold these examples in bringing about the ideal society the notion of an exalted person among many (or to put it another way to recognize the distinction within sameness) needs to be lived out loud and permeate through all we do. The ordinary made extraordinary: seen in Mary, through Jesus, by God.

The previous polygamous relationships now have a better example to live by. The chains, no matter how merciful their intent, have been broken and freedom reigns in fidelity to God and witnessed in monogamous marriage. The faithful example of Mary Queen of Heaven is the exaltation of womanhood par excellence. She was not given authority but is above all who have it, like a reversion of the protection and provision of the previous era.

This restored relationship – of Mary exalted, of the example of Jesus – brings together equally the prevailing faults of each of us. The reunions here on earth reflect faithfully (though not perfectly) the restored relationship in heaven. By having the exaltation of Mary, women are given an example to live by, and men are given the example of how to treat them. By having the example of a sacrificial Jesus men are given and example of manhood, and women are restored. United in Christ perfect union is more than possible, its achievable. Praise God!

Relationship and Rules: a view of Church

It was my son’s confirmation yesterday. A very proud moment in his sacramental life, and a time that I hope to write about soon, sacramentally speaking. But as soon as I returned home yesterday (after searching and thinking I had lost my son at the church when someone had already taken him home) the church’s view of women as a whole was challenged; that it was dominated my men who didn’t allow women to lead the church. This is a common accusation. But the timing was terrible and I tried to answer anyway, unsuccessfully.

I failed to address it with any coherence. After a feeble “that’s no the case” I was essentially dumbfounded after stammering some lame excuse. Quite insufficient on so many levels. I realize now what I should have said to someone quite distant from the church and someone with a genuine concern (in italics below).

The view that we get of the church on earth is not the complete picture of the church. We need to understand that in the church in heaven “the church triumphant” (triumphant because they ‘made it’) every person is equal except Jesus and Mary. (Angels I think aren’t persons they are beings but I may be wrong on that.) The saints, both male and female, stand out as giants because of their example in attaining eternal life. So what I should have said to the challenger is that their view of the church is limited to this world. But the purpose of the church is everlasting life.

The role women play in salvation is underestimated, perhaps even unrecognized. And it goes to how we are made and what we are made for. Typically women socially network better while men suffice with superficial talk. Typically men like to tinker with tools, or sport, or machinery, or some other physical / intellectual activity which grounds much of their conversation. And this is OK.

In their tinkering men come to an understanding of things. In their talk women come to understanding of people. Both of these are required for everlasting life. Let me give an example.

In understanding things men realize how things are. This can be from the natural world (environment, physics, etc.) or supernatural world (theology, philosophy, etc.) or both (sacraments, psychology etc.). These understandings become rules for a discipline, often starting out as a theory. Now, I must make it clear, this is not limited to men: women have been pioneers in many of these field. But this is the level on which men work, a level that contributes to a path to heaven. So what I should have said to the accuser was Yes. The church on earth is dominated by men. They work on the level of rules, and therefore authority. (Author; a writer of rules).

Women typically, working on a more personal level, encounter and witness Jesus at a deeper level than men. Their living testimony directs others to faith personally more than any words will. In scripture Jesus never rebuked a women because of her faith, quite the opposite: “your faith has saved you”. The apostles failed to understand yet the women had faith. Even today in the church most congregations are dominated by women. Many men attending are often disengaged. But again, this is not always the case and examples to the contrary abound, but it is typical. So what I should have said was But the women’s role is unrecognized by those inside and outside of the church. They work on relationship and witness a personal encounter with God.