So You Cannot Speak His Name?
Well, There is That Thing That Speaks Louder Than Words
By Marian Tascio
As a teacher at a public school, I have the opportunity to supervise an after-school activity. This year the principal gave me permission to start a community service club, and a handful of kids signed up. At our first meeting the kids came up with dozens of ideas for helping the homeless, the sick, the lonely, our neighbors, the environment, and even stray animals. I did some research to find non-political, non-religious charities to which we could donate money, food, and clothing.
While I was excited about the club's plans, part of me felt a little sad and frustrated that I had to avoid Christian charities and that I could not mention God at the club's meetings or service projects. When I mentioned the charity search to my mother, she remarked how important it is for people with different religious and political backgrounds to do good together without focusing on their differences.
Her comment made me think about what real opportunities we have to spread God's love and mercy in secular settings. Many workplaces, such as mine, expressly forbid certain religious references. But we Christians, especially those of us devoted to spreading the Divine Mercy message, need not despair of chances to evangelize in such places. After all, St. Francis of Assisi said, "Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words." A special kind of evangelization can happen in settings that ask us to refrain from speaking the name of Jesus with our lips.
When overt religious discussion must be put aside, we must remember the crucial evangelization tool of action. I estimate that at the middle school where I teach, more than half of the students are Jewish. Most of the rest are Christian, but we also have kids of the Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh faiths. Quite a variety of beliefs and ideas motivate the people who come to our school building every day. And yet there are certain behaviors in which the Jew, Christian, and Muslim agree we ought to be engaged for the sake of all.
We Catholics categorize these behaviors as the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. But when I stood up in front of my Community Service Club members at our first meeting, I did not need to give them a crash course on the works of mercy in order to jumpstart the process of brainstorming service projects. They knew what needed to be done. They knew people needed to be fed, clothed, comforted, and cared for. They also knew that they, as energetic young people from privileged homes in an affluent community, were in a position to help.
These students are excited about bringing gifts to hospitalized children who will miss having Christmas or Hanukkah in their own homes. They are enthusiastic about making a Midnight Run or Breakfast Run to hand out food to the homeless in nearby cities. Many of these kids have not been taught to believe in Jesus, and most of them (including the Christians) have probably never heard of St. Faustina. Yet they want to comfort the sick and feed the hungry; they speak the language of mercy through their actions. Our common ground is our ability to show love for one another and for the weak and marginalized in our community.
If I were allowed to talk to these students about Christ, I would. But my station in life requires me to obey my superiors, just as St. Faustina obeyed hers. The Lord urged her to perform good works only within the limits of obedience. We must all obey valid authority, but within that context we must act out of love for God and our neighbor. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say." In secular places, we must rely on our actions to speak Jesus' name. And actions can be very loud.
One of the factors that cemented my decision to become a teacher was when I learned that one of the spiritual works of mercy is to instruct the uninformed. I thought it would be marvelous to get up in the morning knowing that my whole day would be devoted to performing one of the works of mercy. It is marvelous, but I also know that just because I teach does not automatically mean that I am living a merciful life. Am I merciful to a student when I make a sarcastic comment that humiliates him in front of the class? Am I merciful when I become impatient with a student because she learns more slowly than the others? It is possible to be a teacher and not live out the message of mercy; I have fallen short countless times. It is also possible to be a wealthy CEO and exude mercy in everyday matters of business.
We are called to be living reflections of Christ no matter where we go or what we do. Bryan Thatcher, founder of the Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy, commented on his radio program that people sometimes express envy of his daily work, which involves packing containers of supplies to be sent to the poor. Dr. Thatcher then asked what is harder, to pack a container for the poor or to refrain from losing one's temper with a spouse or child? We can apply this question to the secular workplace by asking whether it is harder to hand out food at a soup kitchen or to resist the temptation to join in the gossip about how badly the new boss is doing her job.
In many ways, it would be easier for me to talk to my students about Jesus than to act like Him. It would be easier to read the Sermon on the Mount aloud to the class than to control my temper and speak in a way that preserves the dignity of the student who is rude or defiant. My public school setting gives me an especially urgent reason to try to let my students encounter Christ in my actions.
Mahatma Gandhi once said that he never became a Christian because he never met one. What if those of us who report to secular workplaces each day were the only Christians that our non-Christian coworkers ever met? Would they be attracted to our way of life? Would they see that our faith compels us to extend loving concern to the people around us and to reach out with comfort and help the poorest of the poor in our communities? Would they hear our actions speak the language of mercy loud and clear?
Many of us have little choice but to refrain from overtly mentioning the gospel at work. But few of us would encounter resistance from our employers if we decided to be kinder on a daily basis and to encourage our coworkers to join us in showing compassion to those who need it. So why not take St. Francis' instruction to heart? We can start today to show our non-Christian friends that on the common ground of charitable action, we Christians walk cheerfully, sustained by the quiet, yet powerful, presence of our merciful God.
Marian Tascio is a middle school teacher and a freelance writer who lives in Yonkers, N.Y.