How to Serve Our Lord in Tough Financial Times

Given the world economic downturn that we are all facing this year, the question I received a few weeks ago from a lady named "Rosalind" is likely to be on a lot of people's minds these days:

I understand that of utmost importance is our spiritual life ... but how do you balance the needs of your spiritual life and your human/physical life? I am the mother of six children ages 8 months to 15 years. My husband was laid off from work so I have been working more than usual. It's difficult to make enough time to pray, to care for the children, to nourish my married life.

I wish we had more stable finances, wish we could contribute more to the Divine Mercy movement, make more donations to the works of charity, but we barely have enough to pay our bills. ... We live simple lives. We are not extravagant. ...

We plan on taking on a new endeavour that will hopefully allow us to achieve that stability. ... Is it wrong to focus on that? To put effort in that for stability in finances, so we could support our family, provide the children with a good education, and contribute to the spread of The Divine Mercy? For so long, I was lost on the many charities to give, but now I know my heart has been converted to The Divine Mercy ...

Well, Rosalind, perhaps it would help to remember that works of mercy and charity are not just the extra things we do with our time (such as helping out at a shelter for the homeless), or the extra things we do with our money (such as giving money to support Divine Mercy apostolates, or some other charity). On the contrary, works of mercy are anything we do to help those in need, beginning with those nearest to us. Saint Thomas Aquinas, for example, defined the virtue of mercy as "the compassion in our hearts for another person's misery, a compassion which drives us to do what we can to help him" (Summa Theologiae, II-II.30.1).

Again, this applies first of all to our own families, for we have a special responsibility for the families God has placed in our care. Since a work of mercy is a work of compassion for those in need, and your family is really in need of some financial stability right now, by striving to meet that genuine need you are accomplishing an important work of mercy. So the first thing I want to say to you, Rosalind, is: Be at peace. From what I can surmise from your letter to me, your intentions are pure and good, and our merciful Savoir will bless and guide you in this.

It also sounds as if you and your husband will have to work extra hard for a while to get your family finances back on a stable foundation. It is certainly not wrong to focus on that goal for now: Just make sure that you sit down with your husband and talk openly about what kind of time and energy sacrifices this will entail, and therefore how hard it will be, at this stage of your life, to spend quality time (as you put it) "nourishing your married life." Marital problems can arise when one spouse recognizes this harsh reality, while the other cannot accept it. So be sure you two are "on the same page" here. Forgive each other in advance; it appears that no one is really at fault for the predicament you are in anyway. Such severe financial situations are often the result of circumstances beyond anyone's control.

Just be sure that you do not put that attention to your marital relationship "on hold" indefinitely, I would suggest that you resolve to go out on a date together three months from now, just the two of you, for lunch and a walk in the park, perhaps or for dinner at a restaurant. Resolve to do it every three months, so no matter how overwhelmed with work you two may get at times, you always know you have already set aside time for each other that is sacrosanct. That way you won't let daily absorption in the difficult task of financial recovery swallow up your marriage altogether.

With regard to your relationship with Jesus Christ, you are already finding it hard to "make enough time to pray," you said. This is understandable, too, and our Savoir knows the pressures you are under. Again, one thing you can do to prevent this from becoming a lifelong habit is to set aside a future date - say, six months from now - when you will go on a one-day retreat at a retreat house somewhere, just to be alone with Him, and to get reacquainted, so to speak. Resolve to do it every six months.

Moreover, one of the special things about our relationship with our Lord that makes that relationship unique is that we do not have to completely "get away" from our work and labours in order to be with Him and to grow in our love for Him. After all, Jesus promised: "I am with you always, even to the end of time" (Mt 28:20). By His Spirit He is with us everywhere, at all times and all places.

One of the Catholic spiritual writers who can help us to live out this truth of our faith is the Spaniard St. Josemaria Escriva (1902-1975). For example, Escriva taught, "External work should not interrupt our praying, just as the beating of our heart does not break or diminish attention to our activities, whatever they may be." All our work and labours - including looking after our own children, and earning a living - can be turned into a prayerful offering to God. Many of us give "lip service" to the art of turning our work into prayer, but when we find ourselves caught in situations such as the one you face, Rosalind, sometimes that is almost the only kind of daily prayer we can manage to offer at all!

Saint Josemaria Escriva's counsel is helpful here. "Sanctify your work," he taught us, by which he meant doing your work as well as possible, with a pure intention, such as providing a good product and service for your community, and providing a decent home and good educational opportunities for your kids.

"Sanctify yourself in your work," St. Escriva taught, by which he meant doing your work for the glory of God and stealing little prayer times throughout the day to keep your heart open to grace. You may not have time right now for a proper half hour for meditation each day, but you can always grab 30 seconds here, a minute there, 10 minutes during a lunch break, or even when you are alone behind the wheel of your car. In these little openings in the day you can offer up the simplest "arrow prayers" to God: "Merciful Heart of Jesus, into Your Heart I put my heart," "Merciful Heart of Jesus, I put all my trust in You," "Merciful Heart of Jesus make me love you more and more." Don't you think that our Savoir will be delighted by your efforts to steal these minutes in the midst of all your labours to be alone with Him? I assure you that He will pour His grace into your heart in torrents when you do!

Finally, "sanctify others through your work," St. Escriva said. This means setting a good example for others of cheerfulness, helpfulness, honesty, perseverance, and patience. What a tremendous example of Christian virtue you can be for others at your workplace - and especially for your own children - as they see you tackle the labours of each day in the Spirit of Christ.

Of course, I know that some days - many days - it will not be easy. At times of financial stress and strain, we may have to battle constantly against sheer exhaustion and sometimes suffer discouraging setbacks. Be patient: Let Jesus the Good Shepherd find a way forward for you when sometimes there seems to be no way. If He got His stubborn people of Israel successfully through 40 years in the wilderness before they reached the Promised Land, He can certainly find a way forward for you, too! As St. Francis De Sales put it, "Either He will shield you from suffering, or give you unfailing strength to bear it." And He is rather good at "writing straight with crooked lines."

So be at peace, Rosalind. You are on the right track, not only toward financial stability, I would guess, but on the right path to holiness and heaven as well.

Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. His latest book is Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press). Got a question? E-mail him at [email protected].

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