Thursday, March 31, 2011

A "Catholic difference"? (Part 2)

I am thinking of two people.

The first person is a member of my parish. This is where I meet him. He is a nice guy. I see him at Mass on Sunday. Later, I realize that he too is a mathematician and works for an employer similar to mine.

The second person is a colleague. I have met him at work. Like others in our field, I respect his technical expertise. Later, I find out that he too is Catholic. Occasionally, I go to Mass at his parish on my way to work and see him there.

In a sense, I may think of the first man as "a Catholic who happens to be a mathematician" and of the second man as "a mathematician who happens to be Catholic."

Is there a difference?

For me as a fellow Catholic, there may be no difference. I recognize the necessity for a Catholic to integrate his faith and his work: to be a "good Catholic" on the job and to do well at a job as an expression of the values of faith. Both of these men are valuable role models to me.

But if I was not Catholic, would there be a difference in the potential for these men to be an "undercover missionary" to me?

Monday, March 21, 2011

A "Catholic difference"? (Part 1)

One of the speakers at the retreat that I attended this past Saturday was introduced as a psychologist. Taking the microphone himself, he clarified that he was not just a psychologist but a Catholic psychologist, and added "and that makes a big difference."

When I am asked about my job, I say that I am a mathematician. What if I were to add, "and I am a Catholic mathematician"? Would that make a big difference?

Or at the times when I mention that I would in an office, what if I were to add, "and I am a Catholic who works in an office"? Would that make any difference?

Unlike the field of psychology, where Catholic doctrine may make an explicit contribution, I do not know that any actual mathematical ideas can be characterized as "Catholic." (Am I overlooking any?) Therefore, in practice, I probably would not mention my Catholicism when mentioning my occupation.

But, even if the actual mathematics that I do is not influenced by my Catholicism, is the way in which I do that mathematics at all influenced by me being Catholic? To be a Catholic mathematician who works in an office, what would that mean?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Jesus and the Modern Office Man

One of the highlights of my recent trip to Philadelphia was this statue behind St. Charles Seminary.

In it, Jesus is flanked by a kneeling gentleman in a double-breasted suit with a stethoscope around his neck and a book at his feet.

Initially, I assumed that the gentleman was a saint and that the stethoscope meant that he had been a doctor, and I scrunched my brow to think which 19th or 20th century saint had been a doctor.

To the contrary, though, the seminary residents told me that "Jesus and the Modern Man" was erected in the early 20th century and that the man was simply a representative "modern man." The stethoscope and book were symbols of the most modern things of that time.

Though I was slightly disappointed with this explanation (even asking two separate residents just for confirmation), I still found the notion of a man amidst modernity walking with Jesus to be both fascinating and energizing.

In a sense, it was as though the man not only carried this modernity in his possessions, but also incorporated it into his relationship with Jesus, even perhaps therein making that relationship fuller.

(It sometimes seems to me that modern elements can impede our relationship with Jesus. What a challenge to use them to assist that relationship! What an insight!)

A hundred years ago, medicine boasted many of the most cutting-edge technologies. What technologies would join it today? I like to think of the technology with which I'm surrounded at my office and the related ideas as being among this group.

Could I picture myself at my desk in my office in this modern man's place? Can I use these modern elements to grow closer to Jesus and to help others in the same?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bearing an ashen cross

A few years ago, around this time of year, I had the following exchange at work with "Lindsay":

Lindsay: [Visibly baffled] "Ummm, I think that there's something ... I mean ..."
Phil: "Pardon me?"
Lindsay: "Do you know that you have like dirt or someting on your head?"
Phil: "Unh hunh. Sure. Those are ashes. Today is Ash Wednesday. The ashes used to be in the shape of a cross until I accidentally smudged them."
Lindsay: "Wow. Oh yeah. I think I've heard of that."

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Urgency for the ordinary

St. Jose Maria Escriva, in 1967, added new urgency and new encouragement to efforts to grow in holiness while on the job:
Either we learn to find our Lord in ordinary, everyday life, or else we shall never find Him.
This week, I will strive anew to find the signs of our Lord and to find Him amidst my office work.