Book Review of
The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work
By Randy Hain
(Review by: Michele Babcock-Nice)
March 13, 2012
In his book, The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work, Randy Hain gives numerous examples of how Catholics can and should both live and include their Catholic faith in their everyday lives, particularly while at work and in working with others. Hain lists and shares many “how to” ideas and ways in his book on how to accomplish this.
Throughout his book, Hain also identifies Catholic role models and colleagues in his life who are an inspiration for living their Catholic faith, daily, at work and in their everyday lives. Several interviews with these individuals are shared in The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work so that we, the readers, may more fully appreciate and understand ways that we, too, may more fully live our Catholic faith at work.
Hain begins his book introduction with presenting about ”making the transition from a compartmentalized life in which I had no faith and kept everything distinctly separate to an integrated life with Christ at the center” (p. xvii). Hain states that making the transition was daunting for him, as it may be for many. At work, some of the reasons in which people may compartmentalize their faith include “political sensitivity, rigid company policies, and simple fear” (p. xvii).
In being fully honest with himself and realizing that there were areas in his faith and religious life that could be improved in his relationship with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, Hain opened himself up to greater communion with God and his faith. No doubt, as described throughout his book, Hain has felt and gained countless benefits from letting go of his former self so that a new self could be reborn with increased spirituality and trust in God.
Hain writes of being a convert to Catholicism in 2005. He states that he sincerely committed himself to placing Jesus Christ at the forefront of every aspect of his life. He committed himself to living a life with Jesus at the center, as well as integrating faith, family, and work together (p. xix). He goes on to share that Catholics have many opportunities throughout each day to positively influence others, thereby “standing out” in our faith and faith journey in example to others.
It is, indeed, refreshing to read Hain’s thoughts, ideas, and beliefs regarding his Catholic faith and faith journey as a positive example to others. In converting to Catholicism and truly living the Catholic faith, as well as being a role model for others in his faith, Hain has set an excellent example for others in his commitment to leading a more fully-integrated faith and spiritual life in his work and everyday activities. Hain challenged himself to highly-raise the bar in his pursuit of excellence regarding the integration of his faith into his work and daily life.
The author writes of remembering to view others in a Christ-like manner, to recall that each of us is modelled after Jesus and has wonderful qualities in our humanity. Hain further reminds us that we must be persistent and dedicated in fulfilling our ministries – including all sorts of ministries, such as being married, being single, being a parent, being employed, being a leader, etc. He also identifies that there are many ways in which people excuse their lack of action in integrating our faith and work, and he provides well-explained ideas for actually integrating faith and work.
One of Hain’s statements that really spoke to me is, “It is almost as if we have developed barriers around our hearts that keep the world at an emotional distance” (p.10). And, three major obstacles to trustfully surrendering to God, Hain identifies as “pride, fear, and excuses” (p. 10). This is all something that I can reflect on and view in my own life. Why don’t I profess my faith more openly to others? Am I afraid of getting hurt, being rejected, being criticized or ridiculed? I believe that my answer is, “Yes, I am afraid.”
There are so many experiences in our lives of continually being rejected that it is easy for people to lose hope. Taking a risk in sharing one’s faith, beliefs, and values is just another one of those areas of potential pain and rejection, so for me, Hain’s statement about emotional barriers being placed around our hearts is really done as a matter of self-protection, though it may end up being a way of distancing ourselves from others. Hain writes that we must trustfully surrender to Jesus and God that we will be provided with the strength to be successful in our endeavors, both at work and in life.
Hain further shares that it is important for us to take time to think and pray, so that we can more fully be in tune with God’s will for us. Hain encourages us to schedule time into our day to pray, to be “gadget free,” to surround ourselves with positive, like-minded people, to live more simply, and to refuse to give in to compulsions (pp. 23-25). He further suggests to us that we thank God, ask for God’s forgiveness, request God’s help and guidance, and to totally unburden ourselves to God (pp. 31-32).
Hain also lists and describes many more ways that we can be in tune with God through our thoughts, prayers, and actions. Also very importantly – and another of Hain’s statements that spoke to me – is that we must “pray with our children every night” (p. 36). I had realized that, in the everyday stresses and worries of living, I had gotten away from doing that with my own child – saying daily prayers and making holy requests of God with my child. I have been positively reminded by Hain in his book to “just do it” (p. 36). It is refreshing, rejuvenating, and comforting to pray to God; what better way to pray than to pray with others, especially those children and/or family members whom we most love in our lives.
In Hain’s chapter five of his book, he addresses the issue of being personal with colleagues at work. He asks if we have the rapport and trust that is needed to provide comfortable discussions about personal issues that are serious at work (p. 39). In my work and personal life, this is something that I have never had an issue with, and in fact, is something about which I find many, many people have discomfort. Not only do most people appear to be uncomfortable speaking about serious personal issues at work, they do not want to hear or engage with others in talking about such concerns.
In my life experiences, I have found that it is truly the extremely rare individual who can share about serious personal issues, as well as who can listen to and provide support and guidance about said concerns. Because many people are unwilling or unable to open up about serious personal issues at work, this just becomes another way of distinguishing and dividing out what topics are acceptable for discussion in the workplace.
Concern about hurtful gossip and of issues shared in confidence being distorted by others are reasons that many people limit their interpersonal relations and communications with colleagues at work, in my experience. Then, the workplace can become a very hurtful and damaging place to be. With Hain reminding us in his book that we ought to develop relationships with others that are trusting enough to share serious personal issues, we are reminded that we are all human and that we all share serious issues in our lives that are in need of others’ support and attention.
An additional topic that Hain identified in his book that touched me is, “we often don’t know the people in our community or our workplace who need our help” (p. 42). Hain recognized that people may often behave in a superficial manner to each other, simply asking how they are doing, but not really caring to do anything about it or recognize how they are truly doing. This has also been an issue of mine in the past few years since I am an individual who is in need.
In the past one year, I shared about my need with a volunteer worker of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, who was very helpful to me and my family, and one of her statements to me was that I didn’t “look like” a person in need. One can maintain a good appearance, be reasonably healthy and happy, but still be in need – it is important for people to recognize that and take it seriously rather than overlook, ignore, or deny it because the need only increases when people behave in such ways. Therefore, Hain’s statement of truly recognizing and supporting those in need is incredibly important.
Hain addresses stewardship in his book, describing ways that he and others “give back” to the church and/or community. He is involved in several activities in which he gives back to his church, parish, employer, and community. This is also something to which I can relate because I also give back in regularly and happily volunteering at my child’s Catholic school (for the past four years now), as well as with being an active, assistant leader my child’s scout pack through our local church. It is very important to return one’s talents, time, and/or treasures to one’s family, church, community, organization, and/or workplace. It is a healthy thing to do, and it is something that God seeks in us.
Hain further calls us to lead by example, and to always make the best – or better – decisions. Hain also acknowledges that, through our humanity, we do make mistakes, however when we make errors, we must learn from them and do better in the future. Hain states, “Christ…always taught the truth, regardless of the audience or his surroundings” (p. 60). We must pray and make a concerted effort to also lead our lives in a moral, ethical, and spiritual manner that places goodness and truth above lies, falsehoods, and deceitfulness.
Hain encourages us to be better-connected Catholics. He reflects that there are many ways of doing this in the workplace - through sharing a meal with a colleague and saying a blessing before the meal, by listening to and truly “hearing” what colleagues have to say, by becoming active on networking websites and/or creating one’s own website, attending and participating in seminars or workshops, and more. In our places of work, it is important to integrate our faith with what we do everyday; it provides a good example to others and it promotes a healthier, more spiritually-integrated lifestyle.
Something that I believe with which many people struggle in their everyday work lives is becoming overly successful in our work, a topic that is also addressed by Hain in his book (p. 93). For those people who are single or who are married but do not have children – speaking from personal experience – it is all too easy to become overly devoted to one’s work…because that is what is often demanded of us from our employers, in order to be successful.
Also, for those who have families, such as myself, it is vitally important for people to remember that quality time with family is significant, as is bringing home the bacon. For those of us who are not formally employed, it is important to become involved in or create activities that balance family with our activities and/or interests.
Hain provides this and so much more in his book, The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work. Hain’s personal examples, intimate witness to God, powerful conversion to Catholicism, strong commitment to his faith and doing good works, and seeing Jesus in others are all extremely meaningful qualities of this author that will speak to any reader, of any faith, in any workplace. Hain does his best to personally live the words that he has written in his book.
Hain recognizes that by opening up to God’s will and surrendering himself to fully trust in God’s plan for him, that he will greatly-reap the benefits of doing so in his life, including in his work life. Hain reminds us that we are called to lead holy lives, that we must be a light for Christ, and that we are made for heaven (pp. 110, 112). In reading Hain’s book, we are fully informed of that through his careful, thoughtful, and spiritual insights, ideas, interviews, and wisdom.
*Reviewer’s Note: All quotes and photo of book cover used with approval and permission of the author.
Hain, R. (2011). The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work. Liguori, Missouri: Liguori Publications.