Christ commanded that we be salt and light [Matt 5:13-16] and often we ponder this admonition without a clue how to fulfill it. The Catholic Briefcase by Randy Hain can help.
The Catholic Briefcase would be an excellent choice for an individual or a group study. The questions gently encourage discussion and reflection. An individual working alone will find them easy to use in prayer or writing in a journal. A group would find them an easy start for group discussion. Each chapter stands as part of the whole but also as its own unit– this means if the book is used in a group and some individuals miss a week, they can pick up with the very next chapter and catch the missed chapter later. Every chapter follows a similar pattern: Quote, interview, concerns and questions persons have about the topic, responses to those questions and practical advice. The material will be relevant and it is not absolutely essential that you have read the previous chapters to be able to gain from the current chapter, nor do you need to have read the previous chapters to be able to do the reflection questions.
Strengths of the book as a whole include the well integrated use of scripture and quotes from Church documents, easy to use questions at the end of each chapter, chapters that can stand alone yet build on each other, a comfortable conversational interview style, and lots of practical suggestions to kick-start the process of creatively taking action toward a more integrated Catholic life. Aimed at the Catholic Layperson who wishes to live the Faith more genuinely and completely this book gives practical guidance for taking faith beyond the confines of the Church. In the introduction the author asks, “So, how can we overcome secular obstacles to our faith and fully embrace Christ in every aspect of our day, especially at work?” The Catholic Briefcase is his answer. Even more, this book will benefit the stay-at-home parent nearly as well as the target audience of persons with outside jobs.
Randy Hain skillfully integrates quotes from various sources. Quotes are brief and serve to stimulate discussion on how to apply them. For example, in Chapter 1, “Integrating Catholicism With Our Work” the document Christifideles Laici is quoted on the importance of the unity of life of the lay faithful and serves as the foundation for a discussion of the difficulties and fears persons face when attempting to include their faith in secular areas of life such as, “I am afraid of losing my job if I am open about my faith at work.” [p.3] Randy Hain responds to this and other questions with sensitivity and practical advice. Galatians 2:20 is quoted near the end of chapter 2, “Finding Strength in Surrender,” demonstrating the appropriateness of applying Scripture to life. Other sources for quotes come from literature such as Milton’s Paradise Lost and T.S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets.
Interviews of Catholic business people serve as examples from ordinary life. These interviews vary in their formality from the more formal interview with Dr. Voss in chapter 3, “Time to Think” to the conversational interview with Jennifer Baugh in “Making Time for Prayer” in chapter 4. Randy Hain interviewed real persons for their input on how they integrate some portion of their faith into their work to make concrete aspects of our faith which too often remain theoretical. Chapter 5, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” moves the often abstract commandment to love to concrete application through the example of Paige Berry’s leadership style.
Action suggestions are found in every chapter. These are ideas on how to apply the concepts in that chapter in concrete ways. It is here that my one reservation about this book comes into the picture and that is this: Not every person reading this book is an extrovert, nor is every person suited to the many suggestions which require comfort in social situations. A shy person might come away from this book feeling that when it comes to living the Catholic life in the workplace, introverts need not apply. This impression is balanced somewhat by chapter 6, “Being Good Stewards” which focuses on recognition of ones talents and limitations when deciding how to choose your responses. Finally, the idea that Catholics in business would do well to network and connect for mutual support in living the faith in the workplace includes practical ideas for starting such a group.
This book is aimed at the Catholic in business who leaves the home each day to spend hours at work but it should not be viewed as ONLY useful to businesspeople. Many of the ideas can, with only a little tweaking, be applied to persons whose vocations include work that is not part of the business world. For example, the home school parent would find the ideas on connecting and networking found in chapter 9 very useful. The stay at home mother can certainly benefit from applying to her housework and child rearing the same suggestions for integrating her Catholic faith in every aspect of her life.
Conclusion: I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in learning to do a better job of applying Catholicism in all areas of life.
“You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world…Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” [Matt 5:13-16]
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Dear Lord, Thank You for interesting and useful books and the authors who write them. Please help us all to be true salt and light in the world. Amen.