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Living Morally in the Marketplace

by Msgr. Thomas Wells

About 15 years ago, a group of men started meeting in the rectory after the 7 a.m. Mass on the first Friday of the month. The format of their meetings, which continue to this day, is very simple: the Scripture readings from the following Sunday are read and then, until exactly 8:30, a discussion of what those readings say to the individuals takes place. The coffee and the big, fat, immoral doughnuts are added blessings of the hour. This group has no structure and its membership varies from month to month; though, in recent months it does seem to be growing a bit - sometimes to fifteen or so.

I write about this group, not because I am recruiting new members, but because of how the meetings help me. While the discussions are on Scripture readings, they invariably move into the ways in which these men are challenged to live their faith in the marketplace.

Those who come run the gamut from single, young adults to retirees and so their reflections give me a glimpse into the ways Catholics make decisions in law office, construction site or business place. I first started participating with this group when I was at Lourdes as an assistant in 1987 and, from that time, the thing that has most impressed me is the tremendous struggle it is to live an integrated Christian life.

The temptation is to compartmentalize our lives. This part of my life is affected by religion: I will be faithful to my spouse; I will go to church on Sunday and I will help elderly neighbors across the street shovel their walks in the winter. On the other hand, when I go to work and the pressure for sales is so great, maybe I do have to fudge the truth a little bit in order to make a quota. After all, people should have the sense to read fine print. How much insurance is too much for this customer?

They have the money; they should know what they need. I know, for example, that when I came to Montgomery County as a pastor, bids I received for major repairs were much higher than those to which I was accustomed at St. Mark's.

For example, a local car dealer gave me a bid of $750 for repairs to air conditioning in a parish car. A dealer I trusted replaced the freon for $50 and the car would still chill an Eskimo.

Recent public opinion polls seem to say that Americans believe that a person can be effective in one area of life and immoral in another. In one sense, I guess that can be true: Is a greedy bus driver less effective than one who is generous? Ultimately, though, faith tells us that the Spirit of Jesus penetrates every dimension of our being.

In fact, I believe that (mechanical skills being equal) the moral bus driver will be the better. The men who participate in our first Friday group show me what a struggle it is to live morally in the marketplace; but I also recognize that, tough as is their path, their attempts at honesty and integrity allow those who deal with them to get just a hint of the truth that is God's Word. That is what each of us is called to do as we take the Gospel into the world.

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