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Accompaniment Leadership: Walking in the Footsteps of Christ

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“As they led him away they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian who was coming in from the country; and after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus” (Luke 23:26).

As I made my way down the long hallway of offices, I could overhear her explain to him her difficulty meeting a deadline and the overwhelming stress of her work. She sounded on the verge of tears. It was an intimate moment that I shouldn’t have overheard. But, her boss was standing in the doorway of her office, arms up bracing himself against the door frame, with his legs sticking out into the hall. It was as though he was physically preventing himself from entering into her messiness.

Entering Into the Chaos 

God has a decidedly different approach. He deigns to crash into the chaos of our humanity as evidenced by the Incarnation. Born into a highly dysfunctional family tree filled with adulterers (e.g., David), prostitutes (e.g., Rahab), and murderers (e.g., King Joash), the Son of God is wrapped in swaddling clothes sleeping in a feeding trough for animals (cf., Luke 2:12). St. Augustine tells us, “We have found the genuine Poor Man, we have found Him to be kind and humble, not trusting in Himself, truly poor, a member of the poor man who became poor for our sake, though He was rich” (Sermon 14.9). C.S. Lewis says Christ entered enemy territory, “Enemy-occupied territory– that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage” (Mere Christianity, 46). And could there possibly be a better description when we reflect upon His suffering? In Isaiah we read of the suffering servant who “had no majestic bearing to catch our eye, no beauty to draw us to him… Though harshly treated, he submitted and did not open his mouth; like a lamb led to slaughter… My servant, the just one, shall justify the many… Because he surrendered himself to death, was counted among the transgressors, Bore the sins of many, and interceded for the transgressors” (Is 53:2-12).

From the beginning of His earthly life to the end of it through to the present moment, we witness Christ’s humility. In the Eucharist, Christ makes Himself vulnerable to human abuse and neglect as He desires to share intimately with us His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. As we consume Him, He is consuming us and we are commissioned to continue His mission of reconciling all things to Him (Col. 1:20) by imitating Him with our very lives. “So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:2).

Incarnating Christ in the Workplace

As we seek to evangelize our workplaces and thereby engage in the “great campaign of sabotage”, we all too often encounter the diminishing of the human person to merely an economic function. It is easier to deal with other persons if we negate their human dignity, as evidenced by my boss’s treatment of my co-worker. When dealing with the capital means of production, we do not have to deal with personality, human emotion, or human genius. The Church teaches that in human labor there are necessarily two factors: the objective and the subjective. The objective points to the work itself, such as accounting, but the subjective component highlights the human uniqueness coloring the act of work. “… The basis for determining the value of human work is not primarily the kind of work being done but the fact that the one who is doing it is a person. The sources of dignity of work are to be sought primarily in the subjective dimension, not in the objective one” (Laborem Exercens, 6).

However, our business cultures are championed for their de-personalized structures. A cursory look at some of our business vocabulary, from referring to our co-workers as “staff” to improving company performance by “right-sizing” departments, which is prevalent in our current COVID landscape, we discover that our business language is rich in de-personalized euphemisms. Such de-personalized language is prevalent in our military language as well, such as “collateral damage” or “enhanced interrogation techniques”. “When you label me, you negate me as a person” is a quote attributed to Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard and addresses this issue of de-personalized language in the workplace. Our business labels protect us from entering into the messiness of not only our own human existence, but of that of others. If my co-worker’s boss had the courage to close her office door, sit next to her, and listen to her struggles, he would have exposed himself to his own emotions of compassion, confusion, and perhaps helplessness. He would face his own brokenness as he accompanied her in her suffering. So, rather than enter into the darkness of his own fallibility, the safe approach was to pretend to listen in her doorway where he remains in a posture of detached power.

A Kenotic Example: Imitating Christ to Christ

Sisters, we do not have that luxury! As Catholic women in business, it is our responsibility to share in Christ’s life in a profound and counter-cultural way. We are co-responsible for the mission of the Church by virtue of our baptism which is sustained by that Eternal Nourishment of the Eucharist. St. Paul (as well as the other apostles) is clear on what that looks like for us: “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8). We witness Christ’s kenosis in a unique way in the scene of the fourth sorrowful mystery, The Carrying of the Cross. Here Simon of Cyrene is commissioned by the soldiers to carry the Cross with Christ and accompany Him to Calvary. Christ witnesses in Simon a mirror of His own self-emptying as they carry the Cross together. Christ emptying Himself for the salvation of humanity; Simon emptying himself, that is humbling himself, to share in the burden of the Cross even if for a short stretch of road.

When we share in the burden of others and accompany them in their suffering we are becoming Simon to them as they reflect the Suffering Servant, Jesus Christ, to us. And one day we may ask the Lord, “When did we see you suffering?” and He will answer, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers [and sisters] of mine, you did for me” (Mt. 25:37-40).

Your sister in Christ,

Vanessa

A previous version of this post was first published on 9-9-21 at Catholic Women in Business.

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