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By Your Life - Lean Your Ladder Against the Right Wall

January 10, 2022

Welcome to the one hundred and ninety-eighth episode of By Your Life. Thank you for joining me. If you haven’t already, please subscribe via your favorite podcast app, or on the right side of this page so I can send you notifications when each new episode is posted. And please forward to a friend you think would benefit from By Your Life.

My goal is to inspire, empower, support, challenge, and encourage you to connect Sunday, with Monday-Friday, in a secular, business world. It is my desire to help you live our Catholic faith in the marketplace, and to trust that it is good for business. I hope to offer you practical ways to go forth and glorify the Lord by your life.

In this edition, we will reflect on the readings for The Baptism of the Lord. I must admit, I struggled with this week’s episode and not because there wasn’t anything important to take away. Rather, there were too many things. But at the risk of being obvious, the thing of primary importance was and is our Baptism and its necessity for our salvation. (CCC 1257 Jn 3:5)

So, why did I struggle so much? It was because I was trying to apply the readings to our work lives. And there are many analogies that can be made. I thought of the similarities between Baptism and onboarding a new employee into your company. When someone new starts, they come in clean. You both are optimistic of the future working together.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes Baptism as “the gateway to life in the Spirit and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission.” (CCC 1213)

Similarly, the new employee onboarding process is the gateway to life in the company and it gives the employee access to the tools and resources available to them to be successful in their new role. The new employee becomes a member of the company and shares in its mission. While this analogy is good, it is also trivial.

Then, I thought about how Luke’s Gospel account of Jesus’ baptism ends with a voice from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Lk 3:22) and how we all hope to hear such praise from God. We also hope to hear such praise from others at work. One of the major complaints I hear from employees is that they don’t feel appreciated. All they ever hear about is when something goes wrong, but when they do their jobs well, its “crickets.”

I think it is interesting that Jesus hadn’t even begun his public ministry yet when the voice from heaven tells him that He is not only pleased but well pleased with him. We don’t usually operate that way. The other person must do something good for us to be pleased with them. But God is pleased with us, not because of anything we’ve done, but because of His grace.

The Catechism quotes St. Gregory of Nazianzus in saying that “Baptism is God’s most beautiful and magnificent gift … It is called a gift because it is conferred on those who bring nothing of their own, and grace since it is given even to the guilty.” (CCC 1216) This “sanctifying grace makes us ‘pleasing to God’” (CCC 2024) So, we are his beloved children, and he is pleased with us, not because of anything we’ve done, but because of his gift to us. How great is that!

It’s about as great as when we begin fresh with a new job or have a new employee join our company. Both employer and employee are pleased to have each other, but then reality sets in. The employer can fail to set a clear vision, and outline clear goals, and provide the proper training, and the employee is set up to fail. From the employer’s view, the new employee should have the skills to do the job, and should be able to follow directions, and should take initiative to ask when they don’t understand, and should use common sense to figure things out. When mistakes inevitably happen, frustration sets in. But on-boarding, like Baptism, is just the beginning.

Through Baptism, we gain access to the other sacraments. The Sacrament of the Eucharist feeds us, and Penance restores us, Confirmation strengthens us, and Marriage or Holy Orders, direct our energy toward a purpose. Jesus knew we needed this continuous support for our journey through life. (CCC 1275) Are we using these gifts? Do we regularly accept them to grow, strengthen and guide our faith?

Similarly, in our work environments, we ought to recognize that people need the opportunity to grow and develop and guides to show them the way. They will fail, so they need the opportunity to make it right. They will lose energy, so they need to be fed with ongoing training, encouragement, and rewards. They will face new challenges, so they need reinforcements to strengthen them. And, they should always be made mindful of the purpose, the “why” they are doing what they are doing, so their work has meaning.

It is true that we would have much more engagement in our work if companies recognized and implemented these practices. Again, this isn’t a bad analogy and a fair take-away from the readings. However, it is still trivializing the true implication of this Sunday’s Gospel.

I’m currently preparing to facilitate a leadership retreat and I came across a picture that I have often used with clients to make a point. The picture is called “Square Wheels” and I use it by permission of the Performance Management Company who created it. (You can see the image by clicking this link, but I will try to describe it to you. The image is of three men trying to move a huge cart. One of the men is in front with his head down and a large rope over his shoulder that is attached to the cart. He looks like he’s working extremely hard to pull the cart forward. Behind the cart are two other men. They also have their heads down and are working very hard to push the cart. The cart is loaded and looks heavy. The problem is the cart has square wheels and a closer look reveals that it is loaded with round tires.) The image is a great tool to foster a discussion about a variety of issues.

With the group I’m preparing to work with, the point I want to make with the “Square Wheels” image is how we often get so focused on our daily grind that we forget to step back, look up, and make sure we’re headed in the right direction. We are all individually working hard, but not always working together for our common goal. Like the guys in the picture, we can be so busy getting work done, we fail to consider why we are doing it.

And this is the point I’d like to make after pondering the meaning of Sunday’s scripture. We can get so bogged down in the mire of our day-to-day lives that we fail to step back and look at what is really important. We can get stuck in the details and miss the big picture. The same is true of my attempts to relate the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord to our work lives. I was missing the most crucial point, and that is, living our lives in Christ.

In a homily about this Sunday’s readings, Bishop Barron said that being Christian is not about being a good person, or doing the right thing, or having a heart of gold. Anyone, a pagan, Muslim, Jew, or atheist can be and do these things. That’s not to diminish the importance of these qualities. They are good, but they are not the foundation of Christianity. In my attempt to point out how to be a good and ethical employee or good and ethical boss, as positive as these messages are, I was also missing the point of the foundation of Christianity.


“To be a Christian is to be grafted onto Christ and hence to be drawn into the very dynamics of the inner life of God.” ~ Bishop Barron @BishopBarron


To be a Christian, Bishop Barron said, “is to be grafted onto Christ and hence to be drawn into the very dynamics of the inner life of God.” And what is that inner dynamic of the inner life of God? In a word, love. God the Father is love. Through Baptism, we are drawn into the relationship between the Father and the Son—the Father who commands, the Son who obeys, and the Spirit who is the love between the One who commands and the One who obeys.

Everything we do, all our work, should be kept in alignment with this reality. When we put our heads down and work hard every day, we can lose track of why we are here and where we are going. We can be pushing on that cart and fail to utilize the gifts inside that God has given us. Even worse, we can become one of those Thomas Merton spoke of who “spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”


“People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.” ~ Thomas Merton


It is time to step back to see if your ladder is leaning up against the right wall.

Jesus began his public life after having himself baptized by St. John the Baptist. After his resurrection, he gives this mission to his apostles, “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” (Mt 28:19-20, Mk 16:15-16) This is the wall we should be climbing, and this is the meaning of our lives as Christians; to share in the love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and to share this love with those whom we encounter.

So yes, most of us get up every day and go to work. We do the things we do that earn our paychecks. We live in a dysfunctional world and encounter challenges along the way, but we also have victories to celebrate. This is the reality of our human existence, but this isn’t the only reality. Through our Baptism, we entered into the life of God, and it is this reality that not only gives our lives meaning, but it also gives us the means by which to live in divine love. We don’t just follow or imitate Christ, but we become a member of his mystical body and share in his own relationship to the Father. What Jesus is by nature, we become by Baptism—sons/daughters of God by adoption. (Bishop Barron’s homily on the Baptism of the Lord)

So, this week, when things get tough, take a minute to step back and put things into the perspective. In the scheme of eternity, how important is it? Relative to your relationship with God, is how you are managing the issue taking you closer to Him or further away from him? When dealing with a difficult person, are you sharing the Good News by your actions and reactions? Do your behaviors honor the Father, who is well pleased with you?

Let us ask the Holy Spirit to unfold the grace we received in Baptism and grow our faith as we continue on the road of Christian life.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created, and You shall renew the face of the earth.

May God abundantly bless you and may you glorify Him by your life. Amen

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