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How to Survive and Thrive in a Secular Environment

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

People of faith who feel isolated or ostracized in secular settings can navigate by using strategies that include prayer, connecting with those who share their religious beliefs and making friends who have alternative ideas, author Aurora Griffin said during a recent talk at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C.


Challenging situations can arise for people who try to live out their faith in business, in government and in cities such as Washington, D.C., where those who seek to uphold their religion can incur criticism from individuals and political rivals who view the world through a different lens. But ways exist to incorporate God into everyday life by adopting practices such as offering work as prayer, Griffin said.

The reality is that people are called by God to become saints, said Griffin, a Rhodes Scholar and the author of “How I stayed Catholic at Harvard,” whose book is aimed at college students but also offers tips for people who are trying to live their faith in secular settings anywhere.

“Put out into the deep” is a phrase from the Gospel of Luke that Griffin said she applies to her own life. The words call for digging deeply into theological truths to clear up confusion and to become more giving in friendships, she added.

“I think that all of these lessons are broadly applicable to people of faith living in D.C. or young professionals making their way,” Griffin said. “These are things that I continue to learn more about and experience in deeper ways in my next phase of life.”

Whether in school or in the workplace, Griffin said the following questions may arise: “Will I be able to find friends who share my values? Will people think I’m prejudiced or ridiculous?”

But the perceptions of the rest of the world mattered little to Mother Teresa, who once said, “I was not put here to be successful. I was put here to be faithful.”


Success, nonetheless, still may be achieved by the faithful, but the Gospel does not promise “prosperity,” Griffin said.

“Love God, and everything won’t just work out,” Griffin said. “But I do attribute my earthy success to the habits that I cultivated through my faith, the people I met and the worldview it instills in me.”

Griffin said her faith helped her win a Rhodes Scholarship, even though others told her that students who receive it typically are “shiny secularists.”

The former Rhodes Scholars who interviewed the candidates chose Griffin, in part, because she held true to her Catholic beliefs in answering their probing questions, the head of the selection committee later told her. Staying consistent with her Catholic faith and opposing embryonic stem cell research, even if her view might be unpopular with those awarding the scholarship, swayed the panel of former winners to select her, Griffin said.

Not only has Griffin challenged herself, at times, by taking the role of someone who others might perceive as a “barbarian outside the gate,” she urged attendees at her talk to live as committed people of faith.

“You are called to be a saint,” Griffin said. “What are you doing about it?”

In Griffin’s case, she spoke of willingly becoming a contrarian when warranted.

“I kind of thrive being that person who disagrees with everyone in the room,” Griffin said. “I don’t mind that whatsoever. In fact, I find that intellectually interesting and find that energizing.”


Griffin recommends seeking mentors, looking for opportunities to lead and to teach others, developing close friendships and using media and technology.

“If you go to a secular university like Harvard or work in a secular job, you will meet a lot of people who are indifferent, or even hostile, to the faith, but you also will meet faithful people who will stand up to fight for what they believe in when it counts,” Griffin said.

The influence of her father as a devout Catholic businessman, who prays before meetings and gives back to his community, has been a positive example, Griffin said.

“My dad has been one of the huge models for me about how to live your faith in a career,” Griffin said. “I am looking at going into business and he is a businessman and he has always thought of his business as a way of living out his faith in multiple dimensions.”

Griffin said her father, who received formation through Opus Dei, seems to have a natural sense of how faith and work fit together.

“He understands how business does good on many levels: making quality products people need to live well -- in his case, housing, supplying meaningful and upwardly mobile work for employees, providing for his own family and helping those who are less fortunate,” Griffin shared in responding to a question. “Sometimes the Church regards business with suspicion, and we always have to be careful that material things don't capture our affections. However, when lived well, business can be a very holy pursuit, and I've been blessed to see that first-hand.”


Another example Griffin said her parents have shown is how to become “happier, more flourishing” people.

In addition, Griffin said faith helps to “anchor” people who otherwise may feel cast adrift by change.

Griffin expressed admiration for Pope Benedict XVI, who said during his homily at the inauguration Mass of his pontificate at St. Peter’s Square on April 24, 2005, “If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great.”

Paul Dykewicz is the editorial director of Eagle Financial Publications, editor of and DividendInvestor, a columnist for Townhall and Townhall Finance, a commentator and the author of an inspirational book, “Holy Smokes! Golden Guidance from Notre Dame’s Championship Chaplain,” with a Foreword by legendary football coach Lou Holtz. Visit Paul’s website at and follow him on Twitter@PaulDykewicz.

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