Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Entitled: Oh My Life, or, To Preach the Gospel?

Did you ever think that you'd be vexed by poverty everyday of your adult life? I know that many of you have experienced this at one time or another, or perhaps also everyday of your life.

It is quite a thing when you are as, on-the-surface-of-things, well-educated and smart as I think I am.

So I have a PhD in theology. It seems the natural thing for someone who converted to the Catholic Faith as a young man. Natural perhaps, but not exactly 'prudent.' The prudent thing, being a Catholic man with an intellectual bent, would have been to join a religious order committed to education, like the Jesuits or Dominicans. PhDs in theology work for Catholic clerics and for Protestant laymen. They are not really a smart choice for Catholic laymen. Nor is it usually theologically correct to set aside marriage as a Catholic layman. Most people are called to marriage. To set a call aside is about as bad as it gets. The 'single state,' as I've said many times, is not really a Catholic thing, although today we tend to treat it as a third vocation. (If you want to debate that at another time, I'd be more than happy to, but not right now.)

So, why did I want to get a PhD, anyway? Because I thought God wants theology professors to abound? No, I did it because I felt called to preach the Gospel. How and why I did not know, but priests told me early on that preaching requires formation - they never said ordination. This was the age of the laity, after all. The laity are the future of the Church, I heard from so many people - priests and lay - who never did a thing to help me make that a fact. The way things have turned out, the laity are not really the future of the Church. I never really wanted them to be, I just wanted to give my life to God in whatever way I thought he wanted. Preach became preach and teach, preach and teach ultimately became more and more simply teach in the university to paying customers. Not quite what I expected twenty years ago, but I made little fuss about it since I love academics.

Now, here I am. I have attained more than most young people entering into this kind of thing will ever attain, a PhD. in theology and several years' experience teaching. It is difficult for me to look at young people considering entering this field with notions similar to those I possessed twenty years ago. The fact is, I am smarter and a better speaker than most of them will ever be, and how has it materialized for me? Of course, this has been no direct path. Rather than a necessary skill to possess, academics became an end to me, a love greater than my love to preach the Gospel. I have, likewise, allowed my moral life to get off track. I have not always been a shining light who should actually preach the Word. And yet, now I find myself questioning the direction of my life, and I say, on the one hand, here, am I, with a hundred-thousand dollar education, so much knowledge and experience, able, and willing to preach the Word which I had always intended to preach and in a way unable to do so. And I then say, is it God's will, then, to leave all of this and simply do what needs to be done. Yes, the world needs to hear the word, but it won't obviously be from me. I am not opposed to leaving this field if that is God's will. I am resigned to the possibility that my only congregation with be the family God has given me - and that is more than okay. Yet, does not all this formation now seem a waste?

If I had stuck it out in the Protestant Church all those twenty years ago I would be doubtlessly running a church, preaching the Word. My formation would have been put to good use. But having delayed entry into the work force, here and now as a Catholic, having accrued a huge student debt, it all seems a little off doesn't it, that it turn out this way?

St. Paul built tents to finance his ministry to the Word. He hadn't a family to feed, and, what's more, had a clearer understanding that he had a vocation to preach.

Can I say that this preaching has failed to materialize because of my failure to cooperate with the graces I've been given? Have you ever met a priest who sinned? All them have, and yet still they preach. Could it be that I have no such vocation? Then why did God allow me to spend all this money and waste all this time learning about things I will never 'use'? If his plan was for me to lay bricks, why, then, have I not been laying them for fifteen years now, making an honest living for my family, happy to be fulfilling His holy will thereby? Maybe it has nothing to do with the destination, but only the journey? Well, if so, that is fine. He knows better than I do how to save me. But, for the record, the Word still does need to be preached, and I am willing to preach it. Do you think it's a cleric / lay thing? Well, if so, a friend of mine, Michael Dopp, founded something called Mission of the Redeemer Ministries, which seems to be going along great. So my 'dead-end' doesn't seem to be a lay / cleric thing.

So, perhaps this will all work itself out in time. Or maybe it won't. Maybe it is my lot never to arise to any kind of stability. Whatever the case, when you meet a young person who says things like I said twenty years ago, warn them with my story...

But wouldn't it be a waste? Does not bad preaching abound? I have stepped so gingerly these years in proclaiming my call to preach the Gospel, because, as we all know, such a call has to be authenticated by the Church. I have thus far received nothing that I would be willing to call such an authentication. But I can bet that I could preach circles around many. Is that relevant? I simply don't know.


  1. There is no justice in your situation. But neither is there any in the Lebanese doctor who filled my subway order in ottawa or the phd who picked up my dad in his cab. I dunno.

  2. Or the Indian engineer who sold Anne-Marie and me our first car. Yet, what about a call to preach the Gospel, is that in the same category?

  3. Do we not all have a call to preach the Gospel? I don't mean that in a platitude-sort-of way. Dave and I both feel a very strong call to preach the Gospel: his is comprised of family witness but also his work; mine? here and there, perhaps in the future, marriage prep, trips to the grocery store etc. I don't know. Perhaps the call is a call to greater depth in the moral and spiritual life? Only a spiritual director can really advise at this point.