I pinned an email I wrote to some people to the Society of Canadian Catholic Bloggers site yesterday. Please have a read.
I think it might be useful to expand some of my thoughts on the matter here - although the email is not lacking in length, that's for sure.
In 1992 I graduated from high school. Shortly before that, at the Easter Vigil, I became Catholic. I was probably the youngest person who ever went through the RCIA at my parish and probably one of the youngest in the Halifax Archdiocese's history. I was 17. It's not unheard of for kids that age to go through the regular confirmation program. I was glad I did not have to go that route, since I didn't then really identify with my peers.
I spent the next few years aspiring to become a priest or a religious. I spent the next three years in a secular university, dreaming of going off to live in a little hermitage in the woods, all the while acquiring a good acquaintance with the sources of Western Thought. I still have that fantasy: days spent wandering the woods for berries, rabbits and fish, nights spent in prayer and reading. I knew I'd either go insane like that or become a saint.
Instead, I chose what I thought would be an easier, sweeter life, a view of which I have subsequently revised. Marriage and family life has been infinitely harder than I imagined. And yet infinitely sweeter too. All of you who are married know exactly what I mean.
I had the 'ingenious' idea that I would be able carry on my life of prayer and study married. This is an idiotic idea for anyone who is not wealthy. But my realization about this was made far too late, after I had painted myself into a corner with students loans, lost opportunities to learn other trades, etc., and six children who depend on me.
Thus, I had to work all through my PhD., which made it longer and more miserable than I ever thought it would be. It is miraculous that I actually finished. Not many people in my position do. I am, evidently, really smart, a good writer, and like the work. But I worked at a million unrelated jobs. I had no chance to do what other grad students do: go to a million conferences, make connections, take a million additional languages courses, do basically unpaid TA work, etc.
I was, however, very lucky to have had a chance to teach for five years at OLSWA. It was a very poorly paid position, (Anne-Marie and I kind of laugh/cried when we looked at my first pay cheque) but it was good experience to put on the CV. I sort of enjoyed the experience. I have done a little bit of teaching elsewhere before and since then.
All along, of course, I had a reason for all this. When I was twenty I thought that I would be such a good and holy intellectual/preacher that conversions would just pop out of nowhere by the bowlful. Heretics would be refuted, atheists brought to the confessional, etc. And my apostolic life would be financed by a well-paid professorship at Oxford - not to mention by the best-sellers I would write. Modest dreams for a modest guy.
Well, life hasn't quite materialized that way. And, if you want to know what I pray about most when it comes to myself - what should I do? Some people have some very strong opinions on this, and they are barely able to keep the bile from erupting when we talk about this. They cannot believe that I have no found and stuck with a safer type of employment. Others tell me what I want to hear: keep up this good work!
That a PhD can't find work seems to be more the rule than the exception now. But there is a particular shame, I believe, for the Church when this becomes the case, and yet still further shame when ecclesia and quasi-ecclesial organizations continue to promote the education of more and more young people when there is no real hope that they shall ever find gainful employment, that all they will find is mountainous debt and eventual professional disappointment.
I know theology is not about a job. But people need to eat and take care of families. The fact that the Church does little to nothing to address this injustice, but does plenty to address other injustices that are much less intrinsically related to the Church's mission is astonishing. Real attention has to be brought to this issue. This is not an insoluble problem for the Church; more than a problem, it is a great opportunity.
In a time when priestly and religious vocations are drying up, the fact that there are unemployed (orthodox) theology PhDs makes no sense whatsoever. Yes, it costs more for the Church to take care of a family than a single priest, but that does not seem to me to justify anything. I converted from Protestantism. And, as you know, they use lay-people for stuff. And not just to read at mass and run bake sales.
Things are starting to change in the Church, and this change is coming from people like my friend, Michael Dopp, who, like me, is an ex-seminarian who believes in the importance of evangelization. A few people's generosity at some particularly dark moments has really encouraged me to persevere in my work; Michael has inspired me to believe that this is not an absurd thing like few others have.
I have to confess to a funny thing. I was really thinking about throwing in the apostolic towel this week. And then, seeing myself sitting at a table with the Archbishop of Ottawa, the Papal Nuncio to Canada, the Bishop of Alexandria-Cornwall and the Chaplain General of the Canadian Armed Forces it kind of dawned on me that I was missing the obvious: God is caring for me and telling me I have a place in the mission. It's hard, though, to keep believing that this is God's will when you are surviving on your Visa, when every issue of The Catholic Review of Books puts you further and further into debt.
The fact is, it's hard for me to know what His will is. I frankly don't want to live if it's not to speak/write about Him to others. For me that would constitute a betrayal of all I have been given by Him and by others, of course.
The lay evangelization thing is funny. It's about turning the Lord's message into something that sells, I'm sad to say, because if you don't have a reputation of somebody great, like Hahn, Kreeft, Simcha Fischer, Akin, etc., then you can't pay the bills. Is Catholic fame a reflection of holiness and erudition? No, hardly, as the case of Corapi proves. These things don't always go hand-in-hand. Of course, a priest doesn't have to be the smartest, holiest, or best speaker to gain an important place in evangelization. He just has to be celibate. A lay-man, though, has to sell himself if he is ever going to get a chance to sell the Lord, and the latter can't get in the way of the former, or he will lose his place. And his audience has to be able to situate him, to pigeon-hole him: is he a charismatic preacher, is he a Scripture scholar, an expert on the Theology of the Body, a chastity speaker, is she a sassy stay-at-home mommy-blogger, a Catholic Answers type, a pro-life speaker?
But what if he's something else? What if the whole point is that God wants to challenge people to think again for the first time? I don't really have a 'thing,' as an evangelist. Of the known types, I am closest to a Catholic Answers kind of guy, but I am as critical, or perhaps even more critical of the way Catholics live and think than outsiders. If I have a 'thing' it is probably the faith and reason issue, that is, challenging Catholics to accept the Church's actual teaching on this (as, for instance, spelled out by St. JP's Encyclical, Fides et Ratio) and, after accepting it, helping to cultivate Catholic culture, as an essential part of the culture of life.
Do you know any faith and reason speakers? Perhaps Kreeft fits that bill. Perhaps Pieper and Warren Carroll, I suppose, but I don't know for sure. Michael O'Brien is in his way, but not in a way that would exactly resemble my take (although decently closely).
The fact is, my whole life has been a search for the truth, the truth that transforms and takes over us entirely, that blesses us and makes us better and engages our intellects.
The fact is, for most people, truth is but an interesting that exists for them when engaged in casual conversation and perhaps as an appendage of their self-conceit that one is a sophisticated, thoughtful person, better than people who dissent from him.
But, in fact, the stakes have always been high. The stakes are salvation, on the one hand, damnation on the other. The stakes are, the Gospel of life on one hand, and the culture of death, on the other. There is never compromise, never an entente. For, one either builds a culture of creativity and life in the monasteries of Benedict or gulags and concentration camps... One either attains to the heights of the life-giving philosophy or falls into the dark pit of violence and robbery, materialism, depression, exploitation and stupefaction. These are the stakes.
When I was fifteen, I got into philosophy. It seemed to me then, the sort of agnostic that I was, that if one were to find the truth, that would be the most precious find of all... If have found it and still believe this is so. I see my life now in continuity with that. I pray and study to know the truth better, and I speak and write to share my discoveries. My original hero was, and still is Socrates. I took the good he gave me (via Plato) and it led me to Christ. In gaining Christ I lost nothing of Socrates. Christ is the answer to Socrates questions, and I still seek to understand the answer.
Because our age is one that does not care about the truth, the task of the Christian, I believe, includes the original task Socrates put upon himself, to encourage people to seek out the truth, to love it above all things. It's not only that people do not have Christ, they do not even have a desire to begin the process that leads to Christ.
Our Western Tradition is built around this ideal in a way that no other tradition is. Christ is the answer and philosophy is our method. Many Christians today believe that our Faith is not about facts but about feelings, and that is majorly impoverishing. In the secular sphere philosophy has become but logic, closed in on itself from any real service to humanity. It is certainly no longer what Socrates wanted it to be. Education has become about professional development, not human development. The extent to which Christians buy into this is the extent to which they abandon their own tradition's sense of personal development as the most important task given to the individual. Because the secular world no longer shares the Christian view of man, of course it does not share this view of education. This means, does it not, that instituting a Christian view of education is a task for evangelization, and not merely because these centres of education are places that lead to Christian answers, but because they occasion Christian (i.e. human) questions, in other words, a Christian methodology. It is not good enough that we arrive at Christian answers; our answers must be the result of a true engagement of mind and spirit. Otherwise, these are not actually life-giving, life-engaging discoveries.
It is therefore my strong belief that advancing Catholics' intellectual understanding of their Faith and of the world in God - and not merely helping them to arrive at a superficial understanding of it (which can only lead to a half-hearted kind of belief) bestows an incalculable boon on the individual and on the world as a whole. Either you believe this or you don't, and if you want to believe in harmony with the Catholic Tradition, then you must believe this. Probably you have to open your mind up to the possibility that intellectual formation in Christ is not exactly what you suppose it to be. Again, it is not just learning Christian conclusions as spelled out in the Catechism; it is knowing these things in a new light, and it is discovering things about God that you had never even suspected. It is a good that impacts all our human faculties: mind, body, soul (heart, affect). Everyone has different capabilities and desires, and truth of Christ needs to full up all of these containers. It is quintessentially philanthropic.
So, anyway, this is what I believe. What I am up to is, as you know, working on the Catholic Review of Books - and I am sure you can see how it fits into my philosophy of life by now. And, I am writing books. I need financial help to keep both of these things going. As I have said, we are in serious debt and cannot go on much longer like this. Anything you can give us (or people you know can give us!) would - God willing - helps us to stem the tide until we begin to reap the fruits of this labour - the Review becomes profitable, my books sell, and perhaps I land some more teaching gigs.
God bless you. The ball is not in my court. But I am called to be faithful in a time of testing.