Professional work and personal orientation


#1

Greetings. I work as an educator at a small public college in the United States. The work is very invigorating to me generally, and my students and colleagues have a lot of respect for me. You could probably say that I’m very well-suited to the work, and I’d call even my bad days in the classroom are better than my good days at some other jobs I’ve held in the past which were poor matches for me. It’s no real stretch for me to say that I’d be probably be content holding the same position and doing the same work throughout my career.

At one time, though, when I was younger, I was an aspirant for the priesthood, desirous of using my learning and my professionalism for the high goal of the education and sanctification of the faithful in the service of Mother Church. That road became impossible about a decade ago for various reasons. As excellent for my talents and temper as my present service is, though, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that it isn’t somehow ecclesiastically oriented – that it’s not for the good of the Church but for the good of a state college system. The role of a layman, I know, is to order the secular institutions of society in accordance with the Divine will, but in our legal, political, and cultural climate, that’s just impossible now.

I can, of course, help my students (many of them of lower income and of disadvantaged demographic groups) order their thinking and their habits and lead them to become more reflective and thoughtful persons – and that’s no small deal. Still, though, something is lacking here. It’s not as though I am cut off from ecclesiastical work, as I am a Master of Cermonies in a Traditional Latin Mass community and would gladly become an instituted lector and acolyte if I could find a bishop friendly to that. Still, that usually only happens weekly. For all my drive to order wayward minds, I find there’s a strange sense of disorder and incompleteness running throughout all my work. It’s like there needs to be more to provide some sort of transcendent order so I don’t get the sense that I’m just another teacher who helps out with Church matters on Sundays and holy days.

Has anyone else ever got this sense? Has anyone any comments?


#2

Like the Didache says: ‘For if you are able to bear the entire yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect; but if you are not able to do this, do what you are able.’
You are certainly not alone. Looking back I would have happily joined a monastery when I was young but that was not an option then and it is not now. Think of it this way: God’s plan for you is different than the ideal and the important thing is to do what you can for the Lord and persevere to the end.


#3

Since I also work in higher education, I can identify with at least part of what you’re saying.

My career is important to me. In part I feel that by supporting the teaching and research missions of the university I am contributing to the betterment of society. I wouldn’t be happy in a job that brought in scads of money but that’s all. If my career is in alignment with God’s plans, then I think it has to be something that makes the world a better place in at least some way.

However, my work isn’t connected with the Church. And I think about that sometimes. Perhaps that will come after retirement when I can still contribute but won’t be quite so dependent on a salary that supports me. But that doesn’t mean my religious life is lacking. For one thing I’m a Benedictine Oblate, something that gives a structure to my life and unites me with the monks at my abbey. I’m also involved with activities in my parish that allow me to serve others and just generally be part of the parish community.


#4

You know, I have thought about oblatehood or joining a third order occasionally, wondering if it would offer some of what I sense I’m lacking. When I was younger, my discernment focused less on the major religious families of the Church and more strictly on the priesthood. The idea of community, frankly, scared me a little, and my spirituality developed less in a person-to-person relational sense and more along the lines of the strict formality of the traditional liturgy. Perhaps, though, I underestimated the need for a community of like minds, albeit in a rather more limited manner than vowed life offers.

I suppose it would be appropriate to inquire of any oblates or third order members here if my thinking on this subject is sound.


#5

If it’s something that sounds appealing then I think it’s worth exploring. For me there’s some sense of community though I can’t get to the abbey nearly as often as Id like. More important is the Rule. It gives me something to try to live up to and provides a sort of guide along the way.


#6

Thank God there are devout competent Catholics out and about in the world!! :smiley:


#7

Have you considered becoming a Deacon? In the Latin Rite Church if you are already married you are still permitted to become a Deacon but once ordained you can never marry! Another option would be to join a third order i.e. Secular Franciscan, Pauline Cooperators, etc. (these are groups where you promise to live in accordance to the gospel, but are NOT vows that would prohibit you from getting married). Another option would be to join a Secular Institute such as Institute of St. Gabriel the Archangel (for single Catholic Men), Institute of Our Lady of the Annunciation (for single Catholic Women), Institute of Jesus Priest (for diocesan clergy) or Institute of the Holy Family (for Married, Widowed, Separated, Divorced). These Secular Institutes profess VOWS of poverty, chastity, and obedience. With the exception of the Institute of the Holy Family these institutes profess chastity as celibacy whereas in the Institute of the Holy Family they profess conjugal chastity (faithfulness to spouse). The vow of poverty is a life of simplicity, and the vow of obedience is to the church, and to one’s superior. A lot of the vow of obedience is presumed obedience as one does not live with one’s superior and one is not expected to call for permission for every little thing but discern what the Lord asks of you and reserve contacting one’s superior for large ticket items.


#8

Herculees, those are probably the three options I’ve considered the most. The diaconate would be a good idea, I must admit, though if my bishop considers me too “rigid” to become a priest, I doubt he’d make me a deacon either. Moreover, there seems to be an informal rule in my area that only married men over 50 are considered for the diaconate – and I’m just shy of 40 and unmarried. Things may change over the next 10 years or so, but that option doesn’t seem open at this point. Institution as lector and acolyte, though, may be an open option as these contain no jurisdiction or faculties and are not necessarily bound to one diocese (I’ve served TLMs in a few dioceses), thus making me able to serve as a subdeacon whenever needed for Solemn Masses throughout my broader area.

The secular institute option seems probably the least attractive, mostly because of its newness in the history of the Church. Something in it seems very untested; we haven’t stories of the great saints, martyrs, or doctors of the secular institutes. That it has little track record makes me somewhat dubious. Also, it looks like all of the burdens of religious life without any of the benefits: vows that bind under pain of sin, but not much in the way of structure, fraternity, or separation from the world to help keep those vows. It may work for a particular type of soul, but not mine.

The third orders seem likely the best of these options, as it would allow for some formation into a definite and proven charism in the Church. The great orders again have excellent models for life, among their tertiaries just as among their vowed members and can possibly offer more of the ecclesiastical work which I noted was lacking earlier. I’d dare say, though, that all of these are good options to put forward to anyone who washed out of clerical or religious formation or finds himself approaching middle age unmarried.

Of course, though, two other options do come to mind: I could yet marry. A woman of my age is approaching the end of her reproductive life, and so the marriage would be far more companionate than fertile. An old friend and I actually considered this last year, but saw that it was impossible at this time. Starting a family was seldom close to my mind in my youth as I was more professionally focused, but as I’m older now, I see that work isn’t everything.

Secondly, I could try to find work at a Catholic college, or even a secondary school. That would be difficult as that would entail relocation, though.

Any thoughts on this?


#9

I have worked at a medium sized Catholic university for 30 plus years. It has been wonderful. I’m involved in several organizations on campus that work with Catholic students and converts. I also run workshops and/or teach occasional classes at my parish.
My advice would be to use your opportunity to spread the faith, in whatever small way you can. Does the college have a campus ministry or Newman Center? If not, perhaps you could form one, or at least start to gather Catholic students and interested students at your home for food (students always come for food!) and fellowship. Fostering genuine intellectual inquiry, especially if it runs counter to the prevailing liberal agendas of higher ed, can be enormously influential for college aged students. You have a ripe field.
I also have not married. It just didn’t happen. The older I get the more I realize I need to nurture my own faith in some kind of community, so I also hope to look into a 3rd order of some type. Unfortunately, they seem hard to find.


#10

NO MATTER WHAT KEEP YOUR FAITH STRONG and share it with each and every person you can. Use each and every opportunity to bring awareness of God to others in whatever way you can. Continue to get involved in your Church Parish. Talk with your Priest and explain all of this to him and ask him if there is anything else you could do with your abilities and expertise to help the Parish grow. May God Bless you and give you every possible blessing and grace.


#11

These are some great suggestions, but unfortunately, the college that employs me is a community college, and thus a non-residential commuter campus. This has its benefits, and I note most here the general absence of “woke” radical craziness. And that’s a huge benefit that I ought not to understate. The disadvantages, though, are that there are no chaplaincies of any type and very little interest generally in any sort of student life or extra-curricular matters. I tried, for instance, to start a book club for students some years ago, and the only interested student didn’t want to read anything other than Harry Potter! Due to our non-residential nature, though, neither students nor administrators have seen any need for a chaplaincy as students generally receive pastoral care in the community.

However, just this past week I was approached by several young men who were considering starting a Jordan Peterson study group and wondering if I would serve as a staff advisor for it. So, there may well be some hope there. We’ll see what comes of it.


#12

Would you consider relocating? I ask because maybe if you moved to another diocese it may then be possible to become a deacon i.e. Archdiocese of Boston allow single and married men to become deacons! If you really want children once you get married you could potentially adopt if your wife was beyond her fertile years! You could certainly find work at a Catholic institution but I suspect that is not really what you are looking for! It sounds to me that you want to be part of something bigger. Maybe you could consider joining a third order like the Secular Franciscan’s, Third Order of St. Dominic, Pauline Cooperators, and Third Order of Mercy to name a few! These groups of like minded individuals who share a particular spirituality who usually gather for a few hours once a month and usually collaborate with a religious order that they are associated to. Prayers for your discernment!


#13

Wow, you use a lot of exclamation marks!

I am not able to relocate at this time, though. In fact that, and her similar inability to leave her work, is the reason why my friend and I had to defer on an engagement for now. Frankly, I don’t even know if finding new work or relocating is possible until I finish my M.A., which has been on hold for exactly the reasons that I started this thread: I have the sense that my secular work, though important and needful, isn’t fully my divinely ordained destiny, though the catch-22 that’s becoming apparent in this conversation is having me worrying that it is.


#14

Oh well, at the risk of sounding simplistic, “bloom where you’re planted”.
Maybe there is a reason why God needs you to be in that particular place! You are probably doing more good than you can know. Not every Catholic needs to be in a Catholic institution, you know. Those college kids need a good holy competent teacher, and I am they derive much benefit from your being there.


#15

I hope you didn’t take offense at my exclamation marks. I am aware that I really do like using them.


#16

No offense taken at all. I guess this just shows, though, that I have a way of taking my work home with me.


#17

I’m a public school teacher in my 21st year of teaching (K-5 general music).

I love my work and absolutely see it as God’s work. I don’t regret one bit that I work in a secular institution. I serve Christ in the wee ones and their families, in my colleagues, and in the larger school district community. There are other Catholics and Christians in my school, and we occasionally are able to privately share our faith and even pray together.

I once heard a protestant preacher say that being a Christian who teaches in the public schools is like being a missionary in hostile territory. :smile:

It can be at times, though mostly it’s just your basic hard work.

I would highly recommend talking with people who know you in real life and sharing your thoughts and concerns. Perhaps God is calling you to something different. Or maybe you are just in a time of questioning and reevaluating.

Either way, I highly encourage you to complete that M.A. as soon as possible. Who knows but God may be waiting to show you the next turn in your path until that degree is complete.

God bless you and guide you!


#18

I think you’re right. This post here stems largely from my own anxiety about the next step that I know I need to take and my own sense of self-doubt based on past missteps. The sense of incompleteness I noted earlier often stems from measuring my work and, indeed, myself, by criteria that really aren’t germane to it. Thank you for your reply.


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