I get asked fairly regularly by students and friends about working for the Church or becoming a theology professor. Sometimes it’s motivated by a desire to get out of dead end job or to do something more meaningful. Often it’s also motivated by a desire to do more for God, to give Him more of one’s time and talent.
The Second Vatican Council has been called the Council of the laity. It called the Church to a a more intense focus on the evangelization of the modern world and lay people stand at the center of this effort. The Decree on the Laity, Apostolicam Actuositatem describes how the laity help the Church to fulfill her mission by bringing Christ into the world to sanctify it:
Hence the mission of the Church is not only to bring the message and grace of Christ to men but also to penetrate and perfect the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel. In fulfilling this mission of the Church, the Christian laity exercise their apostolate both in the Church and in the world, in both the spiritual and the temporal orders (§5).
Many people think that this mission is not really as worthwhile as working directly for the Church, but the Council insists that it is a true path to holiness: “while correctly fulfilling their secular duties in the ordinary conditions of life, [the faithful] do not separate union with Christ from their life but rather performing their work according to God’s will they grow in that union” (§5).
God is calling us to live and work in the world to sanctify it and to see our work as part of the Church’s mission. If we do not become doctors, lawyers, teachers, politicians, engineers etc., then Christ will not become present in those areas of society. We have the witness of saints such as the lawyer and politician Thomas More, the doctor Gianna Molla, and the aspiring engineer Pier Giorgio Frassati to show us what holiness looks like in these professions. St. Josemaría Escrivá’s key message taught us how our work should become the work of God, saying, “Sanctify yourself, sanctify your work, and sanctify others through your work.”
What about working for the Church? Wouldn’t that achieve this goal more easily? Not necessarily. Working for the Church should arise from a particular vocation and charism. God has to call us to this work and to give us the grace to be able to cooperate more directly with Him for the sanctification of souls. Without that calling, those working in the Church will experience burnout, frustration, and will cave under the financial and personal hardships the work entails.
Working for the Church in the apostolate as a teacher, catechist, youth minister, or in family life is a great blessing, but I compare it to serving in the military. You may have to move around a lot, survive on a tight budget, and follow directives you don’t understand or agree with. You will experience scandal, frustration that things don’t move more quickly, and have to deal with ecclesial politics. On the other hand, if God does call you to this work, He will bless you through all of this and help you to fulfill the mission He intends for you.
So, how do you know where God is calling you? Here are some thoughts for discernment:
- Can you support your family (or future family) with your current work? Don’t take that blessing for granted.
- How can you witness to Christ in your current work? Can you meet with other Christians in your profession for support and cooperation?
- How can you continue your formation in the faith in the midst of your job and family life? Do you have a spiritual director and friends who are spiritually mature to guide your discernment? Can you join an apostolate, third order, or movement to give you support and focus for your mission?
- You can volunteer part-time at your parish to see what it is like working as part of the apostolate. God may want you to continue serving in that capacity part-time or make it clear He wants more.
- If over time, it becomes clear that God wants you to serve the Church full-time then don’t be afraid of obstacles and trust in His providence. If you are generous in His service, He will not be outdone in generosity.
No matter what, God wants you to join in the Church’s mission for the salvation of souls. He wants you to be a person of prayer, committed to the service of others, and to sanctify your work, whether it is for the Church or in the world.