On Catholic Work and Catholic Guilt

A colleague and I were recently discussing at a conference how, in certain contexts, we answer the question, "What do you do?" It’s a simple and common question, asked by new acquaintances, old friends, family, colleagues and others. And living in D.C., it’s almost always the first thing asked by people I meet at bars and at parties. For her, it’s not infrequent on airplanes when she’s traveling. We both have fulfilling, respectable jobs, so the answers should be fairly simple. Yet we both work for the Church in some capacity, where things are hardly ever as simple as they could be.

As we were talking, we both realized that we’ve begun lying a bit when telling people about our work. We’ve each had a few too many experiences of people having a bit too much to say about the Church. “Oh, really,” it usually begins, “well let me tell you what I think about that.” Not exactly the sort of conversation I want to have at a social gathering, or worse, while stuck on a transatlantic flight for several hours.

I don’t blame this pointed talk on some sort of undercurrent of anti-Catholicism among the populace. The Church enjoys widespread influence in our society, and it holds positions on important and controversial issues that rub many people the wrong way. The Church helps countless numbers of people here and abroad, but its leaders and intellectuals also bruise many others with their words and, sometimes, their actions. To those on the margins, people like my colleague and me may be the only time they encounter someone whom they view as a Church official, with the power to listen and perhaps affect change. It has the potential to be something like a ministry in itself, I suppose. But I’m not a Church official, and often, as do many other lay people, I feel as if I live on the margins along with them. I spend my days thinking about the Church and trying to find ways to strengthen it, and I don’t have the energy or mental capacity to spend my nights engaging in apologetics or evangelization. So by day I work for a Catholic nonprofit; at night, I’m a consultant. My colleague is a campus minister 9-5, and a university administrator when she leaves for the day.

I do struggle with this, and each time I offer the “consultant answer,” I feel as if I just heard that damn rooster crow for the third time in the background. I may be missing moments to witness for my faith, but I am granting myself a few minutes of peace rather than gearing up for another battle. I wonder, is this sort of white lie wrong? Do others do this? Do I owe these people the truth about my work? In the grand scheme of things, I realize this is a rather unimportant question, but I feel as if a public confession may clear some of my well-earned Catholic guilt.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
ed gleason
7 years 2 months ago
I worked 30 years for the Bell System and 9 years for the Archdiocese. Up to 2002 when teaming up with strangers at golf as a retired hacker, I gave the Church as my last employer. After 2002 I started to give the Bell System its 30 year due leaving out my church job. .  Guilt??? No..I became too knowledgeable about the cover-up and even 9-18 holes was not enough time to answer the inquiry " what did you know, when did you know it and what are you doing about it" .  
Jim McCrea
7 years 2 months ago
"The Church enjoys widespread influence in our society, -"
I think THAT statement is wishful thinking any more.

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

A woman holds up a sign during a rally against assisted suicide in 2016 on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario. (CNS photo/Art Babych)
The American College of Physicians called for better promotion of palliative and hospice care, which opponents of physician-assisted suicide say are underutilized areas of medicine that could address concerns of patients facing difficult illnesses.
Michael J. O’LoughlinSeptember 21, 2017
(CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
"We have a priest who makes everyone feel welcome, says Mass with great reverence and gives meaningful homilies"
Our readersSeptember 21, 2017
Photo by Victor Lozano on Unsplash
Any willingness to cooperate across party lines is praiseworthy. Unfortunately, brinkmanship remains the preferred legislative strategy.
The EditorsSeptember 21, 2017
Pope Francis, seen here at St. Peter's Square in the Vatican on June 28, has announced two significant reforms in recent weeks by releasing statements motu proprio. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
When a pope issues a document “motu proprio,” it means he does so by his own motivation, and it can mean a significant change to church law.
Michael J. O’LoughlinSeptember 21, 2017