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.