If you write (or speak, or produce videos, or appear on TV) about Catholic issues and people see your name more than twice, then sooner or later you are going to be accused of being a "professional Catholic." This is supposed to be a stinging indictment of your character, although I could never figure out why. I suppose people have some vaguely pious belief that, when we do things for the Lord, we ought to offer them for free, and perhaps anonymously, so that there's no possibility of getting caught up in greed or the desire for fame.
It's a nice thought, but utterly disregards the way the world actually works for most people. If a man spends his whole day producing fabulous catechetical works and offers them free for the asking, he may win many souls for God -- until he drops dead from not eating all the food he wasn't able to earn by not charging any money for his fabulous catechetical works. And if self-promotion is intrinsically sinful, then the apostles are probably still in purgatory, working off all those times they signed their names to those epistles.
The "professional Catholic" criticism also disregards a very important fact: working for Catholics is a truly horrible way to make a living. As Mark Shea has pointed out, becoming a professional Catholic writer can earn you literally hundreds of dollars at a time! It's true! There you are, rolling around on a small mound of nickels, blowing kisses to the statue of Mary in the corner and saying, "I owe it all to you, cherie!" And that's only the monetary side. As soon as your readership hits double digits, you will soon begin receiving a steady stream of personal letters from strangers who are so full of brotherly love that they are willing to spend hours and hours of their time explaining to you, in minute detail, exactly why you are going to Hell.
Oh, we can all name (but won't, since it's Lent) a few Catholics who really have gone too far: maybe they started off trying to spread the light of Christ, but they ended up holding the gospel like a hostage, squeezing it for every penny they can get. But most of the Catholics I know who do make a living out of being a Catholic in public not only earn a pretty meager living, but they do a lot of work for free. Why? Because, um, they're Catholic.
Why do I bring this up? Because if there's anyone who has bleaker prospects than a Catholic who wants to try to bend his time and talents in service of the Church, it's someone who already works for another church, and wants to become a Catholic. Ohhhhhh, man, good luck with that. This is why, in a previous post, I wrote "Venite intus; horribilis est." It was supposed to translate as an enthusiastic but honest invitation to anyone teetering on the brink of converting to our wonderful, terrible family of believers: "Come on in; it's horrible!"
These are the things that crossed my mind as a letter from Billy Kangas crossed my desk. This fellow was once virulently anti-Catholic. He describes how it was only good manners that prevented him from standing up and shouting down a priest at Mass. Eventually he became a protestant minister, and spent a good many years laboring in the vineyard. Gradually, the teachings of the Church started to break through to him, though, until he had to admit that there were only a few issues left dividing him from full communion with the Church. One issue was the papacy. Matthew 24:14 was a passage that led him off on a long train of thought that opened his mind the idea of the apostolic succession, but he wasn't ready to accept it yet. Kangas says in his blog The Orant,
The following night I resolved to take some more time to pray about this issue. I took my Bible and walked down the street. I stood under a lamp post opened my Bible and asked God to show me a passage that might help me know what I was supposed to do. I opened to a random page, put my finger down, and was just about to start reading when a man ran around the corner (literally ran).
He looked at me and said, "is that a Bible?" I said "yep." "Read Matthew 24:14 to me" he said I opened to the passage and read it aloud. "Thanks!" he said, and ran down the street (yes, he really just ran away).
I was left there wondering what had just happened. The passage that had sparked my first thoughts in years about accepting the papacy had just been quoted exactly by a complete stranger just as I was asking God for a verse to help show me the way. I was blown away. I had to take this seriously, it was just too big of a kick in my pants for me to ignore.
I love, love, love stories like this. Who was that guy (and I'm imagining him in a terry cloth running suit, like the Tenenbaums)? An angel? A nut? Who knows? Clearly, God wants Billy Kangas in the Church. He just gots to got him, and He got him good.
So now what? I don't know Billy Kangas. I don't know if he's a good preacher, or what he can offer the Church, or if he'll have to take the overnight shift at the 7-11 to support his Catholic habit, or what. But I do know that the Church needs people like him -- people who are willing to drop everything they have, everything they know, everything they know they can do, and just chuck it all and dive into the deep end of the pool. Venite intus! The Church needs "professional Catholics" who love the faith so much that they're going to try to make it their whole lives -- going to spend all their time on it, bend all of their efforts toward it -- and yes, take the terrible risks of trying to make a living out of a faith that demands that we consider the lilies of the field. It's not an easy balance to strike, but there's lots of good company here. Come on in, Billy Kangas! It's horrible! You're going to love it.