The new accusation to make against Catholics involved in the public proclamation of the faith, especially through media, is that they are professional Catholics.
The implication is that 1) you make lots of money from being Catholic, which is 2) a bad thing.
I got my first taste of this recently when someone accused me of being a professional Catholic, because I had written a book. I explained that yes I had written a book–the first one of which was self-published–but that I still had a secular job to make a living.
Interestingly, the person who accused me of this had been promoting a certain traditionalist Catholic media organization that itself is full of–by her definition–professional Catholics.
Circular Firing Squads Never Had It So Good
This accusation is the latest in what I call the polarization of the Catholic blogosphere. The internet (and especially blogs, youtube, and facebook) have matured to the point where even neolithic Catholics are able to find other like-minded ones and team up with them.
Maybe these are traditionalist-minded Catholics, liberal-minded Catholics, conservative Catholics, social-justice Catholics, pro-life Catholics, etc. Of course, when I present these labels it should be understood that all Catholics should believe and profess all that the Church teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God.
But, for instance, pro-life Catholics are those who feel called in particular way to the defense of human life, especially of babies in the womb.
Unfortunately, this polarization has led to circular Catholic firing squads forming and executing each other with greater frequency. This pro-life Catholic attacking that pro-life Catholic, because they support (or don’t support) graphic images, because they support X Catholic pro-life organization instead of Y Catholic pro-life organization. I’ve seen this occur often and have even begun to be a target for it, apparently since I now have a book published with Catholic Answers.
Don’t cry for me Argentina. I’ll survive…somehow. In seriousness, the only way to win some games is not to play. I don’t want to return tit-for-tat. The glorious truth of our Catholic Faith means that I should see every Catholic as my brother or sister, that I should give each the benefit of the doubt, be ready to forgive, to think the best of them, to seek to understand first before condemning, and so on.
When You Say It’s Gonna Happen Now…
But the speed of the internet means that many Catholics are pressured to make a blog post or statement now about whatever event just occurred or thing they saw or headline about Pope Francis. Publish or perish, controversy sells, be the first to make a comment so you can get quoted somewhere. I’ve felt this same pressure, though not for monetary reasons, and several times have regretted that I posted something.
I’ve been fascinated by how this phenomenon has accelerated with the election of Pope Francis. Before I can even formulate a few coherent thoughts or read what the pope said, ten prominent Catholic bloggers have weighed in, clarifying, defending, accusing, or dismissing the pope’s words. I don’t feel I’m needed there, adding another voice to the multitude, so I largely stay out of it.
The internet is public. Facebook is public–don’t be deceived into thinking that you shared your post privately or with a select group–your post can be found, can be copy and pasted, and in any case is owned by a for-profit company that has one goal: increase revenue. I have seen things shared by Catholics privately that are inappropriate, vulgar, rude, derogatory, and they thought that I or others like me couldn’t see it.
Back to the original accusation. Is it wrong to make a living from work in the Catholic sphere? Say I make money writing apologetics books, or writing Catholic mobile software apps for smart phones, or speaking at conferences, or teaching at a Catholic university. Is that wrong? Should I do and give everything away for free?
I think there is plenty of room in the middle between trying to become a millionaire from such work and doing it all for free. In my case, I made some money from my self-published book that helped me 1) pay my friend and Catholic free-lance editor, 2) pay the graphic designer for the cover they made, and 3) buy some cows and a tractor for our farm.
Where one draws the line is subjective. $40,000 per year for a single Catholic person may be much more than the need. For another, it would put their family of 10 children under the poverty line. No matter how much we make, we are always tempted to want to make more and think that “if only I made as much as that guy, then I’d be set.”
I have no aspirations to make a living off my work in the Catholic sphere. But I don’t condemn people who have been called to do it full-time. Who knows, maybe God will call me to do that one day, and I hope I would answer. Not to become greedy or, through my flatteries and prevarications, make monkeys of the priest and congregation. But to serve others so that they might more readily accept the grace of God in their lives.
Can’t we all just get along? I think the trend toward polarization even among Catholics on the internet will continue. But we can and must be careful in how treat each other.