I am sure you’ve heard of the two Catholic Italian brothers who ran a plumbing business, starting around the 1980’s. Unsuspecting, humble, and congenial, they were unexpectedly called upon to save a princess, using their knowledge of pipes to accomplish that task. Amazingly, they continue that work of saving princesses and plumbing to this day.
Something that impresses me about their work is that they set their mind to a trade and mastered it. Though it’s possible, I’m guessing they didn’t go to a 4-year liberal arts school or gigantic research university to accomplish their task of pipe work and royal redemption. They, of course, may have gone to a trade school for 2 years or so. But whatever they did, I’m sure they didn’t come out with a diploma and $29,400 (or more) of debt.
They probably learned their trade from a family member (perhaps their father?) or another master plumber, intending simply to earn an honest living, and perhaps to support a family. It is this kind of honest living that the Church holds up as a task for the laity even greater than saving princesses: through seemingly humble professions, lay people can grow in holiness and bring the light of Christ to the world.
How beautiful it is that so many young Catholic people today are excited to transform the world! They are smart, savvy, and spiritually strong. But so many go to universities and colleges and end up with a degree that qualifies them only to teach. And how wonderful it is, too, that the Catholic and secular academic world is being populated with people who are on fire for the faith. Yet, I think the time has come to diversify.
There is a strange myth in this country that a 4-year-degree is a prerequisite for self-fulfillment and success. This is buoyed by a bubble of infinite loans from sources which are all too eager to collect on a lifetime of interest and ironclad contractual obligation. Part of this is the myth of the “college experience.” This is the nebulous time between escaping parental authority and the responsibility of setting out on your own. Here you can spread your wings without any repercussions. At least that’s the idea.
Those who are alive in the faith see college as a time to learn more deeply about the truth and the possibility of transmitting it to others. In the context of massive departures of college kids from the Church, they seek to stem the tide by being an active faith-filled presence on campus. This is wonderful! Converting campuses, then teaching at high schools, colleges, parishes etc., makes up a nice slice of the pie. But it’s only one slice. If we take the teachings of the Church seriously, then “on-fire” Catholics need to take on the whole world, not just the academic sphere. Permit me a huge but important quotation from Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium:
What specifically characterizes the laity is their secular nature… the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer. (LG 31)
The world needs a leaven “in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations.” That means plumbers, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. It means web designers, photographers, bankers, farmers, and welders. A hero of many young Catholics, G.K. Chesterton, received no university degree. Neither did secular hero Bill Gates.
If you already have a 4-year-degree, or find it necessary to get one because of the age we live in, there should be no shame in using that knowledge in a job which requires technical skill. Bl. John Henry Newman stated that University was to teach the unity of knowledge and to form gentlemen and ladies. This refinement can be brought to the trade one engages in and provide a cultural leaven as well.
The strong trade-based Catholic can then enter into new social spheres and evangelize whole swaths of society that are kindling, just waiting for the fire of the Holy Spirit. They have families, they send their kids to school. In all they do, they teach the dignity of work; they may even teach CCD. You don’t need a degree to know your faith inside and out.
Dare to be different! Encourage trades! Leaven the whole society! Save the world! Do I need to mention the day job of the true Savior of the World?
Image: Mario and Luigi