As many of you know, my year as the Assistant Parish Catechetical Leader here in New Jersey is coming to an end, and the Lord has called me to new things for next year. It seems that at least for now, I am not meant to stay in a single place for more than a year, since the last time I was in a stable living arrangement for more than a year was when I was in college. After I graduated, I spent a year as a student getting my Master’s degree in Theology, which was followed by a year as an aspirant with the Salesian Sisters, and finally by a year as the Assistant PCL at OLMC. Now I am once again relocating, since it seems that the Lord is calling me back to DC to finish my Master’s degree at the JPII Institute (which is yet another one year adventure). I will be picking up exactly where I left off, though my life has changed considerably since the last time I was down there. The first time I moved down to DC, I was a recent college grad who had no idea what she wanted to do with her life and had therefore decided to continue her education in the hopes that somewhere along the way she would be inspired. I had recently ended a relationship, and I went to DC in the hopes of getting a fresh start. I was moving to a new state, living in a new house, going to a new school, and working at a new job. I only knew a handful of people, and I dedicated my time to studying and establishing new relationships. I had sworn off dating temporarily in the hopes of helping myself to heal in the aftermath of my recent break-up, and I dedicated myself wholeheartedly to the task of studying, deepening friendships, working, and volunteering. I had absolutely no idea what the Lord had planned for me.
When I left DC after my first year of school, I had no intention of returning. I thought that I finally had my life figured out. I would enter with the Salesian Sisters and never look back. I would make a life for myself as a consecrated religious, dedicating my life to serving the young and the poor with my fellow sisters. I never imagined that eight months later, I would be returning home with absolutely no idea of where the Lord was leading me next.
As I’ve recounted in an earlier post, I only took the job as the Assistant PCL at OLMC because I needed the money and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I left the convent feeling just a little lost. Even though I knew that I did not have a religious vocation, I had no idea where the Lord was calling me. When I accepted the position at OLMC, I had no idea that I had accidentally stumbled upon the career that would become my life’s vocation. The Lord had called me and I followed, even though I hadn’t even realized that He’d spoken.
At this point in my life, I know that I want to spend the rest of my life ministering to young people as a DRE. I absolutely love what I do, but I’d be lying if I told you that I could be rolling in the big bucks some day. No one goes into ministry of any sort for the money. The reward for what I do isn’t monetary, but it’s worth so much more. If you’ve ever seen the face of a child who has just come to meet Christ for the first time as a friend, and not simply a belief, you know what I mean. That moment is priceless.
During a recent road trip, I found myself thinking about my job and the life that I will lead. My chosen career path does not lead to sky-high salaries and huge perks like fancy dinners and trips that allow you to mix business with pleasure. My job has different rewards: profound pieces of art created by my students that hang in my office, delicious brownies prepared by my parents, and most importantly, the knowledge that I am helping these children to meet Christ and develop a relationship with Him. Not to sound prideful, but it’s one of the most important jobs out there. I am working towards the salvation of souls and ministering to the spiritual needs of the Church. St. John Bosco considered this to be the goal of all educational systems. He proposed that the purpose of education was to create upstanding citizens and good Christians, and ultimately teachers, and this includes DREs, are working not just to inform children’s minds, but to form their spirits. Educators of all varieties have one of the most important jobs known to man. We would all be lost without good teachers. Human society would be doomed without them. So if their job is so vital, why do we pay them so little?
Ironically, the very teachers who are forming your children and working to save their souls are getting paid next to nothing for all their efforts. Like myself, if you asked a teacher why they chose to go into education, they won’t tell you it was for the money. Their choice of career had very little to do with money, and more to do with the children themselves. We’re not in it for the money; we’re in it for the children.
You would think that our society would want to pay these important people a bit more for what they’re doing. You would think that we’d want to say thank you to those men and women who have chosen a career that should mean so much to us. But we’re not. We’re paying them next to nothing. And who’s making the big bucks? Musicians. Performers. Athletes. Lawyers. Politicians. Doctors. Sure, some of them deserve to be paid well. I’m grateful for the doctors that I’ve interacted with over the years, and if I ever found myself in a bind, of course I’d want a good lawyer, and I’d want him paid well for his efforts. But does it make sense that we pay some athletes and performers millions of dollars a year, while our teachers are barely making enough to survive? Does it make sense that politicians can take their private jets to their favorite expensive restaurant, while our teachers are driving cars that are kindly called “classic” and eating ramen noodles at night? I, for one, don’t think so.
But does it really surprise me? Not really. Like I said, you’d think that we would reward those whose careers we value the most. And I think that’s exactly what we’re doing- we’re paying the men and women who our culture values as the most important. We’re a culture of consumers that demand to be entertained. We’ll pay entertainers and athletes the big bucks to get us excited and to give meaning to our otherwise monotonous lives. Do you know what the biggest complaint by parents at my parish was this year? I scheduled a CCD class on Super Bowl Sunday. Gasp. How could I be so…un-American? How could I even dare to schedule a CCD class on the same day as the most important athletic event of the year, even if it was still several hours away? I know that my parents have their priorities, and I know that CCD is not very high on that list, but is it too much to ask that you give me just an hour and a half with your child before you whisk them away to whatever Super Bowl party you’re attending? There’s not a doubt in my mind- our society values sports over God.
But don’t you start thinking that God is second on that list of priorities, or even that our children’s education is. Let’s not forget who else is getting paid the big bucks. There are the politicians, lawyers, and doctors, just to name a few. And don’t get me wrong- I don’t think it’s all wrong. I have friends who are studying to be lawyers and doctors, and I completely support them in their endeavors. But I also know that they are not doing it for the money. Some of them don’t even plan to make that much, and even those who are studying to go into areas of law or medicine that are very profitable didn’t choose those particular paths because they wanted to make lots of money. They chose these careers because they want to make a difference. They want to help people. They have a passion for what they do. Unfortunately, I think they are more often the exception to the rule, and the fact that we pay lawyers and doctors such exorbitant salaries suggests that we as a society place a high value on what they do.
And to a certain extent, that’s thoroughly understandable. For one, they pay a lot more for their education than most, and so it only makes sense that they should be paid more. They have huge loans to pay back after all, and it’s logical that their salaries should match that. I’m also personally very happy to know that doctors are being rewarded for their painstaking efforts to help people. I value my life, and because they are working to preserve it, it seems fair that they should be paid for their efforts. Of course, I also suspect that there’s a flip side to that coin that’s not so pretty. We value life (but only in some instances- we also happen to pay abortionists quite a bit, but that’s for another day), which is good, but oftentimes our society teaches us to idolize it. We must hold onto it at all costs. We must do everything within our means to prolong it- until our quality of life (or lack there of) demands that our life be extinguished- in the name of mercy, of course. But until we decide that our life (or someone else’s life) is not worth living, we must do everything we can to stay alive. More often than not, that means turning to doctors who are well-versed in methods to prolong life. It’s no wonder that we pay doctors so much- our society values life over God as well.
To be completely honest, this doesn’t really surprise me. Why shouldn’t we pay athletes, entertainers, and doctors more than we pay our teachers, ministers, and caretakers? Of course we value money and life over God and eternal life. We don’t believe in God and eternal life. Or at least we don’t act like we do. Our society’s values seem to suggest that this is it for us. This life is all we have. You only live once, as I’ve heard. If death means the end of everything, we have to avoid it at all costs. We have to live. And what does it mean to live? Society seems to suggest that the only way to truly live is to be young, healthy, beautiful, rich, and famous. If we begin to show the marks of age, we have to cover them up. If we get sick, we need doctors who will make us better, no matter what the costs. If we cease to satisfy modern society’s unreasonable demands for beauty, we starve ourselves, we adopt the newest fad diets, and we pop pills in the hopes of maintaining the figure that our culture has deemed beautiful. If we ever find ourselves wanting for anything, it’s because we haven’t worked hard enough. And if we go through life without making a name for ourselves, our lives were pointless. That’s what society tells us. Is it any wonder that we should reward the men and women who have been “successful” according to these ridiculous standards that we have set for ourselves? Or that we should pay the men and women who help us in our own efforts to satisfy these standards salaries that are high enough to feed entire third-world countries for months, if not years? So many of us have fallen prey to this ridiculous fantasy that our society has painted for us, and yet we still sense that something is wrong with this vision.
There is something wrong with a world where athletes and entertainers get paid so much more than teachers, where politicians get wined and dined while DREs and youth ministers are struggling to put food on the table. There is something wrong with a world that rewards the rich and famous, but punishes those who have chosen a career to help others, with little concern for what that might mean for them. But if we buy into this ridiculous standard that society has set, if we believe this dangerous American dream that has been painted for us, we will never be able to fix the world. In fact, we will become what’s wrong with the world. We live in an incredibly backwards world, and it’s about time that someone decided to flip it right-side up. It’s about time that we all opened up our eyes and admitted to the faults of our society. As long as we remain blind to them, as long as we continue to pretend as if they’re not there, we will never be able to change the world. If there is any hope for a promising future, we need to re-embrace the values that we abandoned so long ago. We need to let God be God, and put Him where He belongs in our lives- first. That’s where He’s supposed to be, and until we admit this, we’ll never be able to put things right. Yes, we are what’s wrong with the world, but we can also be the hope of a brighter future. We can be the light that leads this world out of darkness. But first we need to let God in. Before we can flip the world, we need to flip ourselves. Before we can become the light in the world, we must first let God illuminate the darkness in our own hearts. Our own hearts must be aflame with the love of God before we can set the world on fire. But once we get that fire going, not even the power of hell will prevail against us.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!