Educating from the Desk

I spend a lot of my time at my desk. That probably isn’t very surprising, what with being a doctoral student and all. There is a seemingly ever-growing pile of books to read and articles to dissect. And so I clock in a good number of hours at my chair, underlining major points and writing emphatically in the margins. 

Perhaps it wasn’t exactly how I imagined the day of an educator might look. Like so many of my fellow priests and brothers in the Congregation of Holy Cross, I felt a particular call, within my larger call to religious life, to pursue the academic life. Naturally that entails teaching in the classroom, which is a particular joy. It is edifying to explain the truth and beauty of our faith. To show students the deep wisdom and careful thinking throughout the tradition, and to proclaim these realities in such a way that their faith can grow and their lives might be transformed. That is the whole point of our being educators in the faith. To lead others to Jesus Christ, who is the truth. 

But those hours I spend at my desk aren’t only a means to an end of classroom lectures. There is a common saying that Catholic universities are where the Church does her thinking. And as true as that is and ought to be for the university at large, it’s also true in microcosm. It is for the sake of the Church that I spend so much time at my desk, engaging with these works and thinking with, in, and for the Church and her mission to sanctify the world. As one of my Holy Cross brothers described, we in the academy are like scuba divers who plunge into the deep in order to discover treasures to bring back for the Church. My publications and presentations at conferences and various other engagements all have this ecclesial dimension: I hope that everything I write or present will help the Church navigate the complexities of our age, and help to illumine the path that Christ is calling his bride to walk. 

And so those hours I spend at my desk are both about preparing for the formal practice of teaching, while also being about understanding and thinking I do for the sake of the Church. I hope my desk becomes a place where the Church does some thinking, and that this work I do just might be something pleasing and acceptable to the Lord. In a certain way, I have come to appreciate that my academic work is in fact closely tied to my priesthood. My desk becomes a sort of altar, where I offer to the Lord my work and my grappling with difficult questions. It is where I pray he will elevate and sanctify my often meager gifts. And moving from this desk to the Lord’s altar at Mass, I hope that my work might also be included in that supreme and total offering that brings life and joy and truth. 

Published on November 1, 2023

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