“Be good at the one thing you do well.”
Some variation of that phrase has likely been batted around within the confines of your computer screen, I’m sure, or in a magazine or on a desk calendar near you. However, I think “be good at the one thing you do well” is a drab little runt from the litter of conventional wisdom.
Yes, I see its positive applications: Don’t overextend yourself. Don’t let your skills in one area suffer from neglect as you strive to improve skills in another area. That’s fine.
Unfortunately, I think the phrase is more commonly a symptom of the dense tangle of divisions in our society. We are a nation of experts, with each person knowing quite a bit about one thing and one thing only and very little about anything else. “Be good at the one thing you do well” confirms us in that compartmental approach to life: yes, our brains echo, I’m going to keep being a good accountant, a good computer program designer, a good salesman, etc., and pay no attention to other fields. Somebody else is busy being good at that. I’m just going to be good at this.
Thinking this way obviously makes unlikely the rise of accomplished, well-rounded Catholic individuals like those produced in the past. More importantly, an entire nation that has come to think this way inevitably holds the Catholic Church to the same standard: just be good at the one thing you do well, Catholic Church! Stay out of other matters.
But what is the one thing that the Catholic Church does well? For many the answer is something specifically, exclusively religious: set up churches, tell people that Jesus saves, give money to poor people. Do some singing. Pray about stuff. The Church does all that well, so the Church should do only that.
In reality, though, the one thing the Catholic Church does well is: everything.
Paul said “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor 9:22). Perhaps it’s easy to assume that’s just Paul—what a great guy, reaching out to everybody and trying to connect with them on their level, whoever they may be or whatever they may do for a living. But I believe he wasn’t just speaking for himself. He was living out the mission of the universal Church: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” That isn’t simply a geographical mandate. It’s not as if the Church is only called to populate an earth-shaped game board like this is all just a big game of Risk. Going out and making disciples of all nations means going into every aspect of human endeavor and revealing the light of Christ.
That revealing of Christ’s light doesn’t only mean telling someone that Jesus loves them and they should consider being baptized. Followers of Christ have all-consuming hearts, in which “nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo”—that’s how Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes phrased it. And yet, the same conciliar document noted the “fear that a close association between human activity and religion” provokes among modern people.
But Catholics are not a people of fear. The light of Christ is to be shone into all corners of society. There is no darkened recess of culture that we, either as individuals or in our various apostolates or as a Church, should just pass by and leave dark, based on some faulty notion that we ought to stick to “the one thing we do well.” Politics, financial matters, space travel, engineering, plumbing, hairstyling, film making, vacuum cleaner repair—is there any one of these that does not require the light of Christ shining upon it? Is any one of them self-sufficient, free from the possibility of error, and incapable of improvement?
Catholics should have their hands in everything. No legitimate subject should be out of bounds, and we should all strive to the best of our ability to be conversant in every sphere of culture. Everything is at stake in the great spiritual war of our time. For us Catholics, everything is our job.