Sebastian Condon: Lessons in a kind-of crisis

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If this is a crisis, writes Sebastian Condon, bring it on. Photo: 123RF
If this is a crisis, writes Sebastian Condon, bring it on. Photo: 123RF

By Sebastian Condon

My recent re-entry into the dating pool after more than half a decade in religious life has brought with it some interesting third-party insights.

In conversation with a recent romantic interest, I learnt that when explaining who I am and what I do to the various circles of friends who are interested in those titbits of information, this individual describes my earlier decision to enter the seminary at the age of 24 as a ‘quarter-life crisis.’

This was news to me.

I had not previously considered it in those terms but, upon reflection, it is arguably not inaccurate.

“… there is a sense that what prompted the initial decision to enter the seminary was in part the apparent pointlessness of what I was otherwise doing with my life.”

That is not to say that I now suspect I did not have a genuine call to that state of life when I entered. I believe I did.

And I feel confident in being able to cite my religious superiors (who basically wept when I left) in support of my own conviction that I was genuinely meant to be a professed religious for those years.

But, looking back, there is a sense that what prompted the initial decision to enter the seminary was in part the apparent pointlessness of what I was otherwise doing with my life.

Following the completion of a frenetic six years at university in my early twenties, having earnt plenty of money throughout and secured a fine job at a fancy law-firm (working, as my friends who remain in the legal profession are happy to characterise it, as a ‘glorified click-monkey’), I was not satisfied.

But then again, who is?

As Boethius once scrawled on a piece of paper while sitting in a dungeon, having experienced a stupendously hard fall from grace: ‘No man is so completely happy that something somewhere does not clash with his condition. It is the nature of human affairs to be fraught with anxiety; they never prosper perfectly and they never remain constant.’

But that sense of dissatisfaction is not necessarily a bad thing if it prompts us in the right direction.

We must of course persevere in life; commitment is an essential part of any vocation, or line of work.

“… bound up with the desire to recognise when a sense of dissatisfaction and disappointment is a genuine prompt to make a necessary change.”

Yet it is the Pharisee, not the Christian, who is content with what he has.

The true Christian always wants more: he or she wishes to grow, advance and recognise those aspects of our spotted lives that could be improved.

There is a creative tension that we ought to acknowledge in all our lives: the call to remain committed and constant, bound up with the desire to recognise when a sense of dissatisfaction and disappointment is a genuine prompt to make a necessary change.

In the short time I have been working for the Archdiocese of Sydney, it has impressed me that those who serve in the Chancery have a genuinely reflective attitude towards their work and its place in their lives.

I notice that the men and women who are now my colleagues make a concerted effort to leave the office at a reasonable time in order to be home with their families for meals.

A very senior man recently remarked to me that he used to enjoy teaching in the evening, as an adjunct to his current role.

But his first priority was his family and he chose to give up lecturing for that reason: ‘It just wasn’t what I wanted to be doing at this point in my life.’

A quarter- or mid-life crisis is not a bad thing if it brings about a positive change. Of course, we ought to draw a distinction between throwing in the towel out of impatience and acknowledging the need to divert down another, less-travelled path in the woods.

“Time spent in the seminary or religious life is not to be regretted if it proves a fruitful experience, just as persevering in a difficult line of work or a complex personal relationship is a commitment that is to be admired if that steadfastness ultimately helps bring about a positive development …”

The dungeon-bound wisdom of our sixth-century friend Boethius hits this nail on the head:

‘Nothing is miserable except when you think it so, and vice versa; all luck is good luck to the man who bears it with equanimity. No one is so happy that he would not want to change his lot if he gives in to impatience.’

Time spent in the seminary or religious life is not to be regretted if it proves a fruitful experience, just as persevering in a difficult line of work or a complex personal relationship is a commitment that is to be admired if that steadfastness ultimately helps bring about a positive development, such as a more resilient and courageous character.

Bring on the reflective quarter-life crisis, I say – who knows what good may result?