Thank you very much for the update. Some of the aspects of the situation I deal with every week, and so I understand how difficult the decision is. I deal with a dozen or more students every year looking to transfer from our school (which is sort of a Catholic junior college on steroids) to one of the dozen or so schools that will accept our credits, and a year, and grant a degree—and many of these are very sensitive about discerning God’s will. I also deal with several dozen incoming students, at least a few of whom are in similar situations in terms of trying to pick from among a number of close choices.
Like many things in life, there is a “right answer”—God’s will—but the right answer may not be easy to find, and sometimes (such as I suspect is the instance in your case) the closer one is to the situation the harder it becomes to come to a decision, not because one cannot disengage one’s inclinations, but because one is more aware of the many-sided nature of the issue than one looking in from a distance. This is why the gift of counsel is necessary—and while the Holy Spirit does offer guidance on such tough calls through this gift, it is normally only to a handful of closely involved people.
That said, for what it is worth, a few more thoughts from remote that qualify my previous posts to you after more reflection. I do think that not only will he be able to double major at Harvard, this is probably a good option there. I had a look at classics programs, and much has changed over the past 45 years. Fifty years ago, your son’s linguistic accomplishments would have been expected for entrance into a good classics program—at least some (and I assume all) Jesuit prep schools circa 1960 required 4 years of Latin and several years of Greek, and other good Catholic schools that I am aware of had similar requirements. Classic classes for a classic major weren’t about learning the language but using that knowledge while studying a subject using foreign language texts. Your son sounds like he is ready to start at this level. As the Harvard major only requires two courses at this level, he should be ready at the beginning to deal with the heaviest material now required of majors, and as the years go on, the course load will become easier as he will have already taken similar courses and others will not.
I would hope that your son would eventually consider the priesthood, preferably with an order or group that might provide a good setting for his intellectual gifts. Linguistic gifts are a sine qua non for a top-flight theologian or Thomistic philosopher, and the Church is sorely in need of both (I have been on hiring committees and talked to people on hiring committees). If he does ever think in this direction, the eastern province of the Dominicans (cf. Mad Dawg), the Norbertines in Orange County California (cf. Dr. Brian Kopp), the Brothers of St. John from France, the Toronto Oratory, and Opus Dei are all worth considering.
I do hope he takes advantage of the Catholic underground at Harvard, and not just for social and liturgical activities: I reiterate my recommendation to hook up with Opus Dei. I have a great respect for Catholic Homeschoolers—about two-thirds of my students have been partially or completely homeschooled—but do it yourself stuff always leaves gaps—this may not be universally true, but in the hundreds of individuals I have seen (which include many who are very well form and have gone on to very good things) there has yet to be an exception. Indeed, St. Augustine, in his prologue to On Christian Doctrine (a text I require of my students) belabors this point. Reading good books is a partial answer, but things go so much more slowly this way compared to when one has a solid guide, although in some rare cases where one has no alternatives, the Holy Spirit will turn on the afterburners. Father Dubay’s Seeking Spiritual Direction and Garrigou-Lagrange’s Three Ages both have good commentary in this area. If one is trying to mine these works for information on the subject, I would recommend the chapter from Dubay entitled something to the effect of “Can I Direct Myself,” and the chapter out of Three Ages on Spiritual Direction. While receiving spiritual direction is not the same thing as being guided in study, there are many similarities, and some of the material does apply. There is additional material scattered throughout the works, but by my recollection, these would be the two most concentrated places.
I will grant, theoretically, exceptions are possible, as God can do anything, but normally he uses secondary causes to get us to where he wants us to be. If your son is everything he sounds like, I would hope that in the not so distant future he will read St. Thomas in the original language, as Pius XI, in his encyclical on St. Thomas, indicated that all Catholics pursuing higher education ought to be disciples of the Saint. Educational level have fallen since the 1920’s, but it sounds like your son can live up to them. By this, I understand him to mean that they ought to read and absorb his thought (which was done in Catholic education of yore). This is best done with access to a guide unless one already knows Aristotle and the Fathers well—the groups I mentioned above as possible places to consider for the priesthood are good places to look for such guidance as well, and at Harvard at least one should be available.
So much for my rant. More importantly, be assured of a few prayers now and maybe a couple in the future, as the Spirit moves. Back to a stack of papers.
Thank you for your generous reply.
Double major - Yes. Our trip to Harvard revealed that this shouldn’t present any serious difficulties. He spoke with both engineering and classics faculty. Because of the school’s flexibility, especially in classics, and my son’s relatively-advanced status, he’ll be able to complete both degrees within the usual schedule with a normal courseload.
With regard to a possible vocation to the priesthood or religious life, one should never say “never,” but he has prayed and discerned over the years and experienced no call to date. In fact, it isn’t a prospect with much interest at all.
I understand your points about DIY Catholic formation. I should soften my previous statement to say, we’ve taken what assistance we could find, where we could find it, but there hasn’t been much that has been both genuinely Catholic and appropriate to my son. He is finishing his fourth year of “theology” at his high school, but frankly, although fairly orthodox, only one year of it was actually engaging for him. The rest covered material and topics completed years prior, and completed at a somewhat more advanced level. It’s amazing what you wind up teaching your kids when you’re too stupid to know that they can’t learn all that stuff.
He has read a fair bit of St. Thomas, and a good deal of Blessed John Paul, among others. A little of the Aquinas in Latin. However, his interest in philosophy and theology is modest. This may be due in part to the fact that the intellectual level of so-called Catholic philosophers and theologians he’s met has usually been rather disappointing. He presented a paper at a conference at Notre Dame, mainly for grad students, and was pretty much appalled by the overall myopia and insularity of the Catholics present, including faculty. The only folks who seemed awake and sharp were the continuing Anglicans in attendance.
But I’m starting to stray a bit from the topic, which is not the uncountable faults of “Catholic intellectuals” or the seemingly limitless crimes of the hierarchy.
Anyway, thank you again.