Millennial Catholic Interviews: Dan Masterton

Dan Masterton is a writer, pastoral minister, and the author of Go Your Way: Stories from our Lives of Faith. As part of a new series of interviews with Millennial writers and guest writers, as we enter our second decade as a publication, editor Robert Christian asked him about his writing, faith, and life.

How does your faith shape your work?

I often think about faith as being like a garden: it’s something that needs to be tended with consistent attention and intentional care; if you work well with the land and produce fruitful or beautiful yields, others may get curious and ask you about it. I hope that the way I live my faith – asking thoughtful questions, trying to apply social teaching, grappling with modern issues – will be a way to engage others in considering their own faith.

Writing, then, is the way I most enjoy trying to do this. I’m a little introverted, so the chance to step away from busy moments and tough questions to do some processing is valuable for me. One of my favorite things to do in conversation is help people find the words and phrases that describe what they’re thinking and feeling, and writing is my chance to do that for myself. I can then offer one perspective on things. I always hope what I put out there can find resonance with others and spur them to hone their own thoughts and beliefs.

Why have you chosen to write fiction? Is there something unique about stories or narratives that you find helpful? 

I tried writing fiction just to learn a new skill and see what it could teach me about myself and about writing. I found my mind enjoyed the chance to create hypotheticals as vehicles for trying to explore a question and offer an answer. I can show the nuances, the shades of gray, the complexities of situations and perspectives. It also became a way to express some hope and idealism in my own way – not sunshine-and-lollipops hope but modest, reflective, simpler optimism. That’s what comes through in the stories in Go Your Way.

I also believe that you write what you know. In reflective pieces and other essays, I was usually responding to a moment. With fiction writing, there’s a blank slate to play with. So once I could hone in on the things I know and the things I wanted to explore about them, it kind of took off organically for me. Spiritually and in pastoral ministry, I’m drawn most to walking with youth, vocational discernment, and building community life. So that’s what the stories center on, and then it’s up to readers to take it as they will.

I think a lot of my friends and family members hesitate to do much spiritual reading beyond a daily Gospel reflection or something. I hope the stories I wrote are a nice halfway point between those short reflections and something more intimidating like Aquinas or systematic theology.

How does your faith shape your life beyond work?

I really value having relationships in my family and with friends in which talking about our faith is a welcome activity. I credit a lot of that to the understated way my parents raised my brothers and me – faith was a steady heartbeat, a routine, a source of everyday community and connection. Then, in college at Notre Dame, I connected with people who, whether studying theology, singing in liturgical choirs, or just living a life of faith, wanted to share their faith with me, too. I wouldn’t say I try to make every conversation spiritual, but I feel comfortable receiving people with that mindset and asking them questions that might delve into their spiritual sides.

This is a big part of my marriage, too, where my wife, Katherine, and I try to share our faith honestly and authentically. We see the seeds of this same sort of faith in the way our kids are starting to ask thoughtful questions. We have some rough days, but it’s exciting to see them plug in to simple actions like praying before meals or preparing food for a soup kitchen delivery.

Have any experiences in recent years changed how you view your faith or your life?

One tough thing for me recently was making the choice to change parishes. Sometimes people share stories of frustration over politically partisan homilies, inhospitality toward certain communities, or worse. For us, it was much more benign – our parish basically had nothing for children or families. We made some efforts to start a group for families with young children, and we were ignored or forgotten each time. It was a good parish, just focused on its older adults. I was frustrated to have to move on, but we’ve found a great home where we know our kids and our family will have more opportunities to engage beyond Mass. We are part of a young families group that tries to keep families engaged following infant baptisms, and our older daughter loves the children’s liturgy group. It’s been a blessing ultimately.

One great positive to me has been the way more and more Catholics are embracing sustainability. It has been a source of a lot of inspiration and connection for me. I love that I can find many folks, online and in real-life communities, who make sustainable choices out of discipleship and a desire to care for God’s Creation. In our home, we compost, use newly-installed dual-flush toilets, mulch-mow, rake and care for the lawn without using any yard waste bags, plant native flowers, and more – I learned and implemented all of these ideas from other Catholics who shared their eco-spirituality with me and others.

Why are you Catholic in 2023?

I’d say my reasons today are the same as they’ve long been: Eucharist; the Gospel and Catholic Social Teaching; profound global, national, and local social outreach in charity and justice; and more.

I definitely feel the weight of clergy sex abuse and cover-up, but rather than leave the Church, I want to call our leaders and our collective community to acknowledge its mistakes and stay committed to safeguarding children better.

I feel the stigma of being part of a religion often viewed as anti-LGBTQ and anti-women, but rather than leave the Church, I want to help people understand what we believe at root, identify the divergence between core beliefs and some people’s harmful practices, and be a part of better pastoral action.

Ultimately, I think people who are skeptical of Catholicism or who have fallen away get like that because they see religion practiced poorly. I want to be an example of a grounded, balanced, pastorally outreaching Catholicism. That’s what I want to keep doing in 2023 and going forward.