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xpriest-teaching

Supporting a true formation of heart, mind, head and soul

A fiery invitation to speak at a Catholic chaplaincy reminds Fr Jamie McMorrin of the importance of teaching in the priestly vocation.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about Hell. Don’t worry, this article is not going to be a ‘fire and brimstone’ call to conversion— you can keep reading!

My thoughts of damnation were at the prompting of a group of students who kindly invited me to come and give a talk at their Catholic chaplaincy.

When I asked them for a topic, it turned out that Hell was what they had in mind. Quite why they thought I might be qualified to speak on the sufferings of the damned, I’m not exactly sure. Life in Cathedral House has its challenging moments, but it’s certainly not nearly that bad.

 

Reflections

In any case, I hope the resulting reflections weren’t too torturous for them. While the process of researching and writing a presentation on a slightly difficult subject is a somewhat purgatorial experience for me, it’s no bad thing to be forced to dust off my theology books, engage my creaking brain and cast my mind back to seminary lectures on eschatology.

And it was definitely worth it! If my talk was focussed on inspiring a hunger for Heaven rather than a fear of Hell, then I was certainly given a foretaste of the life of the Blessed in the hearty, shared meal prepared by the students, the enjoyable conversations over dinner and in the pub and the great crowd of enthusiastic saints-in-the-making who warmly welcomed me into their community.

I’ve written on these pages before about what a source of hope our university chaplaincies and other young adult ministries are for the Church in our country. In these somewhat troubled times, a room full of young people with large appetites not only for soup and sandwiches but for the teachings of the Church in all their fullness does the soul of the priest so much good.

 

Teaching Faith

I turned up with the intention of inspiring the students with hope and increasing their Faith: in the end, as is so often the case, I’m sure that I benefitted more from the experience than they did.

Nonetheless, teaching is an important part of a priest’s role in the Church. It’s one of the three priestly ‘munera’ (or duties) given by ordination, and a participation in Christ’s own ministry of prophetic teaching during his life on earth. On the day of his ordination, the priest promises to ‘teach the Catholic Faith worthily and wisely’ and the Code of Canon Law repeatedly reminds him of his responsibility to provide for the doctrinal formation of his parishioners.

But this is not a new idea. The twelve apostles were instructed to make disciples of all the nations not only by the celebration of the Sacraments (“Baptising them”) but also by sharing with others everything Jesus had revealed to them (Matt 28: 19-20).

 

Holiness

Paul insists on an ability to teach as a requirement for ordination and—in his usual uncompromising manner—reminds his protégé, Timothy, of his life-long responsibility ‘to refute error, to guide people’s lives and teach them to be holy.’ (2 Tim 2:24; 3: 16-17).

Drawing on another Pauline passage, Fr James Mallon, sees one of the primary tasks of the priest as ‘equipping the saints for the work of ministry’ (Eph 4: 12) and enabling all of the Baptised to recognise and develop the gifts of grace they have received for the building up of the Church.

The rediscovery of the high dignity of the whole, Baptised People of God and the incumbent collective responsibility for the mission of the Church is something for which we should be thankful. But it surely must also be accompanied by adequate formation, of mind, heart and soul.

 

Mission

When I was a seminarian, most of my classmates from other parts of the world were preparing to teach as professors in diocesan seminaries and Catholic universities in their own countries. Here in Scotland, we don’t have these institutions, but the solid intellectual and spiritual formation of lay Catholics of all ages in our parishes is in many ways a far more important mission.

In another context, I’ve quoted Pope Francis reminding priests that the oil of ordination is not to be kept to ourselves, but must flow out to anoint the whole Church. The same is surely true of the rich, philosophical, theological and spiritual education we’ve been privileged to receive in seminary.

The best teachers, though, are always learning, and we must never forget that we are all disciples of the ‘one teacher, the Christ,’ who calls us to share in a work that is ultimately not ours but His (Matt 23: 8).

I think that means we must be continually returning, not only to our theology textbooks and Scripture commentaries, but more importantly, to our proper place at the feet of the Divine Master, until, at His command and with the inspiration of His Holy Spirit, we hear His call to ‘go forth and teach’ once more.

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