Dear friends, I would like briefly to touch on two more key phrases from the renewal of ordination promises, which should cause us to reflect at this time in the Church’s life and in our own lives. Firstly, the reminder that – as Saint Paul put it – we are “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4:1) and we are charged with the ministry of teaching, the (munus docendi), which forms a part of this stewardship of God’s mysteries, through which he shows us his face and his heart, in order to give us himself.
At the meeting of Cardinals on the occasion of the recent Consistory, several of the pastors of the Church spoke, from experience, of the growing religious illiteracy found in the midst of our sophisticated society. The foundations of faith, which at one time every child knew, are now known less and less. But if we are to live and love our faith, if we are to love God and to hear him aright, we need to know what God has said to us – our minds and hearts must be touched by his word. The Year of Faith, commemorating the opening of the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago, should provide us with an occasion to proclaim the message of faith with new enthusiasm and new joy. We find it of course first and foremost in sacred Scripture, which we can never read and ponder enough.
Yet at the same time we all experience the need for help in accurately expounding it in the present day, if it is truly to touch our hearts. This help we find first of all in the words of the teaching Church: the texts of the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church are essential tools which serve as an authentic guide to what the Church believes on the basis of God’s word…
All our preaching must measure itself against the saying of Jesus Christ: “My teaching is not mine” (Jn ). We preach not private theories and opinions, but the faith of the Church, whose servants we are.
Homily, Chrism Mass, 2012
Reflection – Now the Pope is talking to priests here, remember. The Chrism Mass homily is traditionally thus: as the priests there present and priests around the world prepare to renew our commitment to our calling, the Holy Father offers us a word of encouragement and counsel.
But as I said a few days ago, don’t you laity tune out on that account! The life and commitment of the ordained priest is ordered to and at the service of the common priesthood of all the baptized. Therefore the specific commitment and shape of ordained priestly life actually illuminates what this common priesthood is about. What I am called to do at the altar, in the confessional, and at the pulpit is deeply connected to and sheds a powerful light on what you are called to do at the office, around the dinner table, and on the subway.
So here it is the solemn obligation of the priest to know his Catholic faith, love his Catholic faith, and proclaim his Catholic faith through the teaching office entrusted to him that is front and center. The catechetical failure of the past 40 years has indeed engendered a depth of religious illiteracy that we are all too familiar with.
Every year at Madonna House we offer our guests two courses: the Fundamentals of the Spiritual Life in the fall, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the winter. And we offer these courses because they are needed: the young people who come here are wonderful people, quite often deeply sincere in their commitment to being Catholics already when they get here… and they know very little about the faith, mostly.
So we do our little bit to help. And I do my little bit on this blog to help. And I hope every priest out there is doing his little bit of what he promised to do, which is teach the Church’s teachings and not his own private opinions. We all know that doesn’t always happen (to put it mildly) but that’s what we promised to do when we were ordained.
But the crisis of knowledge is so severe right now, and considering the vast numbers of people who are estranged from the Church and won’t come near a priest in consequence, the munus docendi truly lies with all of us right now, according to what we are capable of. We all need to ‘up our game’ here, to learn more, to be more secure in our possession of our Catholic faith.
And in this we need to not just be immersed in the controversies, the ‘cut and thrust’ of debates and hot button issues. Often people can have the impression that all Catholics care about is abortion, women priests, and contraception. There is more to our faith than those issues, you know!
We need to really have a grasp of God’s truth, coming to us in His Word, His Tradition, and through the teaching office of the Church. The depths of ignorance and misunderstanding are profound right now; we all need to take on the great spiritual work of mercy of ‘instructing the ignorant’, according to our talents and opportunities.