There have been some recent stories in the media about how for the first time since Gallup began asking the question, more Americans identify as pro-life than pro-choice. This is, of course, wonderful news and may God grant this trend continue until we can finally banish the unspeakable evil of abortion from the world once and for all. It reminded me of something else that has been floating around my mind for years, and which I think played an important role in my decision to go to the seminary.
Have you ever heard similar news stories about how such and such a percentage of Catholics don't believe in the Real Presence, or who use artificial contraception, or any number of other things that are contrary to the Church's teachings? Perhaps I'm looking at this differently as a convert, but for the life of me I can't understand why so many self-identified Catholics could be that way. I don't mean those generous souls who know what the Church teaches, do the best they can, and occasionally fall; that includes all of us. I mean those poor souls who either don't know or don't understand what the Church teaches or why owe our assent. I may be speaking out of place, but I think if everyone really knew and really believed what the Church says about herself and Who guarantees the truth of her teachings, dissent would be much more of a rarity. But that's a whole 'nother post. What I want to do here is reflect a little on the priest as teacher.
Before I considered the priesthood, my life's ambition was to be a university professor. I think that if any man wants to be a priest he needs to have the knack for teaching, or at least the desire to learn how. As a parish priest, you would be ultimately responsible for the content of all faith formation programs whether aimed at adults or children. And most importantly, you are responsible for the Sunday homily which is the occasion where most of your parishioners will see you. I only recently learned the difference between a homily and a sermon: homilies are meant to unpack the Scripture readings for that Mass, while a sermon can be on any topic related to faith and morals. Whichever the priest does, it's the greatest "teaching moment" of the week, so it's vital to put a lot of effort and most importantly a lot of prayer into it. Archbishop Fulton Sheen would start crafting his Sunday homilies for the next week as soon as he was finished with all of the Sunday Masses for the current week.
Do you love talking about the Faith, or sharing it with others? Are you committed to teaching everything the Holy Catholic Church approves and teaches because it is guaranteed by Him who can neither deceive nor be deceived? You will be asked these questions in a more formal way before your ordination to the deaconate and the presbyterate. The priest is not just a teacher of course; he is a Father. But teaching, both by words and by personal example, is inextricably bound up with it. The latter - personal example - is something all Catholics should strive toward.