“Study hard. Learn to integrate what you study. That’s the only way you can be sure that what you’ll be preaching to God's people as a priest will have substance and won’t simply be fluff”.
were words with which my first spiritual director in seminary—God rest his
soul—used to constantly encourage and challenge me when I would get lazy and neglect my
see, I wasn’t always the diligent student, and I didn’t always like philosophy
or theology. I did alright with minimum effort, and I brought that attitude to
my formation in seminary. And so it became my spiritual director’s job to
remind me of the value of study—not for its own sake, but as he never tired of
repeating, “so that what you teach as a priest will have substance, and won’t
just be fluff”.
every diaconate ordination, the bishop says to those about to receive the
Sacrament of Orders: “Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you are.
Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach”.
Believe what you read, teach what you
believe, and practice what you teach.
a beautiful reminder of what every deacon, and priest should be doing. We are
to “believe, teach, and practice”.
though, that there are four verbs in the admonition, not three. “Believe”,
“teach”, and “practice”, are the most prominent. But there’s a fourth, which must
not be overlooked, though it sometimes is, because it is in fact the foundation
of all three: “Read”.
Translation: “Study and learn!”
today’s gospel reading (Luke 24:35-48), the disciples are terrified at the sight of the risen
Christ. They initially think he’s a ghost. And so Jesus reassures them. But he
does this by doing two things. First he tells them to see and touch his hands
and feet. A ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones. But he does something more. He
asks them if they have any food. And he ate it in front of them. A mere spirit
wasn’t a mere specter. It was Jesus himself, body and soul; or to borrow a term
Thomas Aquinas, Jesus in the fullness of his “substance”, standing in front of
them. And then he tells them that they are to be his witnesses to this
too, are to be witnesses to this fullness. But the only way we can be sure that
it is the fullness of Jesus that we teach (“substance” and not “fluff” as my
spiritual director would say) is if we learn as much as we can about Jesus,
about the church, about our faith, and integrate everything we learn into the
story of our life and our vocation.
chance I get, I remind those I teach in seminary that we study not for the sake
of studying, that our academic life is not an end in itself. And that is true. But
this is never meant to downplay the value of study, or give it secondary status
in our life in seminary.
always on guard against a kind of anti-intellectualism that sometimes worms its
way into the hearts of the pious and devout, or that type that pits
intellectual labor against pastoral ministry or the spiritual life.
rigor, as St. Augustine, St. Anselm, St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas,
St. Teresa of Avila, St. John Paul II, as well as many of the giants of our
faith, have so powerfully shown us, is the ally of true piety and devotion, not
Without serious intellectual work, the three other “pillars” of
our life in formation will not have much substance, and we end up building on
constant reminder that even our study in seminary is oriented towards our
future task as shepherds, is meant to encourage us to realize that the only way
for us to truly feed and satisfy God’s flock that will one day be entrusted to
our care as priests, is to study and learn as much as we can while still
Only in that way can we be more or less sure that what we shall
teach has substance, or in the words of the gospel, “flesh and bones”.
we will end up witnessing to ourselves, not Christ. We will be teaching our
ideas and opinions, not the church’s. We will be proclaiming another gospel,
not the true one. Then we will be preaching, not substance, but “fluff”. And
God’s flock will starve.
“Believe what you read; teach what you
believe; practice what you teach”. “Believe, teach, practice”.
These just won’t happen if we do not “study and