“Everybody in the Church has a duty to teach the faith to others!” A line from a homily I heard last year. I thought that was quite striking in that it was aimed at every single member of the Church. It is sometimes assumed that any role that is perceived to be ‘teaching’ is in some way reserved for those that are either trained or specially appointed to do so. For myself as a deacon, at my ordination I was presented by the bishop with the Book of the Gospels, accompanied by the words:
“Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are.
Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.”
For catechists they are selected and given the materials to use in primarily preparing people of all ages to receive the sacraments and also to grow in their life of faith. And anyone who is a school teacher, or works in a school is thought to have an advantage because of an educational background. But what about everybody else in the Church, teachers or not? Perhaps those who have been involved recently in home schooling children during lockdown might have views on this particular question.
But let us not forget parents. The Church teaches that, “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children.” and, “The right and duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church (2221 – 2230)).
In the opening gathering of the baptism ceremony for a child, one of the things I ask the parents is:
“You have asked to have your child baptised. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him/her in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him/her up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us by loving God and our neighbour. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?”
So I was then reflecting on how exactly do I, or any of us go about ‘teaching’ the faith? Throughout my career in the Fire Brigade I had many different roles starting as a firefighter and eventually ending up as a senior officer in charge of a specialist team. Along the way I also spent time as an instructor at the Brigade training school. As an instructor the organisation had a particular method of learning that we were expected to use in the training, especially of practical skills, and this principle was known as EDIP. The instructor Explains the task, the instructor then Demonstrates the task, then the student Imitates the task until they can achieve it, and finally the student Practices the task to refine and perfect their ability to carry out the task.
Now that might work in the practical world of an organisation like the fire brigade, but when it comes to looking at understanding and growing in the very personal subject of faith, I would suggest that a bit of a different approach is required. Because it is something that fills our life, unlike a skill that can be turned on when required and then put away, there is no beginning and definitive end to the teaching. We also have to consider that whoever is considered to be the ‘teacher’ is also at the same time the student.
As I understand it, the key to teaching or instructing others in the faith, has no more powerful method than example. We can have as many books and theories as we like, but without the personal example of faith then it becoming a bit meaningless. “Do as I say, not as I do!” does not inspire anyone. It doesn’t matter who anybody is, if they can’t show a good example, then they shouldn’t try to teach others how to live.
No body is perfect, God accepts us as we are, providing we are honestly doing our best. He gives us every opportunity, and offers strength and encouragement when we don’t quite get it right. We have our part to play in this when we accept that we are all teachers of the faith. We don’t have an option of leaving it to ‘someone better qualified’, because due to our baptism we are the best qualified for that other person at that particular time.
I often feel that the words above from the Diaconate Ordination ceremony belong to everyone that has received the grace of baptism. The question is, how close can we get to them being part of our lives in Christ?
“Believe what you read,
teach what you believe,
and practice what you teach.”
Deacon Ian Black