Last week we reflected on the importance of apostolic zeal in the life of a Christian. We also warned that this energy must be tempered by prudence so that it does not devolve into fanaticism. Part of this prudence that is necessary for the spiritual development and formation of the Christian is the need for ongoing education in the spiritual life. There are many dangers in the spiritual journey and the devil is committed to our spiritual destruction; so it is important that we stay on the road traveled by the wise and the saintly to make sure we don’t wander into the jungles of error and vice.
Once again, then, we must begin with the virtue of humility and admit that no matter how old we are, we are still beginners. And as such we must walk the way of instruction and formation. In a word: we need ‘help’. In one sense, we will always be beginners and resting in humility is a way of making sure we protect ourselves from the vice of pride which is the subtlest and most destructive of all the evils that can afflict the soul. In our day and age, everything seems to conspire in making us seem that the way of ‘be nice to yourself’ and of ‘you deserve it’ is a life-affirming stance rather than the truth that it is an invitation to selfishness and pride.
Thus, what is necessary is continual education in the truth. Even beyond this, one may say that the need is really for formation, which is deeper than education, and suggests a permanent change of being that is engineered through faith and the action of God. It is not temporary; it holds and becomes part of us.
This is where the long tradition of the Church and even farther in history, the experience of Israel, becomes the rich legacy of the pilgrim seeking formation and guidance to form the prudence necessary to channel the zeal that we have delineated in the last reflection.
Usually, when we speak of education and of formation in wisdom, we are talking about institutions of higher learning where the learned men and women teach the various disciplines. When dealing with spiritual matters, the institution that most does the formation and education of candidates would be the seminaries in the world that not only have the professors who have knowledge but also the formators who can help shape the students in the habits necessary to make wisdom accessible and of benefit to others once the candidates are ordained by the Church.
But what I am suggesting is something of a much wider influence. I am speaking of accomplishing this not in a seminary or institution of higher learning but in an ordinary parish. Someone once said that a parish should be a seminary for lay people; that is, a place where lay people can grow in faith and in the knowledge of the faith so as to better minister to others in their families and in the daily work of furthering the Kingdom of God in the ordinary daily life of ordinary people. Why should education and formation be the prevue of only the few? Why cannot it be available to everyone?
Many suffer under the concept of a false humility when they think of growing spiritually in the knowledge of God. They think: “That is not for me. That’s a thing for priests. I am just a humble lay person who just needs to be faithful to Mass and the Rosary and that is enough for me.” This is not really humility but fear of growth and the work that it entails. God wants us to mature as His beloved children, knowing we have great capacities to learn and to grow.
St. Teresa of Avila wrote about people being like glasses of different sizes. God wants to fill us with His love but some of us have a limited capacity because of lack of growth. A wine glass and a water tumbler can both be filled by God with His grace but the tumbler will get more of it since it is larger.
Therefore, ongoing spiritual and theological formation is a process of increasing our capacity to receive God’s grace.
Given this understanding of a Catholic community that we call a parish, we need to strive to realize this communion of learners. As the Lord said when He walked on the earth: “Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ” (Matthew 23:10).
Let us strive to be a parish where everyone can get closer to Christ and grow in the Holy Spirit of God.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” – Matthew 11:29