The Holy Spirit educates us on all things, and the Church is His schoolhouse, where we must always be open to learning or risk becoming spiritual dropouts
By Bishop Richard F. Stika
Another school year has begun, and we pray for the safety and success of our teachers, school administrators, and students. Here, I particularly think of the blessing of our Catholic schools and the great education they provide. I am always awed by the dedication of our teachers and school administrators, who work so hard to provide their students with the very best learning experience possible. What a great blessing a good teacher is! And what an even infinitely greater blessing it is to attend the schoolhouse of the Church, with the Holy Spirit as our teacher!
As a young student, I didn’t always appreciate the effort of my teachers, nor the value of my education. If any of my teachers from my parish elementary school of the Epiphany of Our Lord in South St. Louis had been asked whether I was a good student, they might either have laughed or cringed.
I recently visited the motherhouse of the Order of Dominican Sisters in Sparkill, N.Y., where the sisters who taught me in my parish school were from. Having walked through the convent cemetery, I paused before the graves of the sisters I knew and offered my prayers and thanks to our Lord for the gift they were to me and to so many others. But imagine my surprise when I discovered that my eighth-grade teacher, Sister Mary Ann Traver (age 99), and my principal, Sister Lois (age 101), were still living in the motherhouse! What a wonderful reunion I had with them. You’ll have to visit them if you want to know what they thought of me as a student.
As a priest and confessor, though, I can attest that there is nothing sadder than not taking seriously our educational opportunities to grow intellectually. For, by virtue of the baptism that makes us adopted children of God, we also are students of God’s love for us — and must never stop being learners of the faith. If we think at some point that we have learned and grown enough in our Catholic faith to have somehow graduated from the schoolhouse of faith and have nothing more to learn from the Holy Spirit, then we have essentially become a “spiritual dropout.”
It is vital to our salvation that we always strive to grow our faith after baptism, and to never stop trying to know God, so as to love Him more, and to serve Him and our neighbor better.
When I think of one of the great teachers of the Church in our modern age, I think of Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen (1895-1979). While his Emmy Award-winning show, “Life is Worth Living,” ended the year I was born, his books and recordings are treasures that continue to inspire and instruct Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Stressing the importance of learning and growing in our faith, he said, “By the mere fact that we do not go forward, we go backward. There are no plains in the spiritual life, we are either going uphill or coming down.” So the essential question we must honestly answer is: “Am I going up or down?”
It’s not hard to be an A-plus student of the faith. The secret to being a good student of the Holy Spirit is simple — docility. In our culture, where action and self-sufficiency are most highly valued, the word “docility” has almost a negative connotation.
But what docility essentially means is to be “teachable.” And this is best learned on one’s knees in prayer. Don’t be afraid to start, even if it is only for a few minutes. If it is true that learning is always easier and more exciting when we have a great teacher and a great school, then how much more true is this of the Holy Spirit and the Church.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, it is the Spirit of Truth who “unveils” Christ to us. (n. 687) Pray and read and reflect daily upon sacred Scripture. Frequent the Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation. Ask the Holy Spirit to increase His gifts in you — wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, fear of the Lord, and piety. Don’t be afraid to ask the Holy Spirit to help you to grow in your faith. Call upon the Holy Spirit frequently, like a student who struggles with his studies is aided by the help of a great teacher.
If the Holy Spirit teaches us all things, then the Church is His schoolhouse, where this truth is guarded and shared in its fullness. In recent weeks, as I have watched the marble columns being erected inside our new cathedral, I have been reminded of the words of St. Paul, who describes the Church as the “the pillar and foundation of truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15) Just because we have received the sacrament of confirmation does not mean we have graduated from this most sacred schoolhouse.
With the age of confirmation being lowered, effective Jan. 1, 2019, to youngsters in grades 5 and 6, the example of parents and sponsors in fostering a continuous growth in the faith is even more important. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of family prayer, and particularly the family rosary. Families that come together in prayer are strengthened in their faith, not just individually, but, more importantly, in their unity as a domestic church, a community of faith and love. Our diocese is a family as well, with the parishes like the many children of the cathedral mother church. As such, I look forward to celebrating all our confirmations during the Easter season of 2018 in our new Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, where we are strengthened not only as individual parish communities, but as a larger diocesan family, too.
Let us then make daily our prayer of beautiful surrender to the Holy Spirit, so that we might all be teachable and to grow together in God’s love.