Every Catholic is called by God to be a teacher of the faith. That’s right: God wants every single one of us, without exception, to share the Good News of our faith with others. This “universal call to teach” is rooted in our Baptism since in Baptism we are anointed by the Holy Spirit to share in Jesus Christ’s prophetic mission. A prophet is a person sent by God to communicate his words to the people. So that means we are all called by God to play a part in sharing his word with others. Christ is the prophet par excellence since he is none other than the incarnate Word of God who reveals the Father and his plan of salvation. But in Baptism, God gives all of us a share in Christ’s prophetic mission of proclaiming the Good News about God and his plan of salvation to all people.
Now we are not all called to teach the faith in the same way. The pope and the bishops have divine gifts that enable them to interpret the Word of God and teach the faith with authority. Bishops, priests, and deacons, by virtue of their ordination, also receive unique gifts from God that support their mission to publicly proclaim the Gospel and preach the faith in the context of our worship in the liturgy. But the Christian lay faithful also have a mission to teach the faith in a way all their own.
Because the lay faithful have a vocation to live as Christians in the midst of the world, their unique way of sharing in Christ’s prophetic office is to spread the Gospel in the ordinary circumstances of everyday life in the world, including family life, work, education, politics, the sciences, cultural activities, and the like. As St. John Paul II explains in his apostolic exhortation on the laity, Christifideles Laici, Christ’s command to his disciples to be salt, light, and leaven in the world is especially applicable to the Christian lay faithful, since they have the ability to transform society from within on account of their involvement in the ordinary affairs of daily life in the world. Another great pope, Pius XII, described the lay vocation as being on the “front lines” of the Church’s life, as the Church’s presence in the world that can influence society from within. Like infantrymen or stormtroopers, lay people are the grunt soldiers who can reach persons and places that are effectively inaccessible to the clergy.
How exactly are ordinary lay Catholics called to teach the faith? According to the Second Vatican Council, the lay faithful can be powerful proclaimers of the faith especially when the faith they profess to believe is united to a life springing from that faith. In other words, we can be especially effective in teaching the Catholic faith by striving to live it out as best we can in all we do. Our very lives can be a “living witness” to the Gospel. Catholics whose faith inspires them to be faithful and loving spouses, self-sacrificing parents, hardworking and dedicated employees, honest and fair in work, respectful and kind to others, and generous to those in need—all of this is a powerful living testimony to the Christian faith.
But it can’t just end with offering a good example. When opportunities arise, Catholics are also called by God to evangelize others by sharing and explaining the teachings of the Church in words. And there are countless opportunities that we have to do this every day. But here’s the thing: You can’t give what you don’t have. So the flip side to the universal call to teach the faith is a universal call to learn the faith too. As St. Peter writes, we should “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Peter 3:15). What this means then is that we have to put forth an effort to learn our faith. While not everyone is called to get a doctorate in theology, everyone is obliged to know the basics of the Catholic faith. We have to read the Bible, study the Catechism, read good solid works in spirituality and theology, listen attentively to the preaching of our priests and deacons at Mass, listen to tapes, watch videos, and attend lectures on the Catholic faith. We have to be good students of the faith so that we can become good teachers of the faith. This is an exciting and worthwhile lifelong project that demands that we to put forward our very best effort.
Why not make a New Year’s resolution to put forward a greater effort to learn the Catholic faith than ever before? The St. Philip Institute of Catechesis and Evangelization is here to help. His eminence, Bishop Joseph Strickland, founded the St. Philip Institute to provide the faithful with “the materials, expertise, and support to perform the mission of teaching” the faith in the Diocese of Tyler and beyond. As we enter into a new year, the St. Philip Institute is launching our new website with teaching videos, a blog, and other instructional materials. This year, we will also be implementing new formation materials for catechists with both online and written components, a new RCIA program, and an outstanding marriage formation program for engaged couples wanting to get married in the Church. The Institute also plans to host numerous live teaching events throughout the Diocese of Tyler, and is scheduled to hold a major conference in the fall on the Christian understanding of marriage and human sexuality. Let’s make a concerted effort to do all that we can to make our Bishop’s vision of making the Diocese of Tyler an outstanding teaching diocese a reality!