It takes a lot of education to read this magazine, so it is not surprising that its readers have more formal education than readers of most periodicals. But I would venture to guess that for the majority of you, it was not your formal education that prepared you for this kind of reading, but private study. I say that because of the dismal (albeit improving) state of religious education in schools and parishes and of theological education in universities. Most Catholics who know their faith learned it outside of the classroom and the parish. (Fr. Dillard shows how to make the Sunday homily more effective in that regard on page 8.)
Embarking on that self-education takes courage and humility. It takes a passion for the things of God. It takes a tremendous amount of dedication—finding time to study despite family and career demands, running up against one’s limitations in defending the faith, having no one to share the joy of learning with. People nevertheless have stepped up to the plate, taught themselves the faith, and then taught it to others. They have made the best out of a bad situation and are deserving of admiration.
But learning on one’s own has its drawbacks. First, it’s good to have a teacher: someone who can be trusted to lead, encourage, moderate our judgments, and correct. Second, it’s good to have fellow students to learn with, to share the joys of discovery, to befriend, and to keep us honest in our arguments. Teachers and fellow students are—if they are likewise committed to the pursuit of truth—built-in formation in the virtue of docility, or teachability. Not having them is a limitation. Second, a curriculum based on any one person’s interests will have gaping lacunae.
These limitations are exacerbated, moreover, by the widespread dissent within the Church over the last half-century and the weak-to-criminal leadership. Orthodox lay people have felt embattled not just by the culture of death but frequently by their own bishops. There is an understandable but regrettable and reversible lack of trust in authority.
It’s not surprising, then, that docility is not one of the oft-discussed or practiced virtues. No training. No trust. Let’s work to reverse that—always keeping in mind that our first and foremost Teacher will never lead us astray. See Leon Suprenant’s excellent argument on page 28.