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William E. May

Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology

John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at

The Catholic University of America

Washington, D.C.

I want to provide a framework for my comments on the vocation of a Catholic teacher/scholar by offering some reflections, first, on the universal call to holiness addressed to every Christian, and then on more specific vocations, and, finally, on the personal vocation of each individual Christian. I will then focus on the vocation proper to the teacher/scholar.

The Universal Call to Holiness: The Vocation Common to All Christians

One of the most profound truths central to the teaching of Vatican Council II is that “it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man becomes clear. Adam, the first man, was a type of him who was to come, Christ the Lord. Christ, the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself, and brings to light his most high calling” (Gaudium et spes, no. 22). In revealing to us our “most high calling” or vocation Jesus summons us to follow him and to be “perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). Truly, “the followers of Christ,” as Vatican II insists, are “called by God not in virtue of their own works but by his design and grace.” Moreover, “justified in the Lord Jesus, they have been made sons of God in the baptism of faith and partakers of the divine nature, and so are truly sanctified” (ibid).

This shows us is that the ultimate basis of our vocation to holiness is our being  as sons and daughters of God himself. The basis of this vocation, in short, is what Blessed Josemaria Escrivá called our “divine filiation,” whereby we are literally divinized, made sharers in the divine nature. [1] We become God’s children and answer his call to holiness when we accept the saving revelation given to us through Jesus and commit ourselves to be his disciples and to “follow in his steps.” And we do this when we make our baptismal commitment. Most of us, of course, were baptized as infants, and others--our godparents--made this commitment for us, acting on our behalf. But, as we matured in the faith, we have made this commitment for ourselves, for instance, when we were confirmed. Moreover, we are asked to renew this commitment this commitment to become holy as the heavenly Father is holy and to take up our cross daily and follow Jesus every year during the Easter vigil. And we renew this commitment every time that, through God’s grace, we repent of our sins, receive his forgiveness in the sacrament of penance and reconciliation and pledge to amend our lives and walk worthily of the vocation to which he has called us.

I have referred to our baptismal “commitment.” But what is meant by “commitment,” and why is the baptismal commitment so crucial? A commitment is a special kind of free choice, the kind that, as Pope John Paul II emphasizes in his Encyclical Veritatis splendor (no. 65), “shape(s) a person’s entire moral life, and serve(s) as bounds within which other particular everyday choices can be situated and allowed to develop.” Thus in order to understand properly the significance of the baptismal commitment, we must recognize the existential and religious meaning of free choice.

            John Paul II emphasizes this in Veritatis splendor. There he eloquently expresses the truth that it is in and through the actions we freely choose to do every day of our lives that we determine ourselves and give to ourselves our identity as persons; we make ourselves to be the persons we are. As the Pope says, “It is precisely through his acts that man attains perfection as man, as one who is called to seek his Creator of his own accord and freely to arrive at full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him” (no. 71). Our freely chosen deeds, he continues, “do not produce a change merely in the state of affairs outside of man but, to the extent that they are deliberate choices, they give moral definition to the very person who performs them, determining his profound spiritual traits” (ibid.). In developing this great truth John Paul II calls attention to a beautiful passage from Saint Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Moses that magnificently makes clear the existential, religious significance of our daily deeds:

All things subject to change and to becoming never remain constant, but continually pass from one state to another, for better or worse.... Now, human life is always subject to change; it needs to be born ever anew... but here birth does not come about by a foreign intervention, as in the case with bodily beings...; it is the result of a free choice. Thus we are in a certain sense our own parents, creating ourselves as we will, by our decisions (cited in VS, no. 71).

            Thus each free choice a person makes to do something involves “a decision about oneself and a setting of one’s own life for or against the Good, for or against the Truth, and ultimately, for or against God” (no. 65).

            But some choices can rightly be called “commitments” because they shape a person’s entire moral life and serve as bounds within which other particular everyday choices can be, as John Paul II says, “situated and allowed to develop” (VS, no. 65). An example of a choice of this kind is the choice to be married, whereby two persons, a man and a woman, freely establish one another as irreplaceable and substitutable in each other’s lives and commit themselves to live as “one flesh” and to honor, respect, and pursue the “goods” or “blessings” of marriage, the goods of handing on and educating human life and of faithful conjugal love, and in living out their married life they must see to it that their other, everyday choices, are integrated into this overarching commitment.

            But the most fundamental commitment or choice of the Christian is the baptismal commitment or choice to be a Christian, a living member of Christ’s body, the Church. At the heart of this commitment is a free, self determining choice, one made possible only by God’s saving grace, whereby a person freely commits himself to live henceforward as a Christian, i.e., as truly a child of God and brother and sister of Jesus, whose only will, like that of Jesus himself, is to do what is pleasing to the Father. In and through this overarching free and self determining choice one commits oneself to a way of life, to the following of Christ, to the pursuit of holiness. Through this self determining choice one commits oneself, as St. Paul puts it, to complete in his own flesh “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, the Church” (Col 1:24). This most fundamental choice “which qualifies the moral life and engages freedom on a radical level before God” is, the pope reminds us,

the decision of faith, of the obedience of faith  (cf. Rom 16:26)  “by which man makes a total and free self commitment to God, offering ‘the full submission of intellect and will to God as he reveals.’” [2] This faith, which works through love (cf. Gal 5:6), comes from the core of man, from his “heart” (cf. Rom 10:10), whence it is called to bear fruit in works (cf. Matt 12:33 35; Lk 6:43 45; Rom 8:5 10; Gal 5:22) (VS, no 66).

To carry out this fundamental commitment a Christian must try to integrate into it all the choices he makes every day of his life; he carries it out fully only if he makes every choice of every day of his life conform to it. It is only if he succeeds in doing this that he can in truth become fully the being God want him to be: a saint. And this is quite a task! Indeed, it is the basic task of our lives and one impossible to carry out on our own but possible in, with, and through Christ, our best and wisest friend,[3] who will enable us to live truly as his disciples if we but ask for his help.

To summarize this matter in a slightly different way I can say that in and through the choice to be baptized, we give ourselves, with the help of God’s grace, the identity of children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus. Our vocation to be holy, to which we commit ourselves in choosing to be baptized, means fundamentally that we are to become what we already are: God’s faithful children, members of the divine family, alive with God’s own life, willing to do only what is pleasing to the Father.

We know that some kinds of choices are utterly incompatible with our basic commitment “to be” other Christs. These are the choices to do what is gravely immoral, to sin mortally. Mortal sin, because it is irreconcilable with love of God and neighbor, is totally opposed to our baptismal commitment to holiness. But venial sin, too, although in some way compatible with love of God, is not compatible with perfect love of God or with the holiness to which we are called. An analogy may be helpful here. Telling a “small lie” to one’s wife to preserve domestic tranquility (e.g., telling your wife that indeed you did mail the letter she gave you to post when in fact you had forgotten to do so) is in some way compatible with love of your spouse (while adultery is completely incompatible with such love), but it is surely not compatible with perfect love of one’s spouse, and husbands (and wives) are called to deepen and perfect their love for one another throughout their lives and to root out everything that can mar or block that love. Similarly, in our common pursuit of perfection, in our efforts to become holy, even as the heavenly Father is holy, we must root from our lives deliberate venial sin. But, unfortunately, each of us has, as it were, his or her favorite venial sins. We know we ought not commit these sins if we are to be fully the persons God wants us to be—his faithful and loving children—but we nonetheless continue to commit them because we want to.

More Specific Vocations and Personal Vocation

In carrying out their common vocation to holiness Christians are called to more specific vocations. These include the states of life to which individual Christians are summoned, some to the priesthood or religious life, others to marriage, and still others to the vocation of unmarried men and women in the world. The great majority of Christians are lay people. Their more specific vocation is to seek the holiness to which God calls them in the world in which they live. As Vatican Council II has so clearly taught us,

By reason of their special vocation, it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will. They live in the world, that is, they are engaged in each and every work and business of the earth and in the ordinary circumstances of social and family life, which, as it were, constitute their very existence. There they are called by God that, being led by the spirit of the Gospel they may contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like a leaven, by fulfilling their own particular duties. Thus, especially by the witness of their life, resplendent in faith, hope, and charity, they must manifest Christ to others. It pertains to them in a special way so to illuminate and order all temporal things with which they are so closely associated that these may be effected and grow according to Christ and may be to the glory of the Creator and Redeemer (Lumen gentium, no. 31).

Precisely because lay people work out their vocation in the world, “the ‘world’ thus becomes,” as John Paul II says, “the place and means for the lay faithful to fulfill their Christian vocation” (Christifideles laici, no. 13). Their vocation to sanctify themselves and to sanctify the world, he continues, “ought to be called an essential and inseparable element of the new life of baptism…[and to be recognized as] intimately connected to mission and to the responsibility entrusted to the lay faithful in the Church” (ibid, no. 17). In saying this, the Holy Father echoes the thought of Blessed Josemaria Escrivá, who insisted that “everyday life is the true setting [place, lugar in Spanish] for your lives as Christians…It is in the midst of the most material things of the earth that we must sanctify ourselves, serving God and all mankind.”[4] Blessed Josemaria likewise emphasized that we fulfill our vocation to be holy by sanctifying our work, sanctifying ourselves in our work, and sanctifying others through our work. [5]

Thus a more specific vocation of a Christian incorporates not only the state of life to which he or she is called—the priesthood, the religious life, marriage, being an unmarried person in the world—but also the work one freely undertakes to be of service to God and neighbor. And one specific kind of work is that of teaching.

In addition, God speaks personally to each and every Christian--priest, religious, lay person, doctor, lawyer, construction worker, business man, teacher—calling him or her to a unique personal vocation, inviting him or her to play a unique and indispensable role in carrying out his redemptive work. Vatican Council II insisted that each one of us has a personal vocation to carry out: “by our faith,” the Council Fathers declared, “we are bound all the more to fulfill these responsibilities [our earthly ones as Christians] according to the vocation of each one” (Gaudium et spes, no. 43). And Pope John Paul II emphasized, in the first encyclical of his pontificate, Redemptor hominis, that, “for the whole community of the People of God and for each member of it what is in question is not just a specific ‘social membership’; rather, for each and every one what is essential is a particular vocation…. We must see first and foremost Christ saying in a special way to each member of the community, ‘Follow Me’” (no. 71). Indeed, one of our important tasks in answering God’s call to holiness is to discern our personal vocation and fulfill it.[6]

Now let us consider the special vocation of the Catholic teacher/scholar.

The Special Vocation of the Catholic Teacher/Scholar

Like other Catholics, Catholic teacher/scholars, who undoubtedly desire, deep within themselves, to be of service to the students entrusted to them, can at times fail, perhaps seriously, to be true to their vocation as persons called to live out their Christian vocation to holiness in the classroom. In what follows I will not be concerned with the more serious failures of teachers to serve their students, betraying them by deliberately poisoning their minds, planting seeds of skepticism and cynicism, etc. Rather, after considering some “prior principles” that ought to guide a Catholic teacher/scholar in the carrying out of his vocation, I will focus on the everyday “work” of the Catholic teacher/scholar that he is called to sanctify if he is to become holy and help others to be holy. I will conclude by briefly considering some of the “little things” that enter into the life of a teacher/scholar and provide opportunities for fulfilling one’s vocation as Christ wants us to. First, however, what “prior principles” are operative in the life of a Catholic teacher?

Prior principles

I believe that there are three major principles of this kind. The first is the unity of all truth; the second (a corollary, as it were to the first) is fidelity to the magisterium of the Church; and the third is the dedication of intelligence to the service of Christ.

As we have seen already, a Catholic’s basic commitment is the baptismal commitment, whereby he freely chooses to live with, in, and for Jesus and to shape his entire life in accord with the saving truths professed by the Church that is the Lord’s life-giving spouse so that he can become holy, as the heavenly Father is holy. Thus the life of every Catholic, no matter what his or her personal vocation may be, is meant to be a faithful and ever-deepening unfolding of this basic commitment.

First prior principle: the unity of all truth

The specific vocation of the Catholic teacher/scholar commits him to seek the truth in a special way and to do what lies in his power to communicate truth to the students entrusted to him. The Catholic teacher/scholar, moreover, comes to his work intellectually certain, by virtue of his faith, that specific propositions about human existence are true and of utmost importance. Some of these truths, he realizes, can be shown to be true by human intelligence, for instance, that man is a person and as such superior in kind and not merely in degree to other animals, that man is free to determine his own life by his own free choices. Others, he recognizes, cannot be shown to be true by unaided human intelligence but God has nonetheless graciously revealed these supremely important truths—for example, that human nature has been wounded by sin but that human persons, by sharing in the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s Son made man, can become truly new creatures, members of the divine family, alive with God’s own life and able, with God’s never-failing help, to live a new kind of life. And he holds that belief in these truths, although beyond human reason, is not irrational but reasonable and credible.

But the Catholic teacher/scholar’s certitude about these truths does not forestall honest inquiry. His motto is not faith at rest, but faith seeking understanding—as John Paul II so beautifully shows in his encyclical Fides et ratio. He is certain that his faith cannot be overcome. He knows that his Catholic faith and the certitude of truth acquired in any other way cannot come into conflict, because the font of all truth is the one true and holy God who does not ask his children to deny their humanity and intelligence but wants them to exercise it to the full.

 Thus the first prior principle of the Catholic teacher/scholar is the unity of all truth.

Second prior principle: the dedication of the intelligence

A second prior principle of the Catholic teacher/scholar is fidelity to the teaching of the magisterium of the Church.

The Catholic teacher/scholar makes his own the Church’s own self-understanding. And according to this self-understanding the Church professes that a more-than-human authority has been invested by Christ himself in the college of bishops under the headship of the pope. This teaching authority has as its responsibility the cura animarum, the care of souls. Like Peter and the Apostles before them, pope and bishops have the serious responsibility of feeding Christ’s flock, of giving them the words of everlasting life. It has the God-given authority to settle disputes that may arise within the Church and to settle questions about the faith and it meaning for human existence.[7]

In Veritatis splendor, Pope John Paul II took care to note that the “Magisterium does not bring to the Catholic conscience truths which are extraneous to it; rather it brings to light the truths it already ought to possess, developing them from the starting point of the primordial act of faith” (no. 64). This is a truth worth pondering. In essence it means that the teaching of the magisterium is meant to remind us of who we are: God’s own children, brothers and sisters of Christ, led by the Spirit, willing to do only what is pleasing to the Father. In short, it is meant to remind us our vocation to holiness.

A third prior principle operative in the vocation of a Catholic teacher/scholar is the dedication of his intelligence to the service of Christ.

Etienne Gilson, surely one of the greatest Catholic teacher/scholars of the last century, developed this idea magnificently. Precisely as a teacher/scholar, a Catholic dedicates his intelligence to Christ. He realizes that if he is to be a good teacher/scholar, piety alone is not sufficient. He must discipline himself, acquire the skills necessary to achieve learning in a given field of inquiry, and devote himself to a life of study. “No one, nor anything,” Gilson observed, “obliges the Christian to busy himself with science, art, or philosophy, for other ways of serving God are not wanting; but if that is the way of serving God that he has chosen, the end itself, which he proposes for himself in studying them, binds him to excellence….That is the only way of becoming a good servant.” [8] Only in this way is it his intelligence that the Catholic teacher/scholar puts at the service of Christ. Still, it is as a Catholic that he does so, and this is central. For as a Catholic, the teacher/scholar knows that the whole of nature, and the human intelligence that is its crown, is in need of redemption, and it is his vocation to participate in its redemption by seeking, through his intelligence, to conform his life to the saving truths of the gospel. As Gilson put it, “the intelligence is good, but it is only so if, by it and in it, the whole nature turns toward its end, which is to conform itself to God.” But, he continued, “by taking itself as its own end, the intelligence has turned away from God, turning nature with it, and grace alone can aid both of them in returning to what is really their end, since it is their origin. The ‘world’ is just this refusal to participate in grade which separates nature from God, and the intelligence itself is of the world insofar as it joins with it in rejecting grace.”[9]

The Catholic teacher/scholar, in short, rejects the kind of “worldliness” exemplified by Pelagianism, i.e., the pagan and worldly claim that man can redeem himself and perfect himself all by himself. The Catholic teacher/scholar, by dedicating his intelligence to Christ, is inspired by the belief that the primary condition for attaining truth is humility and the obedience of faith, which he regards not as a restriction on intellectual freedom but as a wonderful, divine gift opening the human mind to entire realm of truth otherwise inaccessible to it and at the same time enabling him to more fully understand the truths that he can grasp by the exercise of his intelligence.

The Catholic teacher/scholar’s everyday work

I will consider the following areas: (1) preparation; (2) classroom presentation; (3) correcting papers and exams; (4) relations with students; and (5) research and publication.

1. Preparation

Preparing to teach can be considered as (A) remote; (B) proximate; and (C) immediate.

Remote preparation

Remote preparation requires the Catholic teacher, first of all, to acquire all the competency he can in his chosen area. This is absolutely indispensable if one is to dedicate one’s intelligence to the service of Christ and to pursue holiness of life in one’s work. Here it worth noting that in Fides et ratio Pope John Paul II noted with sadness that “many people stumble through life…without knowing where they are going,” and that at times “this happens because those whose vocation it is to give cultural expression to their thinking no longer look to truth, preferring quick success to the toil of patient enquiry” (no. 6). It is the Catholic teacher/scholar’s vocation, at least in part, to “give cultural expression to his thinking,” and he cannot rightly do this unless he disciplines himself in order to master the subject matter he chooses to teach. This, after all, is the “work” he freely undertakes and that he must sanctify if he is to become holy. How can one do this, how can one turn “the prose of each day into heroic verse,” as Blessed Josemaria put matters, [10] if one is not properly prepared for the work he freely chooses to do?

Moreover, not only must the Catholic teacher/scholar acquire the learning and the skills necessary competently to teach in his chosen area, he must continually deepen and enrich this learning and acquire new skills in order to keep abreast with developments in his field of study. At times this may require him to gain at least reading knowledge of a new language or competence in new technological developments that will help him to communicate better with his students.

Proximate preparation

Proximate preparation is preparing first for the specific courses and then the classes that one is to give at the times scheduled. If the teacher does not adequately prepare his courses and the classes for each day, he is not only failing to carry out his God-given and freely chosen vocation but he is also cheating his students, robbing them or their parents of money if tuition is paid, and cheating his employer. Moreover, since emergencies and unforeseen circumstances will inevitably arise that could prevent one from preparing properly for a class, let us say the day before it is scheduled, a Catholic teacher/scholar who wants to carry out his vocation to the best of his ability will have the prudence to keep several steps ahead of the class schedule, so that he will not be stumbling about or spouting hot air when situations of this kind arise.

Preparing classes, particularly if one is just beginning to teach or is going to offer a course he has never taught before, can be very demanding. But even after a teacher has had years of classroom experience the need to prepare each class properly still exists. One should, perhaps, throw away one’s old notes, or at least revise them thoroughly in the light of new knowledge. Not only ought the teacher assiduously prepare the subject matter to be covered, he ought also adequately consider the way in which it can be best presented to this particular group of students. He realizes, or soon will realize, that modes of presentation that “clicked” with one group of students, are completely out of sinc with others, and careful thought needs to be given to the best way of presenting material.

Moreover, even if one has prepared several classes in advance, a teacher/scholar conscious of his responsibilities and filled with love for his students will take the time, prior to entering the classroom, to review the material at least in his mind, anticipating difficulties that may arise, devising fresh ways of presenting the material, etc.

Immediate preparation

By this I mean how one prepares to enter the classroom and begin the class. In the Gospel according to Matthew we read: “If you bring your gift to the altar and there recall that your brother has anything against you, go first to be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (5:23-24). Analogously, if as we are about to enter the classroom, we realize that we are not prepared adequately to teach the class scheduled, it would be better for us to give the students a study period so that we will not waste their time. I believe that a Catholic teacher, prior to entering the classroom, should ask for God’s help in presenting the material and, if possible, begin the class with a prayer. One should remind oneself that classroom teaching, if it is to be integrated rightly into one’s baptismal commitment to holiness, must be a work of love. It cannot be a work of love if one sloppily prepares it and if one does not love the students one is about to teach.

2. Classroom presentation

Here I will be brief. I believe that certain things must be avoided. The first is a boring presentation. We have all of us suffered through horribly boring classes, and usually they were boring because they were either inadequately prepared, or the teacher found the subject matter boring or the job of teaching it boring. If a teacher ever becomes bored with the subject he is teaching or with the job of teaching it, then in honesty he ought to resign his post.

A second thing to avoid is a failure to speak loudly enough so that one can be heard or to write (if this is done on the blackboard) illegibly. Care must be taken to present the material intelligibly to the students.

More positively, any teacher, but above all a Catholic teacher/scholar, ought to do everything that lies within his power to communicate to the students a love of learning, particularly of the subject he is teaching.  The teacher, in other words, ought himself to be in love with learning and love the subject matter he has chosen to teach. He has obviously found something attractive in it or else it hardly makes any sense why he would have chosen to master this area of study and seek to communicate it to others. Just as romance in marriage needs to be kept alive, so too the teacher must nurture his love of learning and in particular his love of the subject matter he teaches. Only if he does so can he hope to pass this love on to his students.

The Catholic teacher/scholar ought also to be cheerful in presenting the material. By this I mean that he must help his students to see that learning, and particularly learning about this subject matter, can be an occasion of joy, of coming to a deeper appreciation of God’s goodness and the bonds of fellowship that the common pursuit of learning can forge and of the joy that this can bring. The teacher ought not to come across to his students as a crab, as one who thinks life in general, and teaching, particularly teaching these students, is a pain, a kind of martyrdom. Quite the opposite should be the mood communicated.

Finally, the teacher must be alert to student reaction, ready to clarify difficult matters, patient in answering questions but preventing anyone from monopolizing his attention or leading matters astray, down dead ends or into irrelevant byways.

3. Correcting papers and exams

This, I believe, is perhaps the hardest task in the teacher’s life, but it is absolutely imperative that the teacher carry it out meticulously and carefully. The essential issue here is fairness to the students. It is necessary to read their papers and exams thoroughly, and resist any temptation to give a higher or lower grade than merited because of any feelings toward particular students. Some papers and exams will be a joy to read and correct—the better ones, others will drive one to the wall in attempting to make sense of them, and still other may evoke anger student incompetence and/or laziness. After a while, one begins to know one’s students and to know which ones will do well and which ones will turn in papers and exams very difficult to correct and grade properly. Although no hard and fast rules can be given, I might suggest that one first correct exams and papers that, one suspects, will be the most challenging to correct and grade properly. If one puts them at the end, it’s possible that one will be in a hurry to get the task over with and fail to give them the attention needed for a proper evaluation.

I also believe that, ordinarily, particularly for high school, college and university students, one is not properly responding to student papers merely by giving a grade. One should try to comment on the papers, offering constructive criticisms or suggestions for further developing a topic if the paper is quite good. To do this will demand more of the teacher’s time and energy, but a Catholic teacher/scholar who wants to sanctify his work, sanctify himself in it, and sanctify others through it, will want to do it. Students will deeply appreciate the teacher’s efforts in this regard. Only in this way will the love that the teacher should have for his students be deepened as it should be.

4. Relations with students

It is only natural for teachers to find some students easier to get along with than others and find others very difficult to handle and still others whom one would prefer not to teach at all because of their attitudes and behavior—and perhaps some students should be expelled.  But the Catholic is required to respect and indeed love each one of his students, to treat them with dignity and respect, while firmly maintaining discipline.

It is wrong to treat students “equally,” because of real differences among them that require different treatment. But it is absolutely imperative to treat them are “equitably,” that is, justly, fairly, with consideration and respect. Although some may be “favorite” because of their intellectual and other skills and character traits, none should be the teacher’s “pet” or special friend. I think that the teacher should be friendly to all his students and, in a real sense, to be their friend. But teacher and student must never become chums or buddies. I think that as one’s graduate students come to the end of their doctoral studies and when one has been the student’s mentor, a particular teacher-student bond can be allowed to develop. It may even be possible at this stage to allow the student to address one by one’s first name, but I believe that it is more prudent to wait until one’s student can be regarded as one’s “colleague” before allowing him to address one by one’s first name. It is, I believe, wrong to allow students to call one by one’s first name. If the Catholic teacher is to do his work properly he must maintain a professional “distance” between himself and his students. It is not proper for him to become their chums or buddies because this would not honor the difference between teacher and student. Familiarity can and does breed contempt, and true friendship is something far different from familiarity.

5. Research and publication

Some Catholic teacher/scholars, in order properly to carry out their vocation, are called to do original research and publication. I thus wish briefly to address this matter.

I think the principal thing to avoid is publishing merely for the sake of publishing. In my opinion, many allegedly scholarly journals are filled with junk that is a waste of time to read, and at times, particularly because of the “publish or perish” atmosphere prevalent in many institutions, one is tempted to get something published just for the sake of publishing something.

If research and publication is demanded or desired, there is plenty to do. The Church needs good research and publication, not only in such areas as philosophy, theology, Church history, etc. but in every area of human enquiry, for this contributes to the glory of God and the redemption of the world. One should select an  area for research because of its intrinsic interest, its importance in one’s field of study and/or to the lives of people today, etc., and an area where one can competently carry out one’s investigations.

            In doing research for publication the principal requirement is honest research and publication. One must not make claims that are not rooted in the truth or that go beyond the evidence and arguments advanced, and this at times is a temptation. Moreover, one must be fair in presenting and particularly in criticizing the views of persons with whom one disagrees. All too frequently one discovers that a particular author’s position has been caricatured or distorted, a straw man has been erected, precisely so that one can, as it were, demolish his opponent. I could offer many illustrations of this, but there is no need to do so. 

“Little” things

By “little things” here I do not mean those central to the Catholic teacher/scholar’s work as teacher/scholar (e.g., preparing classes well, taking care to correct a student’s misunderstanding) but rather what Blessed Josemaria called the “trifling opportunities that come our way” every day [11]--the way we greet others, cope with the frustrations we encounter (traffic jams, missing chalk, computer failure, etc. etc.). All of these trifling opportunities must be turned into occasions of showing love to others. Indeed, these trifling matters are, as it were, the “oil, the fuel we need to keep our flame alive and light shining.” [12] Blessed Josemaria says that one of the greatest dangers we face in fulfilling our vocation to be saints in the midst of the world lies in imagining that “God cannot be here, in the things of each instant, because they are so simple and ordinary.” [13] Great holiness, the founder of Opus Dei rightly noted, “consists in carrying out the ‘little’ duties of each day.” [14]


The vocation of a Catholic teacher/scholar is a specific way of living out the common Christian vocation to holiness, a vocation given to every Christian when he was baptized and freely choose to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus, his brother or sister, alive with his life, led by his Spirit, obedient to his loving Father. The Catholic teacher/scholar executes this specific vocation by doing well his work as a teacher/scholar. Only by sanctifying this work, sanctifying himself in it, and sanctifying others through it will he be faithful to his baptismal commitment and become fully the being his Father wills him to be: a child as faithful to his Father as his only-begotten Son, filled with the Spirit of life and love.


[*] This essay was published in The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly 24.2 (Spring 2001), and is placed here with permission.

[1] On this see Blessed Josemaria Escrivá, Carta, Roma, March 19, 1954; cited by Pedro Rodriguez, Vocacion, trabajo, contemplacion (Pamplona: EUNSA, 1986), p. 93; Blessed Josemaria Escrivá, Friends of God: Homilies by Josemaria Escrivá de Balaguer (New Rochelle, NY: Scepter, 1986), nos. 2, 177, 294.

[2] Here John Paul II cites a passage from Vatican Council II's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, 5, which in turn cites from Vatican Council's I Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Dei Filius, Chapter 3.

[3] See St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 1-2, q. 108, a. 4, sed contra: “Christus maxime est sapiens et amicus.”

[4] Blessed Josemaria Escrivá, “Passionately Loving the World,” in Conversations with Msgr. Josemaria Escrivá (Manila: Sinag-Tala Publishers, 1985), no. 113.

[5] See ibid, no. 55; Christ Is Passing By, no. 46; Friends of God, no. 9.

[6] On the subject of personal vocation see Germain Grisez, The Way of the Lord Jesus, Vol. 1, Christian Moral Principles (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1983), pp. 559-561; 673-676.

[7] On this see Dei Verbum, no. 10, and Lumen gentium, no. 25.

[8] Etienne Gilson, The Intelligence in the Service of Christ the King (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Scepter Booklets, n.d.), Booklet # 167. This essay originally appeared in Gilson’s Christianity and Philosophy (New York: Scribner’s, 1939), pp. 103-125. References here are to the Scepter Booklet reprint. The passage cited is from p. 16.

[9] Ibid.  p. 9.

[10]   Blessed Josemaria Escrivá, Christ Is Passing By, no. 50.

[11] Homily, “The Richness of Everyday Life,” in Friends of God, no. 9, p. 6.

[12] Ibid., no. 41, p. 36.

[13] Blessed Josemaria, Homily “Toward Holiness,” in Friends of God, no. 313, pp. 271-272.

[14] See The Way, nos. 813-830.

Copyright ©; William E. May 2002

Version: 20th February 2002

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