After publishing my opinion piece about the Framework for Motions for the Plenary Council, I had many people approach me asking if I had graduated from Campion College or had spent any time in the seminary.
While politely answering in the negative, it occurred to me that there is clearly an assumption that in order to be a well-formed Catholic, one must squarely fit into a Campion/seminary dichotomy. Despite my admiration for Campion College and its curriculum, I am here to tell you otherwise.
It would seem that, since it is their job to teach, govern, and sanctify, the bishops would be the go-to people for guidance on formation. While they are able to provide broad guidelines, it is not always practical for the local bishop to be your first point of call regarding faith and morals. So, where do you go from there?
As the Internet is a notoriously unreliable place for asking life-altering questions, the three most common sources of formation, outside of the bishops, are your family, your parish, and your education.
I recall as clear as day a conversation I had with a bishop around the time of the same-sex marriage debate: he told me that the laity need to form and teach each other when the bishops do not, or are unable to, rise to the challenge.
What does it mean to be “formed”, though? When you encounter a well-formed Catholic on the street, what is it about them that screams “formation”? The first Holy Father, St Peter, offers us our answer: “sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy everyone that asks you a reason for that hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). A practicing Catholic ready to answer for the hope that is in his or her heart and is living a sacramental life of devotion is a well-formed Catholic.
To paraphrase the Book of Proverbs: Iron sharpens iron; a Catholic can – so to speak – sharpen the countenance of their Catholic friend (Proverbs 27:17). Continuous formation in the faith is a team effort; we should not believe that we can do it on our own.
To sharpen other Catholics in their formation, though, does not require playing perpetual devil’s advocate with other Catholics and being stuck in an endless cycle of theological debate.
Rather, Our Lord tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that we should let our light shine, that others may see our good works and glorify God (Matt 5:16). Luckily, for people like myself who have not been to Campion College nor the seminary, Christ does not demand intellectualism in order to be a well-formed lay Catholic.
The laity of the 21st Century are, generally speaking, among the most intelligent people in the history of the world: we understand complex scientific equations alongside Marie Curie, engage in logical debate with the likes of Aristotle, and can strategise in war with the likes of Major Richard Winters. The Apostles, however, are not us, nor were they as intellectual as these examples.
Why this left field segue comparing the intellects of the Apostles and people of history? To give some hope. We all have the capacity for greatness, yet it was the first Christians who were far less educated than we who spread the Gospel message by their witness throughout the world.
In Immortale Dei, Pope Leo XIII says that because of the devotion of the First Christians, the Faith found its way “not only into private houses but into the camp, the senate, and even the imperial palaces” (ID, 45). In the early Church, only a handful of infant dioceses had the privilege of having correspondence with the Apostles. Largely, most Christians believed because of, and received their formation from, local priests and the laity.
As members of the Church, we have the enormous privilege to be able to dive into the traditions of our faith, including taking inspiration from the saints and first Christians. As a timeless institution, we can take up arms in formation with the members of the Church Triumphant to mend the wounds of division among us, live a devout life, and answer for the Hope that is in each of us.
Patrick O’Shea is a young pro-life activist and a staff member of the Archdiocese of Sydney