January 21, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Agnes, virgin and martyr

“I will put my laws in their minds and I will write them upon their hearts. I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his fellow citizen and kin, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know me, from least to greatest. For I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sins no more.”

These words from Jeremiah are, according to our first reading today, fulfilled in Christ.  It seems strange that in the middle of a long teaching about the Lord, there would be this quote about not teaching.  It is clear that the fulfillment of the prophecy does not involve everyone having sudden and complete knowledge of the faith.  If it were so, all homilies, all catechesis, and every bit of theology would be useless.

In this prophecy, rather than finding a reason to discard all Christian teaching, we see the point of Christian teaching.  We know that the Holy Spirit is the only real teacher.  When someone is filled with the Holy Spirit, they learn about God in a way that puts the most beautiful teaching to shame.  However, the teaching is a necessary component in this work of the Holy Spirit.

We who have been commissioned by the Church to teach the faith must remember that if we only filled a mind with facts we would be utter failures.  We must fill the soul with the Holy Spirit.  The means to this might be an exhortation or an explanation or even rote memorization, but these are not the ends.  We speak of the beautiful things of our faith because they lead the soul to fall in love with God.  We read books about Saints or theology because we must prepare the way for the Lord.

The Holy Spirit comes as a consuming fire but also very gently.  If God pushed us too hard we would break. When the Holy Spirit comes to a mind that is filled with the things of God he can do his work.  When he comes to a mind filled with the things of this world, he is completely misunderstood.  It is in this way that study is immensely important but also ludicrously inadequate. All teaching, even by the greatest Saints, is merely a preparation for the Holy Spirit who will come when we are ready and teach us without words.