A few days ago, Toadspittle commented on my Chesterton post, asking where today’s great writers and teachers are. Elizabeth Scalia has fielded a similar question, saying:
You can’t make a better start than with our good Pope Benedict XVI, who writes and preaches incessantly, and also with the classic teachers from down the ages; and you can get a lot of their material in free downloads, to build a fine Catholic library on the cheap.
And let’s not forget — as another commenter answered in that thread: “Frs. William Casey, Wade Menezes, Frank Pavone, John Riccardo, Robert Barron…” yeah, I’d add Fr. Dwight and all those lay preachers who hang with Scott Hahn.
There are plenty of great Catholic teachers around — some of them don’t even draw much attention to themselves, they just stay on message. Some of them work in your parish. Some great Catholic teachers live with you, or around you. Some of them are female, and teaching with the witness of their lives.
A nun friend of mine wrote to me recently: “People do not realize how much they have been formed by the media and the expectation that “True” Catholicism is to be “successful” and look good! I’m very, very leery of charismatic priests or teachers…”
I think there is some truth in that. Media — especially television — has gotten us very used to thinking that something is only valuable or worthwhile if it looks good, has high production values and delivers its message in a snazzy, entertaining way. But I always think back to Rumer Godden’s wonderful and instructive novel, In This House of Brede, in which a novice mistress tells her newbies:
“We don’t put much faith in ecstasies, here . . . the nun you see rapt away in church isn’t likely to be the holiest. The holiest one is probably the one you would never notice, because she is simply doing her duty.”
In my parish, we are very fortunate to have priests who bring the gospel every week, in their preaching — which may not always be “inspired” but is always true — in their reverent celebration of the mass, and in all of their encounters with the faithful. They’re by no means glamorous; they rarely make you want to spontaneously applaud their homilies (although that did happen, once). They’re just faithful men living out their callings, doing their duty, in season in out, when they’re sick and when they’re well — conferring the sacraments, leading Benediction, meeting with the grieving, or the joyful to plan a liturgy, anointing the sick, giving spiritual guidance, walking the outside parameter of the church in endless loops while saying a rosary (“I’m walking to Jerusalem!” one of them once greeted me). Nothing special or fascinating about these fellows.
They’re just everyday heroes, doing their duty, kind of like another great teacher, St. John Vianney.
For those who like to think in terms of troops and soldiers, these unremarkable, faithful servants are the guys — they’re on the front lines, every day, doing their duty, standing a watch, taking a lot of abuse from haters and know-nothings, and from some in their own congregations who don’t understand why they can’t be better, smarter, more charismatic. They suffer for the sins of the church; they pay for their otherness with a measure of loneliness and misunderstanding. They hardly ever get invited to supper, anywhere, and their intentions almost never get prayed for, because most of us are too busy either criticizing them or bringing our troubles to them.
Yet they keep at it, every single day: a life lived in service to the sacraments, in service to the sheep.
And we don’t thank them, enough.
Luckily for us, they don’t take on that duty in order to be thanked. Or even noticed, by anyone but God.