Spiritual Formation

The Courage to Serve
by Reverend Louis J. Cameli, STD

For me the ministry of adult formation has always seemed truly formidable, if not intimidating. How could I foster faith in others who were just like me and, sometimes, gifted with experiences that exceeded mine? I knew it was more than a matter of programs, structures, and information—as important as these might be in their own way. There seemed to be some missing element that I just could not name.

Then one day, while reading Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, he seemed to answer my questions directly from his experience. In two passages, one in chapter 11 concerning the Eucharist (v. 23) and the other in chapter 15 concerning the Resurrection (v. 3), Paul uses an old and solemn rabbinic formula. In both places he says, “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.” Paul clearly understands that he is an instrument, a vehicle for sharing the person of Jesus Christ and the content of faith. At the same time, he knows that he can only share because he has already received what he is to share and the One whom he is to proclaim.

Paul does not use our language or turns-of-phrase. He would not speak of “adult faith formation,” but, in fact, he is deeply involved in it. He is fully conscious that he is not merely sharing knowledge about Jesus Christ or information about faith. He is sharing himself as one who has been touched, formed, and reformed by Jesus Christ. Paul is aware that his faith is the critical and necessary instrument to foster faith in the people he serves. This awareness becomes evident in the power of his conviction, in his passion, and in his creative eloquence in proclaiming and presenting Jesus Christ crucified and risen.

Over a thousand years later, Saint Thomas Aquinas coined a phrase that has become the motto of the Dominicans and a well-accepted definition of preaching: contemplata aliis tradere, to hand on to others what we ourselves have contemplated. This thought follows a straight line from Paul. Our best proclamation, our best preaching, our best faith formation has its foundation in the Word that has taken root in our hearts. What you have received as a gift, give as a gift. (See Matthew 10:8.)

When we want to serve or help people, of course we hope to succeed and do something good for them. That mindset can put the focus on our performance. In matters of adult faith formation that would be a mistake. If Paul is correct and if Saint Thomas correctly echoes him, then our first and guiding focus must be on our own faith. We hand on what we have received. Indeed, the whole of our lives in faith are marked by this rhythm of reception and donation, acceptance and gift.

For Reflection

Describe some ways that you could make Paul’s words—“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you”—your own. What have you been given that you would like to share with others?

We hand on what we have received.

Father Louis J. Cameli is a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago and pastor of Divine Savior Parish in Norridge, Illinois. He completed his theological studies at the Gregorian University in Rome and obtained a doctorate in theology with a specialization in spirituality. He is the former director of ongoing formation of priests in the Archdiocese of Chicago and director of the Cardinal Stritch Retreat House, Mundelein, Illinois. In February, 2002, he received the Pope John XXIII Award from the National Organization for the Continuing Education of Roman Catholic Clergy (NOCERCC) for his contributions to the continuing education and ongoing formation of priests. He has authored numerous books on spirituality and also served as a writer and theological consultant for RCL’s Faith First Legacy Edition K-8 curriculum.