By Father Jacob Dankasa
Special to The Texas Catholic
When I was in seminary we were always told that the formation we received in the seminary was the beginning of our learning experience, not the end, that when we became priests we needed to stay updated with new information, new theology, new learning. We were told that on-going formation as a priest is not a choice, but a necessity, that a priest who won’t update his knowledge will find himself stagnant, lacking the ability to live an effective priestly life.
After more than 15 years of priestly service, I can attest to the truth of this advice. Not only in priestly life, but in any life profession, a lack of professional development will leave an individual ill-equipped for his daily activities. One needs to constantly update, and thus stand ready for the challenges of any professional life.
This idea is akin to Jesus’ parable of the ten wise and foolish virgins (Matt. 25:1-13). They all came with their oils, but the wise ones came with a little extra so that they could refill if their oil ran out. The foolish ones, on the other hand, never thought of the future; they were so satisfied with what they had that they felt there would be no need for anything extra. They thought that what they had was enough. Unfortunately, when they ran out they had to go out to get more, and by the time they returned the door was locked.
This story of the 10 virgins admonishes us to be wise and vigilant, always ready for the coming of Christ, but beyond this it has many more life lessons to teach us. First, it helps us to understand that, as Christians, our desire to be religious or spiritual doesn’t end at the reception of a sacrament or by merely being a “member of a church.” To be spiritual is an ongoing endeavor — it needs constant revising and updating. Just as a priest needs ongoing formation and a career man needs regular professional development, Christians need constant spiritual rejuvenation. If our spirituality ends at merely being a member of a church, or by reception of the sacraments, then we will have a stagnant spirituality and our oil will quickly be used up.
To be spiritual does include being a member of a church and the reception of the sacraments, but it goes far beyond that. To keep the oil of church membership and sacramental reception burning, we need to make our spirituality an ongoing journey by becoming persons of prayer, and committed and engaged members of our faith communities. We must read the scriptures constantly and become models of true Christian life that others can learn from. A Christian who is satisfied by just being a member of the church or just receiving the sacraments, without allowing the church and the sacraments to help him grow, will be like the five foolish virgins whose oil ran out.
As Christians, we need to keep our oils burning like the wise virgins through a life of frequent prayer and study of the scriptures and the teachings of the Church. We should read books and materials about spirituality, the lives of the saints, and how to grow in holiness and the knowledge of God. We need to develop lives of service to the church and society, and to become actively involved in our church communities.
If we don’t take the time to update our faith and spirituality, we will be unable to help others know and understand the faith. If all I know about the faith is what I was taught in my faith formation preparation for a sacrament, or only what I hear the priest or deacon preach about on a Sunday, then I will probably run out of oil someday when I’m confronted with more challenging questions or situations, those that were not answered by faith formation classes or homilies.
As Christians, we need to delve deeply, learn more about our faith, and strive to grow our spirituality — to build a supply of extra oil — by praying more, studying more, and participating more in the activities of our faith.
Father Jacob Dankasa is a parochial vicar at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Wylie.