A Radical Sabbatical

The word sabbatical comes from the biblical Sabbath — the seventh day of creation, when God rested from his labors. The Sabbath was, ever afterward, the weekly holy day when Israel imitated God by refraining from work.

Last month I began a sabbatical year, a break from my ordinary labors at the university. But it’s not a vacation. It is, rather, a year of freedom to do work that is usually difficult if not impossible for me to take on. The life of a professor ordinarily keeps me close to the classroom and limits the time I can spend traveling. This year, however, I can break away — even at midweek — to lead seminars far from my home base.

A sabbatical means I’m at liberty to take up work that I consider supremely important — the teaching of teachers. As much as I love teaching young people, I know that I can do more good when I reach large groups of professors who share my vocation of teaching young people. If I can get through to them, I’ll influence not only them, but also their students. The effect is exponentially greater.

So I’ve made that a special focus of my sabbatical year so far, with trips to several institutes of higher education in the areas around Denver, Colorado, and Washington, D.C.

In Denver I addressed the entire faculties of both the Augustine Institute and Saint John Vianney Seminary. I spoke about my new book, Consuming the Word: The New Testament and the Eucharist in the Early Church, and I spoke about the New Evangelization, called for by all the popes in recent memory. Both talks gave way to lively conversation as we discussed our common work with future priests and leaders in the Church.

It gave me great hope to see such brilliant men and women teaching in such strong and vibrant institutions — colleges that didn’t even exist twenty years ago! They’re going into a difficult future with eyes wide open, and yet with great joy, because they know God’s grace — and because they have your assistance. I made sure that each and every faculty member left with a complete set of our academic journal, Letter and Spirit.

From Denver I traveled east to Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, and the Notre Dame Catechetical Institute in Alexandria. As in Colorado, I met with both faculties, gave talks, and engaged in hope-filled conversations about the future. As in Colorado, I presented all these professors with the full shelf of our Letter and Spirit journal, which they were grateful to receive.

One professor said he was quite familiar with Letter and Spirit, as it is considered the “gold standard” in biblical theology at the Roman universities where he studied.

Christendom College’s president, Dr. Timothy O’Donnell, said in introducing me that no one in the last generation has contributed as much to Catholic biblical studies as I’ve accomplished with your help.

That’s the key, and that is the lesson that this sabbatical is enabling me to learn. With your help, the St. Paul Center has, in a little more than a decade, produced a fairly vast amount of scholarly and popular works related to Scripture, liturgy, and Catholic doctrine. In addition to our academic journal, we have produced a parish- and home-based Bible-study program, Journey Through Scripture. We have turned out reference works, monographs, devotional works, homily helps, videos, podcasts. We have sponsored conferences, pilgrimages, retreats, and seminars — for laity, clergy, scholars, and even bishops.

You have empowered this work through your ardent prayer, through your kind words of encouragement, through the ideas you share with us, and through your generous donations.

Jesus continued his important work even on the Sabbath (John 5:16-17). I will keep working — with you — all through this sabbatical!

I thank you for your companionship and your response to God’s call.