Teaching is like fatherhood. In fact, in the ancient world, it was considered a form of fatherhood. In the Oath of Hippocrates, medical students promised to take care of their aging teachers who had “fathered” them in the healing arts. In early Judaism, the rabbis were considered “fathers” to their disciples. And, of course, the Church came to look upon its first teachers as “the Fathers.”
A teacher gives away a part of himself to his students, and they carry it forward into the future — just as my sons and daughter will carry forward my genetic material. In the natural order, it’s as close as we come to immortality.
Yet, because I’m teaching theology, this intimation of immortality comes with a touch of the supernatural as well.
As I prepare this issue for press, I’m packing my bags for a most exciting transatlantic trip. I’m flying to Rome to sit as witness as my first doctoral student defends his dissertation. His name is Vincent DeMeo, and he has completed a carefully researched and argued manuscript on covenant kinship in chapters 13-17 of St. John’s Gospel. An American, Vince was my student years ago, as he pursued his undergraduate degree. Now he’s assistant professor of Scripture and theology at the International Theological Institute in Gaming, Austria. His colleagues and students tell me that he’s one of the most popular and effective teachers on that school’s very distinguished faculty.
As a teacher I’ve felt a certain fulfillment as I guide Vince through these last stages of his formal education. Once through the gate, he will have the credentials to teach — the very subject I teach — just about anywhere in the world. Again, this satisfies something “parental” in a teacher’s nature. For parents don’t raise children to be good children. We raise them to be good adults, who will, in their turn, raise up a new generation of good adults.
So a teacher is overjoyed when his student, the child of his intellect, goes into the “family business.”
The ancient Fathers delighted in their sense of continuity in the Church. They passed on what they received from the Apostles, and it pleased them to do so.
Now I can say with certainty: I know how they feel.
But the work isn’t over. While I’m in Rome I’ll also be teaching an intensive course on “Scripture, Liturgy, and Eschatology” to a class mostly made up of seminarians. So we’ll begin the process all over again, lighting a new fire, exciting the intellect, inspiring the heart.
By the time you read this, I’ll have returned home (God willing) and I’ll be packing for another trip to Rome, this time with my wife, Kimberly, and my three youngest sons. It’s the first time I’ll be in the city for Holy Week. I promise to take your intentions with me. Please remember me and the St. Paul Center in your prayers and alms as you enter this holy moment, this season of joy.