One of the most unpleasant duties of my employment as parish priest is when I have to thwart what folks want to do. A couple of examples will illustrate what I'm talking about. Many times in the course of my ministry I have the singularly rotten duty of trying to explain to the recently bereaved that if they choose to cremate their dead, they are still obligated to bury or entomb the remains. Cremated remains are due the same respect, and are to be handled in the same way as a body. On the other side of life, I often have to tell new parents that the persons they have chosen as their child's godparents are ineligible for the role, either because they have not completed their own sacramental initiation, are not (yet) seeking convalidation for marriages contracted outside of canonical form, or are simulating marriage through cohabitation.
To these, and many other similarly combative assertions I have to make, I often receive the very annoyed answer, 'Well, I never heard of that.'
Now I'm not forgiving the voluntary ignorance of Catholics who have not made any effort to be informed about the faith. But have I been complicit with it?
How often have I tried to stir up the eagerness of adults to complete their sacramental initiation through Confirmation? Have I preached that eligibility for joys like sacramental sponsorship presupposes it?
How often have I preached on the expectations of Catholics with regard to marriage? How often have I preached against cohabitation or getting married at city hall? And if I have not preached on the meaning of marriage, should I be surprised when Catholics have such an impoverished sense of what marriage is that they don't automatically see through this nonsense about same-sex marriage being some kind of 'civil right'?
How often have I preached--apart from funerals themselves--on the meaning of Christian death and the destiny of the physical body?
Have I preached against the crime of abortion? Even though the warnings of Humanae vitae have turned out to be uncannily prophetic, am I still afraid to preach against artificial birth control and other so-called 'reproductive technologies' that deny the dignity of the human person?
I say all this because I don't think I've done it, nor is it my experience that priests tend to preach on such things. Most priests want to be nice, so we don't preach in such a way as to make demands, or tell people what they have to do. But if I don't do these things, should I be surprised when folks say, 'Well, I never heard of that.'? If they have never heard of some Catholic teaching or ordinary expectation of Catholic life, it's my fault, and I can expect to be held accountable for it at my judgment, at least in part.
It's not fair for me to call people on their ignorance if I have refused to be their teacher.
May God help me to live up to Presbyterorum ordinis 6:
Priests therefore, as educators in the faith, must see to it either by themselves or through others that the faithful are led individually in the Holy Spirit to a development of their own vocation according to the Gospel, to a sincere and practical charity, and to that freedom with which Christ has made us free. Ceremonies however beautiful, or associations however flourishing, will be of little value if they are not directed toward the education of men to Christian maturity. In furthering this, priests should help men to see what is required and what is God's will in the important and unimportant events of life. Also, Christians should be taught that they live not only for themselves, but, according to the demands of the new law of charity; as every man has received grace, he must administer the same to others. In this way, all will discharge in a Christian manner their duties in the community of men.