Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Teaching as Jesus Did: Orthodox, Relevant, Authentic

Jesus used stories known as parables to teach. The Gospels include 46 parables told by Jesus to His disciples, friends, family, enemies, and crowds to reveal to us the deepest truths about who God is. 

Jesus employed three different types of parables in His teaching: similitudes, parables, and exemplary stories (Boucher, 1998). All of them rely on the things of everyday life: what it is like to lose a coin or something precious, the difficulties of parenthood, farming, working, shepherding. In this way, Jesus masterfully used events and situations that were known by and relevant to His audience to teach about Truth. 

While Jesus admitted that not all of His parables are easily understood (Mt. 13:10-15), all of them used something relevant to teach something orthodox. What's more, the authenticity with which Jesus taught conveyed the power of His message in even more profound ways. When He taught about love, mercy, forgiveness or anything, He taught with the authority of embodying these actions perfectly. There was no gap between His practice and His preaching. 

To teach as Jesus did requires us to teach in orthodox, relevant and authentic ways. 

James Tissot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The 1972 document, To Teach As Jesus Did, written by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the forerunner to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, focused on Christian educational ministry in a broad sense: adult education, higher education, campus ministry, catechetical programs, Catholic schools, and youth ministry. Citing the mandate the apostles and in turn the Church received from Jesus, the bishops wrote, “Within both the Christian community and the educational ministry the mission to teach as Jesus did is a dynamic mandate for Christians of all times, places, and conditions” (National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1972, #4).  

If we are to teach as Jesus did, we must balance relevance with orthodoxy. Our audience must encounter something relevant in order to encounter God's revelation. If our message fails to be accessible, even the most brilliant theological thought will go unabsorbed.  "The Church, too, must use contemporary methods and language to proclaim the message of Christ to men and women today. The proclamation of the message is therefore 'not a mere repetition of ancient doctrine' (General Catechetical Directory, 13)" (National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1972, #18).

Similarly, we must also ensure authenticity in our proclamation of truth. The inability of the herald of the Good News to practice what he/she preaches often results in a dismissal of the message. Sometimes the separation between what is said and what is done can cause irreparable harm. Unfortunately, our world has many wolves in sheep's clothing.  

This is why the Church views those of us who form the apostolate of Catholic educators as essential to the mission of Christ. Teachers must be the people who demonstrate to students of any age the successful integration of faith, culture, and life, "This integration of religious truth and values with the rest of life is brought about in the Catholic school not only by its unique curriculum but, more importantly, by the presence of teachers who express an integrated approach to learning and living in their private and professional lives” (National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1972, #104).

As St. Pope Paul VI stated and wrote, "Modern (hu)man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he(/she) does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses" (Pope Paul VI, 1975, #41). 

So, how do we teach like Jesus did? How do we balance relevance, orthodoxy and authenticity? How do we teach as witnesses? 

Simply: spend more time with Jesus. We become like the people with whom we spend the most time. Also, we can't teach about what, or Whom, we don't know. 

More specifically, try any or all of the following:

  • Pray. There doesn't need to be a script or formula or program behind your time of prayer. Just dialogue with Jesus on a consistent basis.
  • Talk to someone whose faith you admire. Don't be intimidated. A true disciple will be honored by your acknowledgement of their faith. And, disciples create disciples.   
  • Read the scripture from the daily Mass, or at the very least the Gospel, where we can witness Jesus's life and words: https://bible.usccb.org
  • Spend (more) time in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Adoration is being in the presence of someone you love. You don't need to say anything or do anything. You can just be. Even just for five minutes, just be with God. 
  • Receive Holy Communion and/or Reconciliation more often than your current practice. 
  • Pray the Rosary. Mary brought Jesus into the world; when we go to her, she can bring Her Son to us. Start small (consider praying one Rosary per month, or one Rosary a week, or a decade of the Rosary five days a week, or even just a heartfelt Hail Mary). And, do some research. These six minutes from Dr. Edward Sri are well worth the investment (24:35 - 30:15). 
As we embark on this journey of faith, we will start to orient our lives more and more in Christ-centered ways. We will start to see connections between something that Christ said and something said by a family member, friend, student or co-worker. We will start to notice the true, the good, and the beautiful more often in what we watch, listen to, and read. We will also start to adjust our lives to more authentically demonstrate how our faith informs our lives. 
As Catholic educators, it is imperative that we do so. “Faithful to the past and open to the future, we must accept the burden and welcome the opportunity of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ in our times. Where this is a summons to change, we must be willing to change. Where this is a call to stand firm, we must not yield" (National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1972, #41). 

If we want to teach more like Jesus did, we must set out to become more like Jesus, "who is at once the inspiration, the content, and the goal of Christian education: 'the way, and the truth, and the life'" (National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1972, #155).  

Boucher, M. (1998, April). The Parables. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/jesus/parables.html

National Conference of Catholic Bishops. (1972, November). To Teach As Jesus Did: A Pastoral Message on Catholic Education. Retrieved from https://curate.nd.edu/downloads/xd07gq70w5z