In the 12th chapter of John’s Gospel account, Greeks who had come to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover approach Philip, one of Jesus’ apostles, and request, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”
I think this is the oftentimes unspoken request of every student within our Catholic schools. “Sir, or ma’am, we would like to see Jesus.”
In fact, this concept of searching is found in the opening chapter of John’s Gospel, too. Jesus Himself asks two of John the Baptist’s disciples: “What are you looking for?”
They respond, “Master, where are you staying?”
Jesus commands, “Come and see.”
As Catholic educators we must respond to this request of our students to see Jesus with the words of Lord and Savior, “Come and see.”
Our Catholic schools must be distinctly different. All to whom we minister must know that we are Catholic by our love. This love must be palpable. It must be immediately apparent. It is in our Catholic schools that students must meet Jesus and come to know Him, love Him and serve Him. It’s up to teachers to create this environment.
In 1988, the Congregation for Catholic Education, in a work entitled The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, wrote:
Prime responsibility for creating this unique Christian school climate rests with the teachers, as individuals and as a community...If it is not present, then there is little left which can make the school Catholic (#26).In a 1997 document, The Catholic School on the Threshold of the 3rd Millennium, the Congregation continues:
Teaching has an extraordinary moral depth and is one of man's most excellent and creative activities, for the teacher does not write on inanimate material, but on the very spirits of human beings. The personal relations between the teacher and the students, therefore, assume an enormous importance and are not limited simply to giving and taking. Moreover, we must remember that teachers and educators fulfill a specific Christian vocation and share an equally specific participation in the mission of the Church, to the extent that "it depends chiefly on them whether the Catholic school achieves its purpose" (#19).If our students are to see Jesus, it is up to our teachers.
As adults we sometimes lose the ability to detect when someone is being inauthentic. Kids, though, have a heightened sense of authenticity. They notice the hypocrisy of when we as adults say one thing and do another, when we fail to practice what we preach.
Therefore, the lives of our teachers must be living testimonies of what it means to follow Jesus in the Catholic faith. Our teachers must embody a synthesis of culture, faith and life and make Jesus incarnate to our students.
No program, no curriculum, no lesson can do this. Disciples make disciples.
As Catholic school teachers, we must be the prototype for our students to follow. As disciples of their teachers, students should see Jesus in their teachers and students should be able to follow everything that their teacher does as a pathway to achieving our goals - to and through college and into heaven.
Think about that. What if your students were to follow everything that you did - everything - where would it get them? Would it get them to greatness? Would it get them to holiness? Would it get them to sainthood?
All of it matters and every moment is Incarnational. The adults within our Catholic schools are the people that will make Jesus incarnate for our students to see, to come to know, to begin to love and to ultimately serve.
It’s up to the teachers whether or not the Catholic school achieves its purpose.
I was fortunate to have had many outstanding teachers who helped to form and inspire me. I’m sure that you did, too. And I think you’d agree that the most impactful ones, the teachers who really made a difference in our lives weren’t just the ones that got to know us or held us to high expectations. They were the ones who met us where we were in order to get us to where they knew that we could go. They were the ones who, in the words of St. John Bosco, loved what we loved so that we would love what they love. They made learning relevant but at the same time taught with such power and conviction that we paid attention to every word, every action, every moment. They were great storytellers. They were humble. They were experts in their field. They were passionate. They were playful. They were merciful. They loved us.
In short, they taught as Jesus did.