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 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Fully Alive

The glory of God is a human being fully alive. 

-St. Irenaeus

My dad would often encourage me by saying, "You're a jack of all trades, master of none." While this might come across as defeatist, I always took it to heart and wore it as a badge of honor. 

I've never been amazing at anything, but I've been blessed to be pretty good at lots of things. My interests have always been varied and diverse: sports, music, writing. I've taught English, science, and math. I've been an Athletic Director, Principal and am currently a Professor. 

One constant in all of these various pursuits: my faith. 

And, as I've gotten older, I've seen how my faith enlivens my efforts in all aspects of my life. 

This started in a profound way upon my entry into high school at Benedictine in Cleveland, Ohio. Up to this point, I had attended public schools, with my faith being molded by once a week Mass attendance, participation in my parish PSR (Parish School of Religion), prayer before meals and my parents' noble attempts to bring me and my siblings up in the faith. 

With this said, my faith was strong. It was, however, compartmentalized and personal. I did not talk with my friends about my faith. We didn't pray before sporting events. Obviously, faith was not a subject I learned about in school. 

When I started Benedictine High School as a 9th grader, though, I stepped foot into an atmosphere that was different. While I can't say I remember being completely overwhelmed with the differences, I became more and more aware of them the more that I became a part of that community. 

Our Church teaches in various documents on Catholic education that the main task of a Catholic school is to demonstrate and bring about in students the synthesis between and among faith, culture and life (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, 1977, #37). Catholic schools must be able to use culture - art, music, literature, science, athletics - to make relevant connections to an orthodox faith. Similarly, Catholic schools must model intentional and authentic apostolic boldness about being a disciple of Christ and form a similar assimilation in students. St. Benedict's motto, "ora et labora" or "prayer and work" permeates Benedictine High School's campus and modeled this synthesis for the entire community. 

Perhaps the most powerful expression of this synthesis of culture and faith, for me, came through the integration of sports and faith. Abbot Gary Hoover, then Fr. Gary, served as the chaplain for our athletic teams. For the first time in my life, faith was intertwined with sports: going to mass before pre-game meals, visiting the grotto before and after practices, praying decades of the Rosary as a team on our way to athletic competitions. Abbot Gary would also offer post-Mass pep talks that intentionally and purposefully used the Celebration of the Eucharist as a team, to bring us closer together to each other while also bringing us closer to God. 

Telling stories about famous athletes like Rocky Blier, or using the lyrics to the iconic, "Eye of the Tiger", Abbot Gary took something relevant to a group of high school boys - football and our pursuit of excellence in that area - and connected it to something more important - our faith. 

The presence of the monks on campus and in various ministries in the school served as living witnesses of an integration of faith and life. While these religious men, like all of us, were far from perfect, their example of humble service was imitated by faculty, staff and students alike. The late Coach Ron Alexander, a staff member who served as the school's wrestling and track coach was a shining example of a lay person who had adopted the Benedictine motto. He rattled off scripture passages applicable to almost any life situation. He ran a concession stand during lunch, after school and during home athletic events to go toward the athletic budget. He mopped the wrestling mats himself. He cooked wrestlers a post-weigh-in, pre-match meal of soup and bread. He mentored and helped countless young men, myself included, regardless of their background, status in the school, athletic capabilities, or involvement in a sport he coached. 

Simply, he prayed and worked. He worked and prayed. For Coach Alexander, you might be able to just say that he prayed, for all that he did was a manifestation of his faith. He had synthesized faith, culture, and life, and in so doing was able to bring others to fullness of life in Jesus Christ. 

In 1988, the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education wrote, "From the first moment that a student sets foot in a Catholic school, he or she ought to have the impression of entering a new environment, one illumined by the light of faith, and having its own unique characteristics" (#25). These unique characteristics, as taught to us by the Second Vatican Council, involve the Gospel spirit of freedom and charity and "help youth grow according to the new creatures they were made through baptism as they develop their own personalities, and finally to order the whole of human culture to the news of salvation so that the knowledge the students gradually acquire of the world, life and (humanity) is illumined by faith" (1965, #8). 

Faith, culture, and fullness of life. 

One of my proudest moments as a principal involved such a synthesis. After a monthlong focus on the Rosary as a school community, 300 PreK - 8th grade students, dressed in Halloween costumes, prayed the entire Rosary as a school community on Halloween. Teachers thought I was crazy. Parents saw it as a conservative tactic of a "religious zealot"; but, the reverence and engagement of an auditorium filled with superheroes and princesses and storybook characters battling the forces of darkness with the power of the Rosary was a grace-filled moment for our entire school. 

It was a synthesis and integration of faith, culture, and life. 

It was a way that I hope helped the school community come to greater fullness of life in Jesus Christ through this synthesis.

Many people see faith as a deterrent to a full life. Thanks to my parents and my time at Benedictine High School and other Catholic schools ever since stepping foot into that "new environment" I see it as the exact opposite. 

For me, my faith is the animating ingredient, it is the leaven that elevates, regulates and perfects all aspects of life (Pope Pius XI, 1929, #95): 

For precisely this reason, Christian education takes in the whole aggregate of human life, physical and spiritual, intellectual and moral, individual, domestic and social, not with a view of reducing it in any way, but in order to elevate, regulate and perfect it, in accordance with the example and teaching of Christ. 

The whole aggregate of human life. 

Faith, culture, and life. 

Prayer and work. 

The fullness of life stands at their synthesis. 


Congregation for Catholic Education. (1988, April 7). The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccatheduc/documents/rc_con_ccatheduc_doc_19880407_catholic-school_en.html 

Pope Pius XI. (1929, December 31). Divini Illius Magistri. Retrieved from https://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_31121929_divini-illius-magistri.html 

Vatican Council II. (1965, October 28). Gravissimum Educationis. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_gravissimum-educationis_en.html  

The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education. (1977, March 19). The Catholic School. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccatheduc/documents/rc_con_ccatheduc_doc_19770319_catholic-school_en.html

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

An Apostolate: A Message from Gravissimum Educationis (1965)

Gravissimum Educationis, the Declaration on Christian Education written in 1965, carries the highest teaching authority of any document published by our Church on Catholic education. One of 16 documents produced during the Second Vatican Council, Gravissimum Educationis offers many important messages about Catholic education. Perhaps the two most compelling are:

  1. Catholic education is an incredibly vital ministry within the mission Jesus Christ handed on to His Church, "To fulfill the mandate she has received from her divine founder of proclaiming the mystery of salvation to all (people) and of restoring all things in Christ, Holy Mother the Church must be concerned with the whole of (a human's) life, even the secular part of it insofar as it has a bearing on (his/her) heavenly calling. (4) Therefore she has a role in the progress and development of education" (Vatican Council II, 1965, Introduction).
  2. Catholic educators form an apostolate, "The work of these teachers, this sacred synod declares, is in the real sense of the word an apostolate most suited to and necessary for our times and at once a true service offered to society" (Vatican Council II, 1965, #8). In this way, the Church elevates the ministry of Catholic education to "(t)he work of an apostle, not only of the first followers of Christ but of all the faithful who carry on the original mission entrusted by the Savior to the twelve to 'make disciples of all nations' (Matthew 28:19)" (https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=31898).

Put more simply, the Second Vatican Council, a gathering of the Church that has only happened 21 times in its 2000 year existence, took the time and effort to issue teaching on Catholic education. Education is an essential component of the Church's mission:
Since, therefore, the Catholic school can be such an aid to the fulfillment of the mission of the People of God and to the fostering of the dialogue between the Church and (humankind), to the benefit of both, it retains even in our present circumstances the utmost importance. (Vatican Council II, 1965, #8)
Furthermore, in doing so, the Church declared that the work of Catholic educators forms an apostolate, carrying on the original mission that Jesus gave to the original apostles. The apostles, the first ordained ministers of our Church. The apostles, the people responsible for taking Christ's message and spreading it to the world. 

Catholic school teachers are viewed as people who carry on this apostolic mission. 

This conjures up, for me, two of my favorite quotes regarding the ministry of Catholic education. First, St. Julie Billiart, the smiling saint, boldly exhorts us, "There must be nothing little among us; we must have the hearts of apostles." We have inside of us the same measure of the Holy Spirit gifted to those who built our Church and spread the gift of faith. As members of the apostolate of Catholic education, we must harness this apostolic fervor and commitment. 

The second quote comes from Fr. Pedro Ribadeneira speaking to King Phillip II of Spain, "All the well-being of Christianity and of the whole world depends upon the proper education of youth" (O'Malley, 1993, p. 209). 

The world depends upon our success within Catholic education.

The sacred synod declares that all schools should accomplish the following tasks (#5):
  • "develop with special care the intellectual faculties (of students)"
  • "form (in students) the ability to judge rightly"
  • "hand on the cultural legacy of previous generations"
  • "foster a sense of values"
  • "prepare for professional life"
  • "promote friendly relations and foster a spirit of mutual understanding"
  • "establish...a center whose work and progress must be shared together by families, teachers, associations of various types that foster cultural, civic, and religious life, as well as by civil society and the entire human community." 
Catholic schools, though, should also (#8):
  • "create for the school community a special atmosphere animated by the Gospel spirit of freedom and charity"
  • "help youth grow according to the new creatures they were made through baptism"
  • "develop (students') own personalities"
  • "order the whole of human culture to the news of salvation"
  • ensure that "the knowledge students gradually acquire of the world, life and (humanity) is illumined by faith"
  • "promote efficaciously the good of the earthly city"
  • "prepare (students) for service in the spread of the Kingdom of God, so that by leading an exemplary apostolic life they become...a saving leaven in the human community."
This, then, is why Catholic school teachers are held in such high regard. The Second Ecumenical Council goes all in on the importance of teachers at various points throughout this text, "Beautiful indeed and of great importance is the vocation of all those who aid parents in fulfilling their duties and who, as representatives of the human community, undertake the task of education in schools" (#5). Additionally, Gravissimum states, "But let teachers recognize that the Catholic school depends upon them almost entirely for the accomplishment of its goals and programs" (#8).

The Council also encourages the pursuit of teaching as a profession for the best among us, "Whether in Catholic universities or others, young people of greater ability who seem suited for teaching or research should be specially helped and encouraged to undertake a teaching career" (#10). The Council reiterates this idea in the Conclusion "earnestly entreat(ing) young people themselves to become aware of the importance of the work of education and to prepare themselves accordingly to take it up."

Finally, the Church offers insights as to the training and preparation required of this noble apostolate of Catholic education. Teachers must possess "special qualities of mind and heart, very care preparation, and continuous readiness to renew and adapt" (#5). Catholic school teachers should be "very carefully prepared so that both in secular and religious knowledge they are equipped with suitable qualifications and also with a pedagogical skill that is in keeping with their findings of the contemporary world" (#8). 

Teachers should also be driven by charity, both for each other and their students (#8). "Endowed with an apostolic spirit" Catholic school teachers must "bear witness to Christ" in all that they do (#8). 

The Church closes Gravissimum Educationis, meaning the "heaviest education", with this rallying cry to Her teachers:
(P)ersevere generously in the work (you) have undertaken and, imbuing (your) students with the spirit of Christ, to strive to excel in pedagogy and the pursuit of knowledge in such a way that (you) not merely advance the internal renewal of the Church but preserve and enhance its beneficent influence upon today's world, especially the intellectual world. (Conclusion)

Catholic school teachers, the whole well-being of Christianity and the entire world depends upon you. 

Let there be nothing little about you.

You have the heart, and the apostolate, of an apostle.


O'Malley, J. (1993). The First Jesuits. Retrieved from  https://academics.lmu.edu/media/lmuacademics/centerforteachingexcellence/documents/The%20Schools%20-%20Rhetorical%20Arts.pdf 

Vatican Council II. (1965, October 28). Gravissimum Educationis. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_gravissimum-educationis_en.html   

Monday, October 5, 2020

Relentless Curiosity

When I think of relentless curiosity, I think of my kids. Relentless curiosity, they have taught me, involves the following three components: learning, creating, and connecting. 

In the span of about ten minutes one day, my three-year-old son, Gabriel, asked the following:

"Daddy, why are these called pretzels?"

"Daddy, why do cars have trunks?"

"Daddy, who's the strongest superhero? Hulk? Spider-Man? Batman? What about Iron Man when he wears that special suit?" 

Relentless curiosity motivates us to learn. My kids’ insatiable and innate thirst for knowledge, invites them to embrace new experiences, people, skills, and understandings. It emboldens them to press buttons on devices that lead to new discoveries, like how to make Siri sound Irish and what the format setting on a camera does. Pro-tip: the "format" setting on a camera will cause it to revert back to its factory settings. Their curiosity motivated them to ask my 96-year-old grandfather, "What's your favorite candy?" Thanks to them, he got Paydays for his birthday this year. 

Relentless curiosity impels us to create. My kids create relentlessly: pictures, crafts, forts, food, music, dances, jokes, games, stories, noise, messes. I want to draw a car with a spoiler so it can go super fast. Can I make a card for grandma? Can we bake cookies? Can we build a castle? I wrote a poem. I made up a song. Check out this dance move. Listen to what I can play on the piano. Can I make a dress for my doll? I have a story to tell. 

Relentless curiosity, because of its educative and creative characteristics, invites us to connect. The acts of learning and creating, my kids constantly remind me, are communal. 

In pursuit of knowledge and understanding, my kids constantly ask questions. In turn, they constantly share what they’ve learned. 

Similarly, they constantly invite others into their creative ideas. They also constantly share their musings and masterpieces.

Relentless curiosity drives learning and creativity, and both create connections. 

When considering this disposition from our Catholic worldview, relentless curiosity leads to holiness. God gifted us with an intellect and a corresponding restlessness intended to lead us to an encounter with Him. Since God is in all things, everything and everyone bears His imprint. In the words of Gerard Manly Hopkins, "The world is charged with the grandeur of God." Therefore, when we learn about something or someone, we tap into this charge and we receive a spark of the divine. 

That same divine spark is present in creating something. St. Pope Paul VI writes in Populorum Progressio: 

Fashioned in the image of (our) Creator, "(we) must cooperate with Him in completing the work of creation and engraving on the earth the spiritual imprint which (we ourselves have) received." God gave (humans) intelligence, sensitivity and the power of thought—tools with which to finish and perfect the work He began. (Pope Paul VI, 1967, #27) 

We know that relationships supply divine sparks, too. Because we are made in the image and likeness of our Triune God, relationships are pathways to holiness. Educative and creative efforts pave these paths. St. Pope Paul VI continues, "Further, when work is done in common—when hope, hardship, ambition and joy are shared—it brings together and firmly unites the wills, minds and hearts of (humans). In its accomplishment, (we) find (ourselves) to be brothers (and sisters)" (#27). 

Our current realities present numerous opportunities to harness relentless curiosity. From navigating whatever new educational model your school has adopted to helping students process racial and political tensions, may your relentless curiosity abound.   

With childlike wonder and excitement, keep carrying the divine spark of learning, creativity, and connection inside of you, and go out into the world to ignite that spark - the charge of God’s grandeur - in others. 

Keep leading with relentless curiosity. 


Paul VI. (1967). Populorum Progressio [Encyclical letter]. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_26031967_populorum.html