Bishop: Ode to Teachers & Those Who Accompany Them
by Bishop Joensen | September 15, 2022
By now we are almost four weeks into a new school year. Hopefully our students, their families, teachers, administrators, staffs and volunteers have settled into a comfortable, but not complacent, routine. For we should never cease to be grateful for the commitment and courage displayed by members of our school communities to continue our educational mission in the midst of a pandemic, with all the hardship, uncertainty, contentiousness, and sacrifice it entailed. They remain intrepid witnesses to the Gospel’s challenge to bring everyone to life — real, abundant life in Christ, in the proper order of formation for each and every young person. As they live out their own baptismal and professional callings, educators cultivate communities of encounter and care for all who cross the threshold of our school buildings each day.
This past spring, the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education released an Instruction, “The Identity of the Catholic School for a Culture of Dialogue.” It’s a rich document with too much to unpack here, but there is retrieval of the icon of the Church as mother and teacher. Within the fold of the Church, our schools are charged to express tenderness and charity. These charisms, or gifts, are to be partnered with the capacity to be guide and teacher in the way of truth, which is a mystery that englobes the whole of our lives.
To be a lay teacher, leader/administrator, or a supporting staff member, is not simply the exercise of a job, a profession, though there is a high professional standard that must be fulfilled. It is to be sharer in a mission that is apostolic: one has been chosen and sent by God in a supernatural vocation to place oneself in relation with colleagues for the sake of young people, their parents and families, as well as the parish faith communities and larger society whom we serve.
Among various aspects of this responsibility entrusted to us by God, educators enable students to “look at reality in a whole new way—and to see ourselves and others with a renewed identity.” They are to appreciate the immensity and awe-inspiring grandeur of the universe (which the most recent images from the James Webb space telescope stirred in many of us).
I believe the infrared capacity of this Webb telescope can be likened to what our faith does in our daily encounters with the various subjects and media that are the “stuff” of our teaching methods and classroom and co-curricular performances. Faith accesses dimensions of our world, of our own personal identities, that would otherwise remain hidden, dormant, neglected. As the Congregation for Education observes, given technological transformation and the pervasiveness of digital culture, there is a distinct synthesis of our faith, life, and culture that is ingredient to our educational mission. Our ongoing formation of our teachers and school leaders is to be creative and imaginative, so as to respect and connect with students’ different modes of intelligence and diverse backgrounds.
And this is key — and I quote the Vatican Instruction directly: “Schools, even Catholic schools, do not demand adherence to the faith, however they can prepare for it.” “It is possible to create the conditions for a person to develop a gift for searching and to be guided in discovering the mystery of his [or her] being and of the reality that surrounds him, until he reaches the threshold of faith. To those who decide to cross this threshold the necessary means are offered for continuing to deepen their experience of faith.”
To develop a gift for searching. To be guided in discovering the mystery of one’s being. To deepen the experience of faith. All of these aims imply that we as adults, as parents, clergy, schools staff and volunteers are open to deepening our own personal experience of faith—to be led by the Spirit so that we can lead, shepherd, and mentor others. In this respect, the profile and job description of a teacher provided by our ancient Christian tradition seems even more relevant. Laura Swan, in her book, The Forgotten Desert Mothers: Sayings, Lives, and Stories of Early Christian Women, cites an early Christian woman and wisdom figure:
“The same Amma [Theodora] said that a teacher ought to be a stranger to the desire for domination, vainglory, and pride. A teacher should not be fooled by flattery, nor be blinded by gifts, conquered by the stomach, nor dominated by anger. A teacher should be patient, gentle and humble as far as possible; successfully tested and without partisanship, full of concern, and a lover of souls.”
Our school staffs have been tested and have shown their mettle in these past few years with unprecedented grace and fortitude. Beyond the pandemic, the changing winds in our society and even within our Church have sifted and purified their sense of commitment, vocation and mission. I continue to be inspired by my encounters with our school faculties and administrators. They are obviously not in this for material gain, but because of a sense that what they are about is a divine proposal and mission that God invites them to fulfill. They are truly lovers of souls.
Please join me in taking the initiative to thank all school teachers, staffs, and administrators for having weathered the brunt of the pandemic, and for pressing on for the sake of something greater than themselves, or greater even than this world: the Kingdom of God. In this Kingdom, even the least child is the occasion of praise and thanksgiving by the angels to the Father of lights, who has conceived the universe on account of his overflowing goodness and love, reflected in the face of each and every young person and adult who composes our school communities.