The Cost of Discipleship

23rd Sunday in O.T. (C); September 4, 2016

Wis 9:13-18b   Ps 90   Phlm 9-10,12-17   Lk 14:25-33

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison

 

Luke tells us that great crowds were following Jesus; he was a very popular man, a fascinating figure. If Jesus were physically with us today, he’d be all over the Internet, the focus of blogosphere scrutiny. He’d be a YouTube sensation with millions upon millions of views. One reason that the crowds were probably drawn to him is that they hoped to get something out of him because of his healing powers. Sensing this Jesus feels the need to articulate the cost of discipleship.

Listen to Jesus’ words: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:26). These words stop us in our tracks, and we want to respond, “Jesus, you surely can’t mean what you’ve just said.” The majority of parents love their children so much that they’d throw themselves under the bus if their child was endangered. And, Jesus wants us to hate our children if we are to follow him! These are extremely harsh words to hear then and now. But, they were probably more difficult to hear then because the Jewish culture was a kinfolk society—the whole society was organized around the family and clan. Loyalty to wife, children, parents was extremely important. Jesus just doesn’t say He wants us to prefer him to them, but he says unless we hate them, we can’t be His disciple. What does our Lord mean?

In a typically exaggerated Jewish way of making a point, I believe Jesus means that we can’t make our family more central than Jesus and his kingdom. We can’t make our beloved spouse or young children the highest value or the center of our life. Jesus is the center of our life: Jesus is the One, because he is Life itself. He is God among us. Brothers, God alone ultimately matters and everything else must find its place around this Ultimate Concern. Yes, even something as important as our family, let alone prison associations, must be of secondary importance.

Do you see how Jesus’ challenge runs counter to our privatized, conventional beliefs? I’ve got all my concerns lined up: parole hearing, what am I going to do once I get released, can I make it on the outside? If a release date is not in the offing due to our punitive prison system, then we continually try to re-arrange the furniture in this prison culture so that I can survive. On top of all of this, one of my many concerns is religion which is o.k. as long as it doesn’t make too many demands. My religious practice is comforting, provides stability, and, hey, offers the promise of eternal life. That’s a good deal, isn’t it?!

Folks, that doesn’t work because it means that we are not following Jesus. If our family, if our prison associations occupy a higher priority amongst our concerns than Jesus, then we are not his follower.

If that wasn’t harsh enough, Jesus takes it further when he says that unless we hate our own life, we cannot be His disciple. Now our life is being turned upside down. Jesus wants us to hate everything we do to enhance our lives. Inside we squirm; is there any wiggle room here? Can’t I follow Jesus on my terms in which I remain in control?

A prayer refrain from the Liturgy of the Hours offers us insight into what Jesus may mean: “Lord, your love is worth more than my physical life.” Sit with that. Does it resonate with you?   If so, everything in our lives has got to be kicked out of the central place—even our very life. Are we ready for that kind of commitment? Are we ready for everything to give way for the Kingdom of God?

St. Augustine understood well what Jesus meant when Augustine said, “Love God for his own sake. Love everything else for the sake of God.” Such wisdom! That’s the right perspective; that’s it! We don’t let go of family, friends, ambitions, etc., but we don’t love them for their own sake. Instead we love them as gifts from God. And it is God alone whom we love with all our whole heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, with all our strength.

Didn’t Jesus put it succinctly when he said, “Seek you first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and the rest will be given to you,” which means the rest of our lives will find their place around our central concern which is Jesus and his Kingdom.

People of God at Folsom Prison, as the saying goes, “It’s time to fish or cut bait.” Jesus’ invitation to follow him will always take total dedication, trusting in him and entrusting ourselves to him. Let us pray for the grace to be His disciple and follow him unconditionally.

 

 

 

Discipleship–We’re All Unworthy

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C); 2-7-16

Is 6:1-8   Ps 138   1 Cor 15:1-11   Lk 5:1-11

Deacon Jim McFadden; Folsom Prison

 

            One of my spiritual heroes is the Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who once wrote that Christianity without discipleship is cheap grace. He walked the talk as he sacrificed his life in his resistance to the Nazi regime during WWII. Bonhoeffer did so because he understood that the essence of Christian spirituality is discipleship: that is, a positive response to the call of Jesus. Remarkably, what all three of our readings remind us that this call is given despite or even because of our personal unworthiness. Today’s readings came help our community at Folsom Prison understand the dynamics of discipleship, while recognizing and accepting our unworthiness, and accepting the call to share in the mission of Jesus.

In the first reading we have the majestic vision of Isaiah, who finds himself in the presence of the Lord. Isaiah is overcome by great awe and a profound sense of his unworthiness. But a seraph, which is a kind of angel, purifies his lips with a burning coal and wipes away his sin. What happens next? Isaiah is “good to go!” Feeling ready to respond to God’s call, Isaiah exclaims, “Here I am, Lord. Send me!” (Is 6:8).

This same succession of feelings is found in our Gospel in the episode of the miraculous catch of fish. Asked by Jesus to cast their nets although they had caught nothing during the night, Simon Peter trusts in Jesus, and he and the other disciples obtain a superabundant catch.

Notice Peter’s reaction, which is similar to that of Isaiah. “When Peter saw this, he fell to his knee and said ‘Leave me Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8). Peter’s reaction may seem strange at first. We might have expected a simple, “Wow! Do you believe what just happened?” But, he says, “Leave me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” In the face of God’s miraculous action and the presence of God in the flesh in Jesus, Peter acknowledges his own sinfulness and unworthiness to become a follower of Jesus. Well, so what?! That is a given—we’ve all done bad things; we’re all sinners in this chapel. Peter has to just get over it. Brothers, none of us are worthy to be a follower of Jesus. We’re all sinners but it is just this kind of people that are called to be disciples.

Look at the second reading. Paul remembers that he had been a persecutor of the Church. Indeed, he wanted to destroy it. He acknowledges that he is unworthy to be called an apostle, that he is least among all the disciples. Yet, despite his unworthiness and maybe because of it, he recognized that the grace of God had worked wonders in him and despite his limitations, God had entrusted him with the task and honor of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles. It is through Paul that Christianity became a universal religion.

So, brothers, I hope you are getting the message. Discipleship is entrusted to weak, limited people like you and me—the only kind of people that there are.

Brothers, notice where Peter encountered the transcendent Christ. In the midst of his fishing. IN HIS ORDINARY EXPERIENCE! People of God at Folsom Prison, we experience God at that everyday, workday level, where we spend our waking hours. God calls us where were are and that means in the fishing, in the unique movement of prison life. That is where you will do your discipleship and sanctify your lives. That is where you will encounter God. And, in so doing, you will recognize your own poverty and inadequacy, your own limitations, your own sinfulness. Yet, in spite of our weakness and brokenness, the Lord, rich in mercy and forgiveness transforms our lives and calls us to follow him.

I encourage you to revisit the humility shown by Isaiah, Paul, and Peter. They have received the gift of a divine vocation and so have you. If you’ve been baptized, you’ve been initiated into the Church, the Body of Christ which means you share in the Mission of Christ. But, I beg you not to focus on your limitations or what you have done in the past. Rather, keep your gaze on the Lord Jesus and on his amazing mercy that he has for each and everyone of us. As you receive his love, your heart will be converted and that you too will do what Peter joyfully did: “to leave everything and follow him” (v. 11).

Let go of your baggage, brothers. Keep in mind that the Lord does not look at what is important to human beings. When Jesus gazes upon you, he does not see an inmate with a number. He sees his beloved brother. “The Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam 16:7). That’s what makes people who are poor and weak, but have faith in Jesus to be fearless disciples and heralds of the Good News. Amen.

Catholic Educator as Formator

 

           Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles once said, “It is not so much that the Church has a mission; it is rather more that the mission has a Church.”  What is the mission of the Church?  According to Lumen Gentium (The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church), the mission is to be a sacrament of communion with God and among people.

Since a Catholic school is an integral part of the Church, our educational institutions share in this mission as well.  Therefore,  the crux of this presentation can be simply stated in the following syllogism:

• a Catholic school is to be a school for discipleship where saints   are being formed.

• Catholic educators are necessary for student formation.

•  Therefore, Catholic educators must be formed themselves.

Bullet-points One and Two will offer a reflection on Catholic identity of our schools and, given that context, I’ll offer some concrete suggestions how Catholic educators may be formed.

Introduction

            The signs of the times in 21st century America challenge us to pour new wine into new wineskins.  The educational landscape is shifting.  The number of Catholic primary schools has shrunk from 7,225 schools in 1930 with 2.5 million students to 6,574 schools (in 2004) with 1.75 million students.  During this time, the Catholic population trebled from 20 million to over 66 million.

Clearly, the Church is facing a challenge re.  the viability of its Catholic schools.  What is going to attract families to Catholic education:

Contemporary pedagogical techniques, technological advances (iPads and the like), safety and security?  While these are important, what will make our schools an attractive educational destination is our strong sense of Catholic identity.  And, we can’t actuate that ideal without a committed participation by our educators.

Fifty years ago, this wouldn’t even be an issue because the bulk of Catholic educators were consecrated religious, who were well formed in their faith and gave a profound witness to our Catholic faith as they intentionally formed young people.  Today religious women constitute less than 4% of the full time professional staff of Catholic schools, while 96% of the teachers are laypersons.  While I do not want to suggest that lay teachers are second-rate teachers, we cannot assume that they have experienced formation in their educational ministry in the same approximate way that religious enjoyed.  Our lay educators are well trained in their cultural and professional formation.  At the same time, there is an urgency that laypersons who teach in Catholic schools need a religious formation that is equal to their professional development (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witness to Faith, 60).

Why is that?  The viability of the Catholic identity of our educational institutions is conditioned by the evangelical witness of our educators.  There’s an old spiritual principle that goes “one cannot give what one does not have.”  If our Catholic educators are not formed in their faith, if they don’t have a strong evangelical motivation, if they are not intentionally participating in the mission of the Church, then what we do at school may be nothing more than a “noisy gong.”

As a refresher, let us briefly look at the Essential Marks of Catholic Schools and why educator “buy-in” is so crucial.

Essential Marks of Catholic Schools

            A Catholic school should be inspired with a (1) supernatural vision, (2) founded on Christian anthropology, (3) animated by Christian fellowship, (4) imbued with a Catholic worldview throughout its curriculum, and sustained by Christian witness.

It is precisely because of our Catholic identity that makes us unique; we are anything but a secular enterprise.  We derive our purpose as being an instrument for the Church’s evangelizing mission (cf. The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium, 11).

            1. Inspired by a Supernatural Vision. The specific purpose of Catholic education is the formation of boys and girls who will be good citizens of the world as they promote the Common Good and social justice, who will love God and their neighbor, and who will enrich the culture with the leaven of the Gospel.  As they do that, they will realize their destiny to become saints (cf. Gravissimum Educationis, 8).  This is the raison d’etre of Catholic education.  If we deny this vision or fail to keep it in mind through indifference or a lukewarm attitude, all our talk about the importance of Catholic education will be no more than “a gong booming or a cymbal clashing” (2 Cor 23:1).

2. Founded on a Christian Anthropology.   Given our vision, a Catholic school cannot be reduced to a  factory of learning various skills for the business needs of the 21st century.  We’re not strictly a business in which we have a certain brand that is attractive to “clients” and “consumers” as we strive to find our niche in a competitive educational market place.  Catholic education is not a commodity.        Rather, educational documents emerging from the Holy See insist that in order to be worthy of its name, a Catholic school must be founded on Jesus Christ, the Redeemer.  Through the Incarnation, he is united with every student and the purpose of all of our endeavors is to nurture that relationship.

3.  Animated by Communion and Community.  A genuine Catholic school should be a community of Faith where Jesus is the Center, our life is about him, and he is in control.  This communal dimension of a Catholic school is rooted in both in the relational nature of a human person and in the reality of the Church as the People of God, which is “the home and the school of communion” (Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, 43).                                                                                                            Conducive towards this end, schools “should try to create a community school climate that reproduces, as far as possible, the warm and intimate atmosphere of family life.  Those responsible for these schools will, therefore, do everything they can to promote a common spirit of trust and spontaneity” (The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, 40).  This means that educators should develop a willingness to collaborate among themselves, which goes counter to our culture’s emphasis on individualism and self-promotion.  We collaborate, not out of need or convenience, but in the recognition that we are brothers and sisters in faith who have a common purpose to promote the Mission of Christ.                                              Interaction of Students and Teachers.  Catholic philosophy of education has always paid attention to the quality of interpersonal relationships in the school community, especially between student and teacher.  As St. John Bosco once said, “education is a thing of the heart” (cited in Consecrated Persons and Their Mission in Schools, 62).  Authentic formation of young people requires the personalized accompanying of a teacher, which means the latter must be undergoing conversion and transformation herself.  “During childhood and adolescence a student needs to experience personal relations with outstanding educators, and  what is taught has greater influence on the student’s formation when placed in a context of personal involvement, genuine reciprocity, coherence of attitudes, lifestyle, and day-to-day behavior” (The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium, 18).  Direct and personal contact between teachers and students, grounded in faith, is the hallmark of Catholic education.

4. Imbued with a Catholic Worldview.  A “spirit of Catholicism” should permeate the curriculum, not just in religious studies or the theology department.                  Catholic education is geared to the growth of the whole person.  By virtue of our Baptism, we are called to embrace the priesthood of the faithful, which means we sanctify every aspect of our life.  Catholic education fosters this Baptismal responsibility by developing every capability of every student: his/her intellectual, physical, psychological, moral, and religious capacities (cf. The Catholic School, 31).

Love for Wisdom and a Passion for Truth.  In an age of information and technological overload, Catholic schools should be attentive to strike the delicate balance between human experience and understanding and wisdom.  A student who graduates from our school should not say, “I had an interesting experience, but I missed the meaning of it all.”                                                                                                            Knowledge and understanding are far   more than the accumulation of information.  Our purpose goes far beyond than preparing students for high school or college.  T.S. Eliot nailed it when he said, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?  Where is the knowledge we have lost in information.”  Catholic schools do far more than convey information and content to passive students.  We aspire to pass on the Wisdom of our rich Catholic Tradition, challenging our students to become life-long learners who grow in Faith.

5. Sustained by Gospel Witness.  A final indicator of a schools authentic catholicity is the vital witness of its teachers and administrators.  The realization of the Catholic vision depends chiefly on them.  That’s why the Vatican pays attention to the vocation of Catholic educators and their participation in the Church’s evangelizing mission.  Theirs is a supernatural calling and is not simply the exercise of a profession (cf. Lay Catholics in Schools, 37).  There is a nobility in being a Catholic educator because the calling comes from Christ, which demands that Catholic educators strive to imitate Christ, the only Teacher because He is the Truth.  In communion with Christ, Catholic educators reveal the Christian message not only by word but also by every gesture of their behavior” (cf. The Catholic School, 43).

Hiring Committed Catholics.  While controversial,  in witnessing to the Mission of the Church, educators in Catholic schools, with very few exceptions, should be practicing Catholics who are committed to the Church and are living her sacramental life within a parish.  The American bishops, of whom we should be of one mind, give unequivocal direction: “Recruit teachers who are practicing Catholics, who can understand and accept the teachings of the Catholic Church and the moral demands of the gospel, and who can contribute to the achievement of the school’s Catholic identity and apostolic goals” (cf. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Directory for Catechesis, 231).

When this directive is ignored inevitable, negative consequences will predictably ensure.  Children will absorb, even if they are not explicitly taught, a soft indifferentism that will neither sustain their practice of the faith nor their ability to imbue society with Christian values.  A primary way to foster a school’s catholicity is by carefully hiring men and women who have a love for the Catholic Church, who enthusiastically endorse its distinctive mission and ethos, for Catholic education is strenghthened by witnesses to the gospel.                                               

            Transparent Witness of Life.  The Catholic witness of educators in the school community is a vital part of the schools’ identity.  Children and adolescence will puck up far more by example of their educators than by current pedagogical and technological techniques, especially in the practice of Christian virtues.                                                                                                Pope Paul VI reinforced this view forty years ago when he said: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers,and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they’re witnesses” (cf. Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41).  What educators do and how they act are more significant than what they say.  If they do not have a rich, regular, and disciplined prayer life; if they are not involved with on-going Faith formation; if they are not participating in the sacramental life of the Church, especially the Eucharist; if they are not living Matthew 25—then how can they give a meaningful witness to their students?  “The more completely an educator can give concrete witness to the model of the ideal person (Christ) that is being presented to the students, the more this ideal will be believed and imitated” (cf. Lay Catholics in Schools, 32).

Hypocrisy turns off students.  While their demands are high and they can be judgmental, if teachers fail to model fidelity to the truth and virtuous behavior, then even the best of curricula cannot successfully embody a Catholic school’s distinctive ethos.  That’s why Catholic educators are expected to be models for their students by being transparent witness to Christ and the beauty of the Gospel.            That’s why if Catholic formators are going to help form young people in their discipleship and sanctity, educators must be formed themselves.

Formation of Catholic Educators 

         “Catholic educators need a “formation of the heart”: they need to be led to that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others, so that their educational effort becomes a consequence deriving from their faith, a faith which becomes active through love (cf. Gal 5:6) [Educating Together, #25).   In general, what would this formation look like?  The ingredients of formation would contain the same four essential marks that ground the formation of  Christian disciples:  (1) prayer, (2) adult faith formation (Scripture/Church Tradition), (3) full, active and conscious participation in the Sacraments, and (4) service to the poor.  To the degree that any of these  are lacking or undeveloped within the adult community of a Catholic school,  one’s enthusiasm to effectively embrace the Church’s evangelical  mission will weakened.

(1)            Prayer (public and private). Catholic educators are called to be witnesses to our students that Christ is Risen and to live the Good News.   Such witness must be “nourished by prayer, (and) be the all-encompassing milieu of every Catholic school” (Ibid., #38).  The reason? As St. Augustine once said, “Without God, we can do nothing good.”  Prayer emerges from the realization that we are not self-sufficient, that we are radically dependent upon God for our well-being.  We bear within ourselves the thirst for the Eternal One.  When we regularly go into the Quiet, God will reveal himself and satisfy the seeking of our hearts.  As we are drawn into God’s presence, our consciousness and heart will be gradually transformed into the Mind and Heart of the Risen Christ.  Prayer draws us into God’s presence, which enables us to act from that Power.  If we are not a people of prayer, who spend some time each day in the Silence, then there is a risk  that we may act out our own power, wraught with our egoic wants,  fears, anxieties, and obsessions.  Like the Hound of Heaven, God is forever inviting us into intimacy.  As the Catechism says: “in prayer, the faithful God’s initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response.”

(2)            Adult Faith Formation (Scripture/Church Tradition).  As St. John Henry Newman famously observed “to change is to be human; to change most often is to be most human.”  The only sign of life is change.  If a person is not growing in their faith, then they are slowly dying which can be seen in indifference and a lukewarm involvement with the life of the Church.  While in prayer we most often speak to God and share our experience, but in a “sacred reading” (Lectio Divina) of Scripture God directly speaks to us.  As we listen, understand, and interiorize God’s word, we become transformed by that Word, Whom we believe is the Son of God.  As St. Ambrose once said, “Not to know Scripture is not to know Christ.”  For this reason, the Congregation on Education affirms that the Catholic school “…must be constantly nourished and compared with the sources from which the reason for its existence derives: the saving word of God in Sacred Scripture, in Tradition…enlightened by the Magisterium of the Church”  (Ibid., , #26; emphasis added).                       

(3) Full, active and conscious participation” in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist.   As a Catholic institution we are meant to be a Eucharistic community, which means that Jesus in the Eucharist is the center of the life of the school.   As members of the Body of Christ, we are participating in the same sacrificial offering of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  It is imperative that all Catholic members of the school  community participate in Sunday Eucharist celebration.   To do otherwise  reveals a lack of understanding or appreciation of what it means to be member of the Body of Christ, the Church, and that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our worship.

(4)            Service to the Poor.  Being a Eucharistic community and ministering to the poor go hand-in-glove, as brightness is to light.  As we encounter and deepen our love of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, we will gradually be transformed into what we are meant to be: a member of the Body of Christ, who is the People of God.   As we are being transformed into the Mind and Heart of the Risen Christ, the Holy Spirit will guide us to an encounter and engagement with the poorest of the poor.  Why?  Because that is where Christ is present.  Jesus’ last teaching , before he went to Jerusalem to suffer and die, in Matthew’s gospel is the Judgment of Nations, in which the Lord proclaims that “whatever we do to the least of his brethern, we do to him.”  The implication is profound: the Risen Christ is present in the poor in a distinct way.  That is why ministry to the poor is constitutive of discipleship.  As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states: “The principle of the universal destination of goods requires that the poor, the marginalized and in all cases those whose living conditions interfere with their proper growth should be the focus of particular concern.  To this end, the preferential option for the poor should be reaffirmed in all its force” (#182).  While being a Catholic educator is a vocation and ministry, we need to be pubic icons of service to the poor.  Through prayer, advocacy, and action, we must witness to our students, our preferential option for the poor.

Specific Strategies

Since the evangelical model of Church and call to discipleship among the baptized are essential marks of being Catholic, what remains is how can we bring our calling to fruition?  How can we as adult educators help our students encounter the living Christ Jesus so that they may be leaven to the culture?  How can they engage the Risen Christ, whose presence is mediated by the Catholic Church, which is necessary to Salvation?

The formation of Catholic educators is not optional and should not be left to chance.   The adult faith community   must embrace discipleship and accept our evangelical call, which are constitutive elements of our baptismal promises.

By way of suggestions, some objectives that may promote opportunities and challenges to formation of Catholic educators  are the following:

 

            1.  Hire a coordinator of  Adult Faith Formation for a high school or a consortium of primary schools.             The spiritual maturation of the adult community is going to be a gradual process of conversion.  People are at different levels of faith development and they should be engaged where they are and not where one would want them to be.  A Faith Formation director could serve as a spiritual companion and “coach” to assist this process of becoming a community of disciples.  This position would be very sensitive and the person should meet the following criteria: (1) he/she has a deep and loving relationship with the Risen Christ, which is manifested in daily prayer, regular Eucharistic participation, spiritual direction (as a directee), and service to the poor; (2) he/she should believe that the Church has been given the authority to teach and govern the Church in His name;  (3) as a result, believes and understands what the Church teaches and can articulate them to others; (4) has actually read and is thoroughly conversant in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, the major documents of Vatican II (including Lumen Gentium, Gaudium et Spes, Sacrosanctum Concilium, and Dei Verbum), and the  Compendiuim of Social Doctrine of the Church.

            (2) Active participation in a parish or ecclesial community, including regular Mass attendance.  If discipleship is seen as constitutive element of being a Christian, then regular “full, active and conscious participation” in the Mass is a given.  As a Catholic, we have an obligation to celebrate Sunday Eucharist.   While such an obligation cannot be made a criteria for employment, it would be a goal of evangelical/catechetical efforts with the adult community and would be a priority for the  Adult Faith Coordinator.

(3)  Begin the school year with a traditional weekend retreat.   There is a practical wisdom in having a three-day retreat.  Beginning the school year by embracing the interior life as a community would set a very focused tone and orientation to the incoming school year.  People of the adult community should be invited to attend and be informed about the agenda and purpose of that particular retreat.  While staying at the center for the duration of the retreat would be preferred, family obligations may necessitate that retreatants  return home Friday and Saturday evening.

(4) Begin and end our school day with a brief prayer service in the chapel.  Encourage weekly Lectio Divina and monthly Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  Observe the Angelus at 12:00.

Jesus challenges us to pray always.  If we bookend our educational ministry with community prayer, that practice could inculcate a sense that our work is a form of worship.  Lectio Divina and Adoration  are traditional practices that create an opportunity to encounter the Word of God and to be nurtured by His Eucharistic presence.

We should also remember that “unless the Lords builds the edifice, they labor in vain who build it.”  A quote from Blessed John Paul II underscores this truth:  “There is a temptation which perennially besets every spiritual journey and pastoral work: that of thinking that the results depend on our ability to act and to plan.  God, of course, asks us really to cooperate with his grace, and  therefore invites us to invest all our resources of intelligence and energy in serving the cause of the Kingdom.  But it is fatal to forget that “without Christ we can do nothing” (cf. Jn 15:5). It is prayer which roots us in the truth.  It constantly reminds us of the primacy of Christ and, in union with him, the primacy of the interior life and holiness.  When this principle is not respected, is it any wonder that pastoral plans come to nothing and leave us with a disheartening sense of frustration? (Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 38).

(6)  Regular adult formation workshops, facilitated by Master Catechists or other competent instructors.  Such sessions should have a robust catechetical content together with faith-sharing opportunities.  In other words, there should be a cognitive and affective dimension to these workshops, which should occur on campus and during the school day (such as time allotted for faculty meetings).  Primary schools may find it advantageous to collaborate with consortiums (i.e., deaneries).

***

            The mission of a Catholic school is integrated into the Church’s Mission of proclaiming the Good News and baptizing all nations.  Every Catholic school has a sacred responsibility to actively participate in this over-arching mission.  The Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic education stated that “…all scholastic institutions, but even more the Catholic school is constantly concerned with the formational requirements of society, because “the problem of instruction has always been closely linked with the Church’s mission (Education Together in Catholic Schools, #3).  So, our vocation as Catholic educators is to help our students encounter and come into the presence of the living God in and through Christ Jesus so that they can go on to spread this Good News to the wider culture.  To do so, we must intentionally and actively embrace on-going conversion and formation ourselves

Deacon Jim McFadden

St. Francis High School;

Sacramento, CA

 

 

 

                                                           

Catholic Educator as Formator

Deacon Jim McFadden

 

            Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles once said, “It is not so much that the Church has a mission; it is rather more that the mission has a Church.”  What is the mission of the Church?  According to Lumen Gentium (The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church), the mission is to be a sacrament of communion with God and among people.

Since a Catholic school is an integral part of the Church, our educational institutions share in this mission as well.  Therefore,  the crux of this presentation can be simply stated in the following syllogism:

• a Catholic school is to be a school for discipleship where saints   are being formed.

• Catholic educators are necessary for student formation.

•  Therefore, Catholic educators must be formed themselves.

Bullet-points One and Two will offer a reflection on Catholic identity of our schools and, given that context, I’ll offer some concrete suggestions how Catholic educators may be formed.

Introduction

            The signs of the times in 21st century America challenge us to pour new wine into new wineskins.  The educational landscape is shifting.  The number of Catholic primary schools has shrunk from 7,225 schools in 1930 with 2.5 million students to 6,574 schools (in 2004) with 1.75 million students.  During this time, the Catholic population trebled from 20 million to over 66 million.

Clearly, the Church is facing a challenge re.  the viability of its Catholic schools.  What is going to attract families to Catholic education:

Contemporary pedagogical techniques, technological advances (iPads and the like), safety and security?  While these are important, what will make our schools an attractive educational destination is our strong sense of Catholic identity.  And, we can’t actuate that ideal without a committed participation by our educators.

Fifty years ago, this wouldn’t even be an issue because the bulk of Catholic educators were consecrated religious, who were well formed in their faith and gave a profound witness to our Catholic faith as they intentionally formed young people.  Today religious women constitute less than 4% of the full time professional staff of Catholic schools, while 96% of the teachers are laypersons.  While I do not want to suggest that lay teachers are second-rate teachers, we cannot assume that they have experienced formation in their educational ministry in the same approximate way that religious enjoyed.  Our lay educators are well trained in their cultural and professional formation.  At the same time, there is an urgency that laypersons who teach in Catholic schools need a religious formation that is equal to their professional development (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witness to Faith, 60).

Why is that?  The viability of the Catholic identity of our educational institutions is conditioned by the evangelical witness of our educators.  There’s an old spiritual principle that goes “one cannot give what one does not have.”  If our Catholic educators are not formed in their faith, if they don’t have a strong evangelical motivation, if they are not intentionally participating in the mission of the Church, then what we do at school may be nothing more than a “noisy gong.”

As a refresher, let us briefly look at the Essential Marks of Catholic Schools and why educator “buy-in” is so crucial.

Essential Marks of Catholic Schools

            A Catholic school should be inspired with a (1) supernatural vision, (2) founded on Christian anthropology, (3) animated by Christian fellowship, (4) imbued with a Catholic worldview throughout its curriculum, and sustained by Christian witness.

It is precisely because of our Catholic identity that makes us unique; we are anything but a secular enterprise.  We derive our purpose as being an instrument for the Church’s evangelizing mission (cf. The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium, 11).

            1. Inspired by a Supernatural Vision. The specific purpose of Catholic education is the formation of boys and girls who will be good citizens of the world as they promote the Common Good and social justice, who will love God and their neighbor, and who will enrich the culture with the leaven of the Gospel.  As they do that, they will realize their destiny to become saints (cf. Gravissimum Educationis, 8).  This is the raison d’etre of Catholic education.  If we deny this vision or fail to keep it in mind through indifference or a lukewarm attitude, all our talk about the importance of Catholic education will be no more than “a gong booming or a cymbal clashing” (2 Cor 23:1).

2. Founded on a Christian Anthropology.   Given our vision, a Catholic school cannot be reduced to a  factory of learning various skills for the business needs of the 21st century.  We’re not strictly a business in which we have a certain brand that is attractive to “clients” and “consumers” as we strive to find our niche in a competitive educational market place.  Catholic education is not a commodity.                                                             Rather, educational documents emerging from the Holy See insist that in order to be worthy of its name, a Catholic school must be founded on Jesus Christ, the Redeemer.  Through the Incarnation, he is united with every student and the purpose of all of our endeavors is to nurture that relationship.                                                                                                            3.  Animated by Communion and Community.  A genuine Catholic school should be a community of Faith where Jesus is the Center, our life is about him, and he is in control.  This communal dimension of a Catholic school is rooted in both in the relational nature of a human person and in the reality of the Church as the People of God, which is “the home and the school of communion” (Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, 43).                                                                                                            Conducive towards this end, schools “should try to create a community school climate that reproduces, as far as possible, the warm and intimate atmosphere of family life.  Those responsible for these schools will, therefore, do everything they can to promote a common spirit of trust and spontaneity” (The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, 40).  This means that educators should develop a willingness to collaborate among themselves, which goes counter to our culture’s emphasis on individualism and self-promotion.  We collaborate, not out of need or convenience, but in the recognition that we are brothers and sisters in faith who have a common purpose to promote the Mission of Christ.                                                                                                Interaction of Students and Teachers.  Catholic philosophy of education has always paid attention to the quality of interpersonal relationships in the school community, especially between student and teacher.  As St. John Bosco once said, “education is a thing of the heart” (cited in Consecrated Persons and Their Mission in Schools, 62).  Authentic formation of young people requires the personalized accompanying of a teacher, which means the latter must be undergoing conversion and transformation herself.  “During childhood and adolescence a student needs to experience personal relations with outstanding educators, and  what is taught has greater influence on the student’s formation when placed in a context of personal involvement, genuine reciprocity, coherence of attitudes, lifestyle, and day-to-day behavior” (The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium, 18).  Direct and personal contact between teachers and students, grounded in faith, is the hallmark of Catholic education.

4. Imbued with a Catholic Worldview.  A “spirit of Catholicism” should permeate the curriculum, not just in religious studies or the theology department.                                                                                                                          Catholic education is geared to the growth of the whole person.  By virtue of our Baptism, we are called to embrace the priesthood of the faithful, which means we sanctify every aspect of our life.  Catholic education fosters this Baptismal responsibility by developing every capability of every student: his/her intellectual, physical, psychological, moral, and religious capacities (cf. The Catholic School, 31).                                                Love for Wisdom and a Passion for Truth.  In an age of information and technological overload, Catholic schools should be attentive to strike the delicate balance between human experience and understanding and wisdom.  A student who graduates from our school should not say, “I had an interesting experience, but I missed the meaning of it all.”                                                                                                            Knowledge and understanding are far   more than the accumulation of information.  Our purpose goes far beyond than preparing students for high school or college.  T.S. Eliot nailed it when he said, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?  Where is the knowledge we have lost in information.”  Catholic schools do far more than convey information and content to passive students.  We aspire to pass on the Wisdom of our rich Catholic Tradition, challenging our students to become life-long learners who grow in Faith.

5. Sustained by Gospel Witness.  A final indicator of a schools authentic catholicity is the vital witness of its teachers and administrators.  The realization of the Catholic vision depends chiefly on them.  That’s why the Vatican pays attention to the vocation of Catholic educators and their participation in the Church’s evangelizing mission.  Theirs is a supernatural calling and is not simply the exercise of a profession (cf. Lay Catholics in Schools, 37).  There is a nobility in being a Catholic educator because the calling comes from Christ, which demands that Catholic educators strive to imitate Christ, the only Teacher because He is the Truth.  In communion with Christ, Catholic educators reveal the Christian message not only by word but also by every gesture of their behavior” (cf. The Catholic School, 43).

Hiring Committed Catholics.  While controversial,  in witnessing to the Mission of the Church, educators in Catholic schools, with very few exceptions, should be practicing Catholics who are committed to the Church and are living her sacramental life within a parish.  The American bishops, of whom we should be of one mind, give unequivocal direction: “Recruit teachers who are practicing Catholics, who can understand and accept the teachings of the Catholic Church and the moral demands of the gospel, and who can contribute to the achievement of the school’s Catholic identity and apostolic goals” (cf. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Directory for Catechesis, 231).

When this directive is ignored inevitable, negative consequences will predictably ensure.  Children will absorb, even if they are not explicitly taught, a soft indifferentism that will neither sustain their practice of the faith nor their ability to imbue society with Christian values.  A primary way to foster a school’s catholicity is by carefully hiring men and women who have a love for the Catholic Church, who enthusiastically endorse its distinctive mission and ethos, for Catholic education is strenghthened by witnesses to the gospel.                                               

            Transparent Witness of Life.  The Catholic witness of educators in the school community is a vital part of the schools’ identity.  Children and adolescence will puck up far more by example of their educators than by current pedagogical and technological techniques, especially in the practice of Christian virtues.                                                                                                Pope Paul VI reinforced this view forty years ago when he said: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers,and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they’re witnesses” (cf. Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41).  What educators do and how they act are more significant than what they say.  If they do not have a rich, regular, and disciplined prayer life; if they are not involved with on-going Faith formation; if they are not participating in the sacramental life of the Church, especially the Eucharist; if they are not living Matthew 25—then how can they give a meaningful witness to their students?  “The more completely an educator can give concrete witness to the model of the ideal person (Christ) that is being presented to the students, the more this ideal will be believed and imitated” (cf. Lay Catholics in Schools, 32).

Hypocrisy turns off students.  While their demands are high and they can be judgmental, if teachers fail to model fidelity to the truth and virtuous behavior, then even the best of curricula cannot successfully embody a Catholic school’s distinctive ethos.  That’s why Catholic educators are expected to be models for their students by being transparent witness to Christ and the beauty of the Gospel.            That’s why if Catholic formators are going to help form young people in their discipleship and sanctity, educators must be formed themselves.

Formation of Catholic Educators 

                                               

                 “Catholic educators need a “formation of the heart”: they need to be led to that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others, so that their educational effort becomes a consequence deriving from their faith, a faith which becomes active through love (cf. Gal 5:6) [Educating Together, #25).   In general, what would this formation look like?  The ingredients of formation would contain the same four essential marks that ground the formation of  Christian disciples:  (1) prayer, (2) adult faith formation (Scripture/Church Tradition), (3) full, active and conscious participation in the Sacraments, and (4) service to the poor.  To the degree that any of these  are lacking or undeveloped within the adult community of a Catholic school,  one’s enthusiasm to effectively embrace the Church’s evangelical  mission will weakened.

(1)            Prayer (public and private). Catholic educators are called to be witnesses to our students that Christ is Risen and to live the Good News.   Such witness must be “nourished by prayer, (and) be the all-encompassing milieu of every Catholic school” (Ibid., #38).  The reason? As St. Augustine once said, “Without God, we can do nothing good.”  Prayer emerges from the realization that we are not self-sufficient, that we are radically dependent upon God for our well-being.  We bear within ourselves the thirst for the Eternal One.  When we regularly go into the Quiet, God will reveal himself and satisfy the seeking of our hearts.  As we are drawn into God’s presence, our consciousness and heart will be gradually transformed into the Mind and Heart of the Risen Christ.  Prayer draws us into God’s presence, which enables us to act from that Power.  If we are not a people of prayer, who spend some time each day in the Silence, then there is a risk  that we may act out our own power, wraught with our egoic wants,  fears, anxieties, and obsessions.  Like the Hound of Heaven, God is forever inviting us into intimacy.  As the Catechism says: “in prayer, the faithful God’s initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response.”

(2)            Adult Faith Formation (Scripture/Church Tradition).  As St. John Henry Newman famously observed “to change is to be human; to change most often is to be most human.”  The only sign of life is change.  If a person is not growing in their faith, then they are slowly dying which can be seen in indifference and a lukewarm involvement with the life of the Church.  While in prayer we most often speak to God and share our experience, but in a “sacred reading” (Lectio Divina) of Scripture God directly speaks to us.  As we listen, understand, and interiorize God’s word, we become transformed by that Word, Whom we believe is the Son of God.  As St. Ambrose once said, “Not to know Scripture is not to know Christ.”  For this reason, the Congregation on Education affirms that the Catholic school “…must be constantly nourished and compared with the sources from which the reason for its existence derives: the saving word of God in Sacred Scripture, in Tradition…enlightened by the Magisterium of the Church”  (Ibid., , #26; emphasis added).                       

(3) Full, active and conscious participation” in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist.   As a Catholic institution we are meant to be a Eucharistic community, which means that Jesus in the Eucharist is the center of the life of the school.   As members of the Body of Christ, we are participating in the same sacrificial offering of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  It is imperative that all Catholic members of the school  community participate in Sunday Eucharist celebration.   To do otherwise  reveals a lack of understanding or appreciation of what it means to be member of the Body of Christ, the Church, and that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our worship.

(4)            Service to the Poor.  Being a Eucharistic community and ministering to the poor go hand-in-glove, as brightness is to light.  As we encounter and deepen our love of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, we will gradually be transformed into what we are meant to be: a member of the Body of Christ, who is the People of God.   As we are being transformed into the Mind and Heart of the Risen Christ, the Holy Spirit will guide us to an encounter and engagement with the poorest of the poor.  Why?  Because that is where Christ is present.  Jesus’ last teaching , before he went to Jerusalem to suffer and die, in Matthew’s gospel is the Judgment of Nations, in which the Lord proclaims that “whatever we do to the least of his brethern, we do to him.”  The implication is profound: the Risen Christ is present in the poor in a distinct way.  That is why ministry to the poor is constitutive of discipleship.  As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states: “The principle of the universal destination of goods requires that the poor, the marginalized and in all cases those whose living conditions interfere with their proper growth should be the focus of particular concern.  To this end, the preferential option for the poor should be reaffirmed in all its force” (#182).  While being a Catholic educator is a vocation and ministry, we need to be pubic icons of service to the poor.  Through prayer, advocacy, and action, we must witness to our students, our preferential option for the poor.

Specific Strategies

Since the evangelical model of Church and call to discipleship among the baptized are essential marks of being Catholic, what remains is how can we bring our calling to fruition?  How can we as adult educators help our students encounter the living Christ Jesus so that they may be leaven to the culture?  How can they engage the Risen Christ, whose presence is mediated by the Catholic Church, which is necessary to Salvation?

The formation of Catholic educators is not optional and should not be left to chance.   The adult faith community   must embrace discipleship and accept our evangelical call, which are constitutive elements of our baptismal promises.

By way of suggestions, some objectives that may promote opportunities and challenges to formation of Catholic educators  are the following:

 

            1.  Hire a coordinator of  Adult Faith Formation for a high school or a consortium of primary schools.             The spiritual maturation of the adult community is going to be a gradual process of conversion.  People are at different levels of faith development and they should be engaged where they are and not where one would want them to be.  A Faith Formation director could serve as a spiritual companion and “coach” to assist this process of becoming a community of disciples.  This position would be very sensitive and the person should meet the following criteria: (1) he/she has a deep and loving relationship with the Risen Christ, which is manifested in daily prayer, regular Eucharistic participation, spiritual direction (as a directee), and service to the poor; (2) he/she should believe that the Church has been given the authority to teach and govern the Church in His name;  (3) as a result, believes and understands what the Church teaches and can articulate them to others; (4) has actually read and is thoroughly conversant in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, the major documents of Vatican II (including Lumen Gentium, Gaudium et Spes, Sacrosanctum Concilium, and Dei Verbum), and the  Compendiuim of Social Doctrine of the Church.

            (2) Active participation in a parish or ecclesial community, including regular Mass attendance.  If discipleship is seen as constitutive element of being a Christian, then regular “full, active and conscious participation” in the Mass is a given.  As a Catholic, we have an obligation to celebrate Sunday Eucharist.   While such an obligation cannot be made a criteria for employment, it would be a goal of evangelical/catechetical efforts with the adult community and would be a priority for the  Adult Faith Coordinator.

(3)  Begin the school year with a traditional weekend retreat.   There is a practical wisdom in having a three-day retreat.  Beginning the school year by embracing the interior life as a community would set a very focused tone and orientation to the incoming school year.  People of the adult community should be invited to attend and be informed about the agenda and purpose of that particular retreat.  While staying at the center for the duration of the retreat would be preferred, family obligations may necessitate that retreatants  return home Friday and Saturday evening.

(4) Begin and end our school day with a brief prayer service in the chapel.  Encourage weekly Lectio Divina and monthly Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  Observe the Angelus at 12:00.

Jesus challenges us to pray always.  If we bookend our educational ministry with community prayer, that practice could inculcate a sense that our work is a form of worship.  Lectio Divina and Adoration  are traditional practices that create an opportunity to encounter the Word of God and to be nurtured by His Eucharistic presence.

We should also remember that “unless the Lords builds the edifice, they labor in vain who build it.”  A quote from Blessed John Paul II underscores this truth:  “There is a temptation which perennially besets every spiritual journey and pastoral work: that of thinking that the results depend on our ability to act and to plan.  God, of course, asks us really to cooperate with his grace, and  therefore invites us to invest all our resources of intelligence and energy in serving the cause of the Kingdom.  But it is fatal to forget that “without Christ we can do nothing” (cf. Jn 15:5). It is prayer which roots us in the truth.  It constantly reminds us of the primacy of Christ and, in union with him, the primacy of the interior life and holiness.  When this principle is not respected, is it any wonder that pastoral plans come to nothing and leave us with a disheartening sense of frustration? (Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 38).

(6)  Regular adult formation workshops, facilitated by Master Catechists or other competent instructors.  Such sessions should have a robust catechetical content together with faith-sharing opportunities.  In other words, there should be a cognitive and affective dimension to these workshops, which should occur on campus and during the school day (such as time allotted for faculty meetings).  Primary schools may find it advantageous to collaborate with consortiums (i.e., deaneries).

***

            The mission of a Catholic school is integrated into the Church’s Mission of proclaiming the Good News and baptizing all nations.  Every Catholic school has a sacred responsibility to actively participate in this over-arching mission.  The Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic education stated that “…all scholastic institutions, but even more the Catholic school is constantly concerned with the formational requirements of society, because “the problem of instruction has always been closely linked with the Church’s mission (Education Together in Catholic Schools, #3).  So, our vocation as Catholic educators is to help our students encounter and come into the presence of the living God in and through Christ Jesus so that they can go on to spread this Good News to the wider culture.  To do so, we must intentionally and actively embrace on-going conversion and formation ourselves

Deacon Jim McFadden

St. Francis High School;

Sacramento, CA