I have an issue with Jesus Christ

May 24, 2021

A disdained look flashed across the face of the department chair of religion after I clarified that anyone who teaches the Catholic faith has a moral and ethical responsibility to teach in the name of Jesus Christ and not divert from Him. She objected to the requirement that all Catholic high school religion teachers were required to use Sacred Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and their assigned religion texts to convey the faith. She argued that the teacher is a more effective witness of the Gospel to students than any written material.

Her position drew a lively response from her fellow colleagues with groups forming sides for and against her position. As I began to arbitrate the debate it became evident that an underlying tone to the department chair’s position was her view of Christ as an actual impediment to formal Catholic religious instruction (catechetical instruction). Her position was so demonstrative that anyone who dare argue with her would face Dante’s inferno.  

I have an issue

The importance of the Trinity as The Hierarchy of Truth should be without question as it initiates us into the Kingdom of God through baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and all sins are forgiven[1]. As the debate raged to determine what is the more effective approach to teaching the Catholic faith, I informed the class that an effective witness of the Gospel is one who lives in accord with the teachings of the Catholic Church and is able to demonstrate a visible and genuine model of faith in Jesus Christ.[2]

Unfortunately, the religion chair became visibly offended by my position and commented: “I have an issue with your statement.” To the shock of multiple students in the class, this particular educator had an issue with the use of Jesus Christ as the main subject in religion class. She double-down her position that her students would learn more form their own personal experiences of faith without the need to associate with Jesus Christ in any way. Hence Divine Revelation and our response of faith to the living Word of God in His son Jesus Christ, Sacred Tradition and the development of Christian doctrine that owes its identity to Christ and His Word is null and void. Why this particular religious educator would appear to reject important tenets of the Catholic faith is debatable. However, this scenario provided an opportunity to articulate the importance of the Trinity especially the love revealed by God through His Son Jesus Christ for the salvation of all mankind.  

The love that never ends

Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity who is both fully human and fully divine. He is also the Word made flesh, the Incarnate Word who came to proclaim the message of God’s love toward His people and would demonstrate this love through the death and resurrection of His own Son for the salvation of all men.[3] The doctrine of love does not mean a love that sets itself apart from the Paschal Mystery. When a Catholic educator teaches that God is love it is not to be relegated to a purely emotional concept. The doctrine of love is in reference to the suffering Jesus Christ endured for the salvation of all men.

By embracing in his human heart, the Father’s love for men, Jesus “loved them to the end,” for “greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” In suffering and death his humanity became the free and perfect instrument of his divine love which desires the salvation of men. Indeed, out of love for his Father and for men, whom the Father wants to save, Jesus freely accepted his Passion and death: “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” Hence the sovereign freedom of God’s Son as he went out to his death.[4]

The experience of Jesus Christ

A sound argument can be made that the religious educator who raised objections to teaching in the name of Jesus Christ may not have a personal and active relationship with Him. One my also argue that her position lacks curricular credibility because any sound curriculum though not perfect does require some form of structure and foundation. Even if we present the teachings of the Catholic Church through our own personal lens, it should at least explain the Paschal Mystery-the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ and demonstrate how to live an active and engaged sacramental life with Him.

The use of personal experience is not an issue if the person in question is an active and faithful disciple of Jesus Christ who faithfully delivers the content of the faith as contained in Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The pedagogy of Jesus Christ or the way Christ communicates God’s love to His people involved his own baptism in the Jordan, the proclamation of God’s Word at the Mount of Beatitudes, preaching at the temple, initiation to prayer, miraculous healings, communal fellowship, divine preaching, sacrificial-eucharistic meal, and ultimately a sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection.

Jesus used these methods to communicate God’s message of salvation. The Directory for Catechesis reaffirms this point where it tells us that the Christian community is the origin, locus and goal of catechesis: proclamation of the Gospel always begins with the Christian community and invites man to conversion and the following of Christ.[5] The classroom is the opportunity where we guide our students toward a dialogue of salvation between themselves and God the Father. The aim of this process is to direct our students to Heaven through the Incarnation which means our active participation in the sacramental life of the Church especially in the reception of the Holy Eucharist.

Jesus reminds the Jews in the temple that His teaching does not come from Him but his who sent me. [6] This is a very important point when the use of experience as a primary means of religious instruction comes into question. The great Catholic educator Msgr. Eugene Kevane fittingly dispels the false notion that Jesus Christ is an impediment to religious instruction:

The content of Jesus’ teaching, therefore, does not come from the human empirical sciences or the human philosophies. It stands changelessly above the level of human reason, for it comes out of the prophetic light, the very Word of God spoken now by the lips of God Incarnate.[7]      

 

[1] CCC 1262

[2] St. Paul Vi, Evangelization in the Modern World, 41

[3] CCC 25

[4] CCC 609

[5] Directory for Catechesis, 133

[6] Jn 7:16

[7] Kevane, Msgr. Eugene, Jesus the Divine Teacher, (New York, Vantage, 2003), p. 169

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