Frustrated that her students would not respond to her, she naturally wondered what was wrong. She modeled her teaching techniques after some of the most recognized teachers of the faith, St. Augustine, Aquinas, De Sales and Newman to name a few. As she expressed her frustration, I asked her if she prayed for his students. She said, “yes,” “of course.” I then asked her if she was specifically praying for their souls? She stood silent and said, no, not really. Surprised by the question, I told her that students tend to have an uncanny ability to know if someone actually cares for them.
The premise of a sound teaching environment does not involve the regurgitation of information. At the heart of every teaching moment involves an opportunity to nourish the soul. When the content of the teaching environment involves Jesus Christ, then the value of the soul takes on a greater significance.
The need for Spiritual Preparation
One of the most important attributes a religion teacher should possess is the ability to engage in and exercise careful spiritual preparation. When the intention of the teacher is to convey the Catholic faith, there is I argue a sincere need to be mindful of the souls one is to about to engage. It is not so much the information presented to the student but how it is presented in a loving and genuine way. If your intention is to lead your students to heaven, then it is important that the teacher be spiritually prepared to engage the souls of their students in the name of Jesus Christ.
The Salesian Way
St. Francis de Sales the great doctor, evangelist, and master teacher of the Catholic Church engaged in daily spiritual preparation to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ in his daily encounters with people. He developed his charisms through confession, daily meditation, rigorous fasting, and severe corporal works of mercy. These acts of faith guided his spiritual resolutions of modest dress, penitential living, serving the poor, and daily devotions the revolved around the celebration of Mass and fasting.
St. Francis De Sales was convinced that a faithful religion teacher required active spiritual preparation, one that would allow the teacher to effectively transmit the message of Jesus Christ and live this message through the Creed. His Salesian approach involved allowing the soul to mature and seek Christ through an environment fostered on the virtue of love and care for the soul. For St. Francis, love precedes all human desire because it directs our intention toward the soul of the person created in the image and likeness of God. He tells us:
Although our human nature may not be endowed with that original soundness and righteousness which the first man had in his creation, but upon the contrary be greatly depraved by sin, yet still the holy inclination to love God above all things stays with us, as also the natural light by which we see his sovereign goodness to be more worthy of love than all things.
Heart Speaks to the Heart
The intention of the Salesian way is to guide a person to seek a relationship with God the Father through the Son Jesus Christ. The method of the Salesian way is rooted in the virtue of charity and the ability to act in love to care for the soul of the student entrusted to the teachers care. It should surprise no teacher of religion that a student will respond if he knows he is loved and not patronized. This means that the teacher has established an environment of acceptance, trust, and faith that student may seek and embrace in the name of Jesus Christ.
St. John Bosco the great disciple of St. Francis De Sales and renowned educator would echo the same elements of faith rooted in the ability to love with his famous statement; “Get them to love you and they’ll follow you anywhere.” When the heart speaks to the heart, the desire to mature with Christ takes on a different perspective. Hence, one of the most effective methods of the heart speaking to the heart is to intercede on behalf of your students. This act of faith will not go unnoticed. Students who know someone has their spiritual back will gravitate to that person and desire to build a lasting relationship that reflects the Trinity and echoes Jesus Christ crucified.
In speaking on the necessity of prayer, St. Francis De Sales reminds us how the heart speaks to the heart in prayer:
Prayer brings our mind into the brightness of divine light, and exposes our will to the warmth of divine love. Nothing else can purge the mind from its ignorance, and our will from its depraved affections. It is a blessed fountain which, as it flows, revives our good desires and causes them to bring forth fruit, washes away the stains of infirmity from our soul, and calms the passions of our hearts. Above all, I would recommend mental prayer, the prayer of the heart; and that drawn from the contemplation of our Savior’s Life and Passion.
St. Francis De Sales, pray for us!