As the young man gazed around the classroom, you could sense his fear and confusion, questioning why he was in this class. Any teacher who has taught in the classroom knows this scenario quite well when we receive a new student for the first time. This young human being has just been thrust into a new and unknown world that, at first glance, is difficult for him to conceptualize. Possessing no formal religious education formation, let alone any idea that he just might be loved by God, serves as a reminder that every human being bears the image and likeness of God and is not a wasted product-we are not created in vain.
The last thing a new student needs as he attempts to maneuver his way through a new school environment is to be told, “this is what you have to believe,” no questions asked. A fallacy often promoted amongst evangelists and catechists alike is that his way of presenting or teaching the Catholic faith should be enough to awaken a person’s faith in God. If the attempt by an evangelist/educator is to proclaim and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he should be reminded that the soul is the spiritual principle of every human being. Hence our efforts to reach the soul of a human being must be internal first and then confirmed with the external.
The Value of the Soul
In the second book of Maccabees, we encounter the Jewish scribe Eleazar and his fellow brethren, ordered by Antiochus, the pagan king, to profane themselves and the temple of sacrifice to remove any semblance of the Jewish religion and culture. Eleazar had been urged to profane himself with swine meat and was even encouraged to consume non-swine meat to spare his life, but he refused as he would rather endure terrible suffering rather than defile his soul.
The principle of this story is two-fold: Eleazar had a profound love for Yahweh; he freely chose to suffer death rather than defile Him. Second, Eleazar proclaims a holy fear of God far greater than any form of defilement. What is unique about this Holy story is the value of the soul. Any honest evangelist or catechist would not want to impose nor expose their students to unholy thoughts and ideas. On the contrary, the aim is to nurture the soul so that the student in question begins to develop a holy addiction to God the Father. And, in this holy addiction, the development of genuine love and holy fear of the Father. Just as the union of the kerygma and the creed share the dignity and identity rooted in Jesus Christ, the soul and the body share the same dignity and likeness of God our Father.
Addicted to God
The work of the religious educator, evangelist, and catechist alike is to prepare your students for the reception of grace-centered on the reception of Jesus Christ, His Church, and the fruits of Jesus’s love both on His sacrifice on the Cross and the gifts of this sacrifice divinely revealed in the sacramental life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us:
Man’s preparation for the reception of grace is already a work of grace. This latter is needed to arouse and sustain our collaboration in justification through faith, and in sanctification through charity. God brings to completion in us what he has begun, “since he who completes his work by cooperating with our will began by working so that we might will it:
The Catechism echoes Eleazar’s proclamation that he desires grace with God rather than defile himself. Significant in this Catechism section is its kerygmatic identity to be prepared to receive the love of God. This means that our message must address the internal disposition of the person and the possible spiritual wounds he may be carrying. But also the external nature, forming and accompanying how they should respond to these spiritual wounds.
St. Paul reminds us that the sufferings on this earth cannot replace what awaits him in heaven. He adamantly professes his adoption as a son and the redemption of his body. This is the hope that awaits him, that in everything, God works for the good with those who love him. Helping someone become spiritually addicted to God in a prudent and holy way requires the teacher to teach Jesus Christ not in isolation but within the whole relationship between the Father and the Holy Spirit that reveals the Trinity.
Holy addictions are, in essence, spiritual habits anchored on Jesus Christ and embedded within the sacramental life of the Church. The maturation of a holy addiction to God the Father requires a free assent or acceptance of the Son Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and the Holy Spirit as the visible breath and guide from the Father and the Son.
All our efforts to lead a brother and sister in Christ to the Lord must revolve around the formation of the internal disposition-the soul, and the external disposition-I am a child of God whom our Father in heaven loves. I leave you with these comforting words from God our Father to the prophet Jeremiah:
I have not lost sight of my plan for you, the Lord says, and it is your welfare I have in mind, not you undoing; for you, too, I have a destiny and a hope.