What happens when you teach toward heaven?

April 12, 2021

The mystery of Christ is the most principle of all religious education and instruction because it involves the introduction of the Trinity through God the Father’s love for His Children and is reaffirmed and revealed through the life and death of His son Jesus Christ. An irony about this important principle is that many who teach the Catholic faith do not hold this view.

Many years ago, Catholic school teacher commented; “it is not my responsibility to teach the Catholic faith to my students, this must come from their parents.” Her initial point was valid in that parents are the primary educators of their children. Active parents in turn entrust their children to Catholic educators to serve as a catechetical continuum and faithfully echo the teachings of Jesus Christ to all students within the classroom. I asked this particular educator if her students can learn from her own personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Her response was prompt: “No, because I don’t have one.” As one can imagine, many were stunned in silence with her response, from my perspective I appreciated her honesty. I proceeded to ask her; “would you like one?” Again, a direct and honest response: “I don’t know.”       

This particular teacher’s response should come as no surprise to many but I would be remiss if I did not express an opportunity awaits to bring this teacher to Christ in subtle, loving way where her soul can be nurtured in the name of Jesus Christ. If this religious educator is struggling with developing a relationship with Jesus Christ and as a result has not been spiritually nourished then what would the end result be toward those whom she had been entrusted to teach the Catholic faith?

The premise of religious instruction is to nurture the soul of the student. Religion teachers who impart or echo the study of religion are tasked with the faithful transmission of a message that has been handed down for over two-thousand years. The transmission of faith if you will involve a clear and systematic introduction, explanation and application of the teachings of Jesus Christ who is the source of the Christian understanding of God.

Introduction to the mystery of Jesus Christ and His Church consists of a two-fold process of investigation and conversion. Christ the Divine teacher provides us with two examples of this process; the first when he addresses the two weary disciples on the Road to Emmaus[1] and second, the address to Thomas who doubted Christ’s resurrection. [2] The intent of any credal investigation into the teachings of Jesus Christ is done with the intent to affirm the authenticity of Christ and His Church.

Conversion takes place when the student begins to encounter a desire to imitate Christ in his daily life and views Him as his sanctuary of faith. Any initial fear toward Christ is now replaced with awe and wonder. Unholy fear is supplanted with joy, antagonism toward the Catholic Church and her teachings Church is replaced with fidelity and love. This is why the active witness of religious educators is so vital throughout.

A sanctuary for learning

The Catholic school and parish religious education program should be the last place where a student does not feel safe or protected. Both of these classroom environments are meant to serve as an extension of the Catholic Church and the religious educator who as an active Christian disciple is responsible for the care of the soul of the student. The student learns and is at ease when he knows that the religion teacher is visibly living a life dedicated to the teachings of Jesus Christ.  

A student learns more from the active witness of a teacher than from a textbook. This means that an effective religious education environment involves a dialogue of salvation. Thus, all religious instruction centered on the kerygma and creed confirms that our journey to Heaven means that our journey on earth has ceased and our new beginning with God in Heaven has begun.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church sheds light on this important point as follows:

This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity this communion of life and love with the Trinity, the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed is called heaven. Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness. To live in heaven is to be with Christ.[3]          

The ultimate end of any form of religious instruction is a students’ response of faith to Divine Revelation. The classroom is a specifically constructed catechetical instrument where the heart and mind of the student is championed and directed toward Christ. And if this is the case, a student’s response would be directed toward a desire for Christ and nothing more.

Teach toward Heaven

We are called to proclaim and teach Jesus Christ crucified who Is the apex of all religious instruction. In Christ we acknowledge God our Father in Heaven and proclaim Jesus Christ as our way to the Father.[4] It is important for all religious educators that Christ is taught in matter and form and not in concept. This means catechetical instruction must be incarnational in nature that consistently reveals the Paschal Mystery in all areas of religious education.   

The final end of all religious instruction is preparation for our eternal life with God in Heaven. Every student that receives this opportunity allows him to identify as God’s child where his act of faith becomes intimately bound with an act of trust in Christ and His Church. St. Cyprian reminds us:

How great will your glory and happiness be, to be allowed to see God, to be honored with sharing the joy of salvation and eternal light with Christ your Lord and God . . . to delight in the joy of immortality in the Kingdom of heaven with the righteous and God’s friends.[5]

 

 

 

 

      

 

[1] Lk 24:13-27

[2] Jn 20:24-29

[3] CCC 1024-1025

[4] Jn 17:3

[5] CCC 604; St. Cyprian, Ep. 58, 10, 1

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