Friday, October 24, 2008

Teachers and Saints

I presented the following to our Catholic School teachers as part of their inservice, enjoy!

I may still be under 30, but in my eleventh year after leaving the Yankton Public School District, I can still remember almost everyone of my teachers. There is something basic about a teacher. The memory of those teachers whom mentored and guided us is perhaps the most enduring throughout our life. I wanted to be a teacher. I originally went to school with the lofty triple major of chemistry, music, and secondary education. In my final year of high school nothing offered a more satisfying future than living as I had been taught.

Mr. Medeck was my hero. Mr. Powell was my friend. Bob Medeck taught chemistry at Yankton High School for over 30 years. He wore the same outfit everyday and was 100% nerd! He told silly jokes about Avogadro’s number and always found science in the news. I still remember some of his lines, “If you had a base you could wash yourself with yourself!”

Ted Powell was our band director and was easy going and a huge joker. Except when it was competition- whether in the field or in ensemble, you didn’t mess with Ted before a competition. Ted was self-depreciating in his humor, always willing to make a fool of himself, his weight, and even his job if it would bring the student a greater love of music. Some students made the mistake of thinking his sense of humor meant he didn’t care. Mr. Powell’s heart was the biggest part of him.

I wanted to be like them, to emulate them.

Mrs. Pierce
Mr. Merril
Mrs. Bailey
Mr. Gevins
Mrs. Notheis
Mrs. Winter
Mrs. Winner
Mr. West

What greater goal is there in a teacher’s heart, than for the student strive after them? Striving after is different than looking up to. Looking up to means the teacher is above and beyond the student and the difference between the two is emphasized. Striving after means the teacher invites the student to come up where they are in adulthood, maturity, knowledge and wisdom. To put it another way: teachers shouldn’t desire to elicit admiration but aspiration. This is teaching.

My teachers taught my heart to strive. Mr. Medeck’s love of esters, Mr. Powell’s love of Gustav Holst, Mr. Winter’s love of Arthur Miller, and Mrs. Schultz’s love of all fiction inspired me to the same. I am the man I am. I am the priest I am, not because of any singular gift but because I was taught to strive.

In your own heart of hearts, the joy of striving lives as well. Whether it is your own striving after your own inspiration, your own urging on of your students or some combination, you know this joy. Teachers must know this joy or else the prospect of Monday mornings, over-protective parents, and endless lesson plans will sap whatever other good they receive through salary, friendship, and summer vacations. You know this same joy.

This is the joy of sainthood.

If you understand this joy, then blessed are you, for you understand the joy of the saints. If you understand the joy of striving and achieving, then you know a taste of the joy of brothers and sisters in holiness. You also understand then, why nothing will ever replace teachers and nothing will ever replace saints. No matter how we try to learn from a book or a DVD or other medium, nothing will ever replace an “in-the-flesh” witness, whether that witness is chemistry, music, grammar or the faith in Jesus Christ.

Your decision to be teachers in a Catholic school means that you desire your students to aspire and strive, not simply in reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also in faith. Your witness of an integrated and full Christian faith is testimony not only to the goodness, fruitfulness, and beauty of the Faith but also that it can be received and achieved. St. Augustine, in the 4th Century said that he believes the Scriptures because of the Church— not because he was commanded to believe but because he saw men and women living out the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus Christ as described in the Scriptures. You are called and you are capable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ to your students.

We know that none of us is perfect, as teachers or as Christians. We know that we all need to grow and be strengthened and sometimes even to prune and to trim. My prayer for you as that you’ll view this little adventure this year with the Catechism for Adults as such an opportunity. It uses the story of saints and clear descriptions to show us who and what we should be aiming at. You do not have to be an expert to appreciate this Catechism, you just have to aspire and strive to imitate Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is living and effective, cutting more surely than any two-edged sword. The Truth is always this way. We think we have learned everything about a language, a science, or an art and then we find that the Truth is bigger. The Faith is the Truth and so the Faith is always bigger. The Saints are not those women and men who mastered the Faith and reached a state of perfection, but the Saints are those women and men who never stopped striving and reaching, they never stopped asking for forgiveness and healing.

My desire for each of you is to become Saints! To become a Saint is not boring or monotonous but is the greatest adventure of human life. Am I aiming high? No higher than Jesus who desires us to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”


Adoro te Devote said...

Thanks Father.

I also remember a lot of my teachers and professors over the years (including the ones I have now). There's no doubt that they contributed to the person I am today. Last week, when visiting friends in Cincinnati, we visited a Cathedral in Kentucky, and I recognized flying buttresses...and I still remember that I learned that term and about the Art that went into the Cathedrals thanks to Mrs. Freund. (Oh, and her take on Freud: "Who would want one, anyway?") lol. I guess she got sick of being compared to him.

Anyway, I might have to do my own post on teachers. And I love how you finished this...with the encouragement to become saints. That's more important than anything else.

Without God we are nothing...and if we would all take this call to holiness seriously, just IMAGINE what this world would be like!

The Ironic Catholic said...

This is just awesome! You combined two of my favorite themes--the importance of teachers and teaching, and the sainthood. I'm keeping this one on file!

Fr. Andrew said...

Thanks, the teachers were a little reluctant about doing this in-service, so I was trying to whet the spiritual appetites that they had forgotten about. Your comments give me hope that I accomplished that...dare I say, hope I can believe in?