In the Gospels, Jesus had many roles and titles. He was a wonderworker, who worked miracles as signs of the Kingdom of Heaven, such as when he changed water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee, or when he calmed the storm at sea. He was a prophet, who spoke the truth, challenging the hypocrisy of some of the religious leaders of his time, who burdened the people with laws while not lifting a finger to help them. He was a preacher, who announced the nearness of the Kingdom of Heaven and the need for repentance. He was a healer, who cured the sick and expelled demons.
In addition, one prominent role that Jesus held was that of teacher. As a teacher, Jesus explained the ways of God, and unfolded the truths of the Kingdom of Heaven. I have read that the four Gospels apply the title “Teacher” to Jesus more than any other title. In all, Jesus is addressed as “Teacher” in the Gospels 45 times.
The Sermon on the Mount is one of the best examples of Jesus teaching the people. (See Matthew, chapters 5-7.) In this sermon, Jesus instructs the people about the Kingdom of Heaven. In this Gospel, Matthew portrays Jesus as the new Moses, teaching from the mountaintop. He teaches while seated on the mountain — a posture that points to his authority as a teacher, and his disciples gather around him.
At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches the people the eight beatitudes — eight qualities of those who live according to the ways of the Kingdom of Heaven. In the Beatitudes, Jesus, the Teacher, teaches us about right relationship with God and about how to live as Kingdom people in the here and now.
At this time, as schools are coming to the end of the term before the summer break, and graduations are taking place, we have the opportunity to reflect upon how Christ our Teacher furthers his teaching of the Kingdom of Heaven through Catholic education.
Why is Catholic education important? Archbishop J. Michael Miller, C.S.B., who was Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, and Vice President of the Pontifical Work of Priestly Vocations under Pope St. John Paul II, answered that question in his article, “Five Essential Marks of Catholic Schools.” (in his book, “The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools,” Sophia Institute Press, 2006)
First, Catholic education sets before us a vision that goes beyond that of our society — a supernatural vision. By teaching love of God and love of neighbor, Catholic schools uphold the ultimate goal — to get to the Kingdom of Heaven. Catholic education is not simply giving information that leads to success and comfort in life, but rather it is to lift up a person and guide him or her to the ultimate goal of salvation.
Second, Catholic education emphasizes that God’s creation is good, and that each individual has the dignity of a child of God, and that Jesus, through his becoming one like us, unites with each human person.
Third, Catholic schools are communities, which include cooperation between educators and the family, the pastors, the bishops and the larger Church, as well a profound interaction between the educators and the students.
The Catholic school is a community that recognizes the importance of school environment. The Catholic school is recognizably Catholic. In Catholic schools, you will find:
- The presence of the crucifix in the classrooms;
- The expression of daily prayer and frequent liturgy;
- The availability of the Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation; and
- Devotions corresponding to the Church year — the Advent wreath, the Stations of the Cross during Lent, the praying of the Rosary in October and May.
These are all dimensions of Catholic schools, which inspire a feeling of being connected to the community of faith.
Fourth, a spirit of Catholicism permeates the curriculum of Catholic schools. The curriculum aims at developing the growth of the whole person in all dimensions — intellectual, physical, psychological, moral and religious dimensions.
What is key to this integral approach? The Gospel is the key. Catholic school educators instill in the students a moral compass, helping them to discern that which is truly of value in life. They give them the tools they need to make good decisions, which will benefit them and others in this world, with an eye fixed on the world to come. Catholic school students learn not simply to accept culture as it is, or reject it out of hand; rather, to transform culture with faith-filled attitudes and actions.
Fifth, Catholic education is sustained by Gospel values. The role of teachers and administrators is to participate in the Church’s mission of evangelization. Here, teachers give witness to the Gospel through their example. As persons of faith, convinced of the innate dignity of the students they teach, they inspire their students to be the best they can be, intellectually and spiritually, by the grace of God.
A supernatural vision, a unique Catholic perspective, a loving community, a curriculum steeped in Catholic thought, a vision sustained by Gospel values — these are the benefits of Catholic education. Catholic education strives to bring about the awareness of the presence of Christ the Teacher. It is in Christ that all human values find their fulfillment.
We give thanks for our Catholic schools, our principals, teachers, staff and families committed to Catholic education. May the Holy Spirit grant them wisdom and grace to continue the work of Christ, our Teacher and Lord.