domenica 11 novembre 2012


Faith and the Catholic Teacher
John Lydon

By faith, the Apostles left everything to follow their Master (cf. Mk 10:28). They believed the words with which he proclaimed the Kingdom of God present and fulfilled in his person (cf. Lk 11:20). They lived in communion of life with Jesus who instructed them with his teaching, leaving them a new rule of life, by which they would be recognized as his disciples after his death

The above statement, taken from Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement of the Year of Faith[1] beginning on 11 October 2012, the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, highlights four key themes in the context of faith and the Catholic teacher:

§  The faith of the disciples of Jesus
§  Faith and the teacher – Vatican II and subsequent documents
§  Christian community life
§  Integrity of Life.

The faith of the disciples of Jesus

In a previous article for the Pastoral Review[2] I highlighted the significance of the response of the first disciples of Jesus to His call, encapsulated in the use of the Greek word ‘aphentes’, translated in most texts as ‘they left’ but denoting a radical break with the past and a commitment to a new venture. (Mark 1:16-18). It could be suggested that the word indicates the disciples making a radical break from their former livelihoods and embarking upon an unknown path of discipleship. Following Jesus means rupturing family ties, echoing the promise made by Jesus of the rewards to be gained in return
for faithfully following him in answer to Peter’s question “We have left everything to follow you, what then shall we have?: (Mt: 19:27)

“And everyone who has left  houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or  lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and inherit eternal life.” [3]

This notion of trusting abandonment is also present in the account of the call of the first disciples recorded by Luke. This account, referred to sometimes as the ‘miraculous catch of fish’ (Luke 5: 1-11), has several key distinctive features compared to the parallel accounts in Matthew and Mark. There remains, however, the seminal concept that the call marks a new departure in the lives of the future disciples. It is interesting to note that ‘fishers of men’ is one of the two main images for ministry in the New Testament, the other being ‘shepherd’. In the context of vocation the use of the Greek word ‘katartizein’ (‘mending’ the nets) in the parallel accounts is significant. The word is used elsewhere in the New Testament to articulate the concept of building community within the Church (1Cor: 1-10) [4] and John Fenton[5] suggest that the word ‘casting’ reflects the missionary task of the disciple while ‘mending’ reflects a catechetical role.

The Catholic teacher is called to model the faith demonstrated by the response of the first disciples to their initial call and throughout the Gospel. While the ‘Good Shepherd’ discourse encapsulates the notion of modelling discipleship, it is Paul, however, more than any New Testament writer who develops the theme of imitation or emulation in the context of teaching. Paul makes it clear throughout his letters that teaching is one of the key “functions of service”. Teachers are, in fact, placed third in order of importance after apostles and prophets (1Cor12:29). While Paul does insist that there is a specific tradition to be handed on[6], he is more concerned to emphasise the importance of emulation. He is not afraid to encourage his readers to imitate him and this is stated most explicitly when Paul encourages his readers to “be imitators of me as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).” Imitator translates the Greek ‘mimetes’ and is used by Paul to mean to ‘strive to resemble’ or ‘follow as an example’. Paul is asserting that Christ is the perfect example for all to follow. Since the Corinthians are unable to witness the earthly Jesus, they must therefore strive to follow Paul’s example. This theme of imitating Paul who himself imitates Christ appears with reference to every community which knew Paul personally.

Formation in the early Christian community was dominated by the concept of imitation reflected in St Paul’s letters. As Joseph Grassi puts it “tradition was passed on in the lives of the teachers themselves.”[7] The Christian life was rooted in the standard of teaching about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus which formed an essential part of what would now described as the programme of formation in preparation for, at that time, adult baptism.

The significance of the Second Vatican Council

There are ten references to ‘faith’ in the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Christian Education. While the document reasserts the seminal nature of the role of parents in nurturing the faith received at baptism,, rooted in Western Christian tradition, it emphasise the significance of teachers in supporting parents:
“Beautiful indeed and of great importance is the vocation of all those who aid parents in fulfilling their duties and who, as representatives of the human community, undertake the task of education in schools. This vocation demands special qualities of mind and heart, very careful preparation, and continuing readiness to renew and to adapt.”[8]
 Successive documents on Catholic education deriving from the Congregation for Catholic Education deepen the principles of Vatican II. There are forty four citations of the word ‘faith’ in The Catholic School (1977), particularly in the context of the integration of faith and culture and faith and life. There is, however, a more explicit emphasis on the importance of the life of faith of the individual teacher in the context of the faith development of young people:

“The extent to which the Christian message is transmitted through education depends to a very great extent on the teachers. The integration of culture and faith is mediated by the other integration of faith and life in the person of the teacher. The nobility of the task to which teachers are called demands that, in imitation of Christ, the only Teacher....”[9]

This statement associates an emphasis on the faith of the teacher with the mandate to imitate Christ, a theme which permeates Vatican and other documents of Bishops Conferences internationally[10] and which is revisited in the Congregation’s 1982 document Lay Catholics in School: Witnesses to Faith. In a document in which the marked decline in numbers of religious involved in the teaching apostolate was recognised, officially, for the first time, there is an accent on the importance of lay teachers particularly in the context of maintaining the distinctive character of Catholic school. The faith of the teacher is axiomatic and, among the fifty four references to faith and its cognates, the connection between faith and being a role model is particularly apposite:

“It is in this context that the faith witness of the lay teacher becomes especially important. Students should see in their teachers the Christian attitude and behaviour that is often so conspicuously absent from the secular atmosphere in which they live. Without this witness, living in such an atmosphere, they may begin to regard Christian behaviour as an impossible ideal.”[11]

The centrality of witness in this statement is evocative of Pope Paul VI’s suggestion that “modern man listens to teachers only when they are witnesses[12]”. Thomas Groome sums this up in the aphorism “bringing life to Faith”, ensuring that, in the midst of the doctrines and the dogmas of the Church, the fact that the Person of Jesus is at the core of the Christian faith:

“....our [the teacher’s] approach should be inspired by his [Jesus’] teaching style....his welcome......respect for learners, the way he actively engaged with them...and invited them to discipleship.”[13]

Christian Community Life

There are seventy six references to faith in the Congregation’s 1988 document which, building on previous documents, continues to focus on the relationship between faith and culture/life. One of the distinctive features of this document in relation to the teacher is its emphasis on teachers working collaboratively. While recognising that the school community encompasses parents, students and governors, the document insists that “prime responsibility” for maintaining the distinctive ethos of a Catholic school rests with teachers “as individuals and as a community”.[14]

When speaking of lay teachers working alongside priests and religious, the document also links faith, witness and community in suggesting that “lay teachers contribute their competence and their faith witness to the Catholic school.” (n.37) This witness of the lived faith of teachers should be modelled Christ and should, therefore, have a profound effect on the lives of students:

“Most of all, students should be able to recognize authentic human qualities in their teachers. They are teachers of the faith; however, like Christ, they must also be teachers of what it means to be human.” (n.96)

The theme of the sign-value of witness permeates the Congregation’s 2000 document  and while it is made clear that the focus is specifically on “the specific contribution of consecrated persons to the educational mission in schools”[15], reference is made to the need for consecrated persons to introduce programmes of formation in schools for which they hold the trusteeship. It is made clear that the purpose of these programmes of formation or mentoring focuses on “the vocational dimension of the teaching profession in order to make the teachers aware that they are participating in the educational and sanctifying mission of the Church.” [16] Apart from the reference to the term ‘vocation’, affirming, in common with previous documents, that lay, as well as consecrated persons, are called to share in the educational mission of the Church, there is also an insistence on living the values espoused in formation programmes as opposed to merely engaging in conversations. Such an insistence formed a central feature of programmes introduced by groups of religious in the USA. While including theoretical components such as exploring the concept of vocation and sharing the vision, the programmes focused primarily on the integration of the teachers’ way of life with their lifework, thereby modelling values such as commitment to a common mission.[17]

The latest document[18] continues to focus on the value of programmes of formation. While emphasising the role of religious in the Church’s educational mission, the document recognises that responsibility for such programmes in many parts of the world has been transferred to lay teachers. It is in this context that the heightened significance of the role of lay teachers is presented. There is again an emphasis on living their faith, the term ‘witness’ appearing seventeen times within the document. The lay teacher must, firstly, be a witness to “a living encounter with Christ” in order to “demonstrate Christian life as bearing light and meaning for everyone”. (n.15)   While the term ‘sacramental perspective’ is not used in the document, the whole tone is dominated by the notion that Christ is the foundation of all educational enterprises and that commitment to modelling their lives on Christ  is the only effective way in which teachers can translate this vision into practice.
Integrity of Life

In his Apostolic Constitution on ecclesiastical universities and faculties Pope John Paul II stated that:

Teachers are invested with very weighty responsibility in fulfilling a special ministry of the word of God and in being instructors of the faith for the young. Let them, above all, therefore be for their students, and for the rest of the faithful, witnesses of the living truth of the Gospel and examples of fidelity to the Church.[19]

The key themes articulated in this article, witness and linking faith with life, are summed up in this assertion. In a recent study which involved in-depth interviews with a range of Catholic teachers[20], the author found evidence of a deeply held conviction that vocation and commitment, made real in self-sacrifice, were synonymous, with some responses indicative of a convergence between the religious and lay vocation articulated by the Congregation (2007: 20 & 39). Building community was also germane, particularly in the context of solidarity around the school mission realised in practice by engagement in rituals and extra-curricular activities. Several teachers devoted a considerable amount of time to leading liturgy and pilgrimages which represents a critical role in sustaining Catholic culture including celebrating Christian values in Word and Sacrament.

Teachers were, however, slightly more equivocal in regard to what integrity of life, defined here as “combining personal conviction and practice of the faith”[21], might mean and its implications in the context of the leadership of Catholic schools. If Thomas Groome is right in maintaining that the good Catholic school is one in which “Catholic educators allow their faith commitments to shape the whole curriculum”, then it is essential that a core group of Catholic teachers articulate their faith and witness to that faith. Groome goes on to define exactly what putting faith to work in practice might mean in a Catholic school. He insists that such faith is not simply the personal faith of the individual educator which, though important, must reflect the teachings of the Magisterium:
“For what else is Catholic education but an education that reflects the foundational convictions of Catholicism. Following on, Catholic educators must take these deep rivers of faith that define Catholicism and allow them to become operative commitments through their vocation – to put them to work in their teaching.”[22]  

The extent to which Catholic teachers align their faith with operative commitments and its significance for Catholic schools going forward could be the subject of a future article.

[2] September/October 2011
[3] Mk 19:29 cp. Mk10:29-30 – emphasis inserted
[4] “I appeal to you to … united in the same mind and in the same judgement” cf. also 2 Cor
13:11; Gal 6:1; Eph4:12; 1Thes 3:10
[5] Fenton, JC., (1963), Saint Matthew, Harmondsworth, Penguin
[6] Rom 6:17 – standard of teaching – tupon didaches
[7] Grassi J., (1973), The Teacher in the primitive Church and The Teacher Today, Santa Clara CA,
University of Santa Clara:54
[8] Pope Paul VI (Second Vatican Council), (1965), Gravissimum Educationis (Declaration on
Christian Education), London, CTS n.5
[9] Congregation for Catholic Education, (1977), The Catholic School, London, CTS: 43 – emphasis in
[10] see, for example, USCCB, (1972), To Teach as Jesus Did, Washington, Daughters of St Paul
[11] Congregation for Catholic Education, (1982), Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith, London,
CTS : 32 – emphasis inserted
[12]Pope  Paul VI, (1975), Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, London, CTS : 41
[13] Groome, T H., (2011), Will There Be Faith?, Dublin, Veritas
[14] Congregation for Catholic Education., (1988), The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, London, CTS : 26

[15] Congregation for Catholic Education, (2002), Consecrated Persons and their Mission in Schools, (CPMS), London, CTS: n.4
[16] ‘CPMS’ n.59
[17] Keating, K and Travis, M.P., (2001), Pioneer Mentoring in Teacher Preparation, St Cloud, Minnesota, USA, North Star Press of St Cloud – see especially Chapter 6
[18] Congregation for Catholic Education (2007), Educating Together in Catholic Schools: A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful, (ETCS), London, CTS
[19] Pope John Paul II, (1979), Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana,  - emphasis inserted
[20] Lydon, J., (2011), The Contemporary Catholic Teacher: A Reappraisal of the Concept of Teaching as a Vocation in a Catholic Christian Context, Saarbrücken, Germany, Lambert Academic Publishing
[21] McMahon, Bishop M., (2009),  Memorandum on Appointment of Teachers to Catholic Schools, published on the Catholic Education Service website
[22] Groome, T H., (2003), Forging In the Smithy of the Teacher’s Soul in Prendergast, N., & Monahan, L., (Editors), (2003), Re-imagining The Catholic School, Dublin, Veritas:41

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