Bishop's Column

The power of good teachers

This week, the Diocese of Lincoln honored more than 100 teachers celebrating milestones of service in Catholic schools: 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35 years and beyond. We honored Marian Sister Loretta Happe (pictured) for 50 years of service as a Catholic school teacher.

Many of us can point to the holy and meaningful teachers who have revealed the Gospel to us, and have witnessed to life in Jesus Christ. I converted to the Catholic faith during my college years, and my teacher, Professor John Senior, was also my godfather. His lectures and courses revealed truth to me. But his life, more than anything else, was a witness to the living reality of Christian discipleship. My godfather, and his collaborators, and my fellow students, gave a witness to intellectual and spiritual life in Jesus Christ, a model that still inspires me today.

Truth and beauty is revealed in the real lives of good teachers. This week we celebrated the 171st anniversary of the conversion of Blessed John Henry Newman, the great Anglican convert to the Catholic Church and Oxford professor of the classics. Newman was a gifted teacher and a gifted preacher. He had a tremendous influence in the lives of his students, mostly undergraduates at the University of Oxford.

Newman understood that we experience the deepest conversion to faith when we see it in concrete realities, among the lives of believers and the saints, and especially the lives of our teachers,

He wrote that we come to a deeper kind of knowledge of God, which he called “real assent,” when we see it in concrete and living realities. Real assent, he wrote, as opposed to merely “notional assent,” comes “through the imagination, by means of direct impressions, by the testimony of facts and events, by history, by description. Persons influence us, voices melt us, looks subdue us, deeds inflame us. Many a man will live and die upon a dogma: no man will be a martyr for a conclusion.” 

The best kind of education, and the best kind of teachers, reveal faith to us, and teach us what it means to be free.

Aristotle called the basis for all education the “liberal arts.” That term doesn’t mean just studying history or literature. “Liberal arts” is a term to describe the habits of mind, the powers of induction and deduction, the virtues, especially, that make us free. Liberal arts give us liberty. True education gives us freedom. And Catholic education is a vital part of growing in holiness and missionary discipleship, a vital part of becoming a saint.

Virtue makes us authentically who we are. And imparting virtue, in the mind, and in the will, is what makes a good teacher. Helping students to do their duties to the Lord and to their neighbors, to train their minds, to grow in will and knowledge, in imagination and charity, is at the heart of Catholic education. Giving students a vision for their own good—for a rich and full life in Jesus Christ, is the longstanding mission of Catholic education, and the mission of good Catholic teachers.

Our Catholic school teachers prepare students for careers. But more importantly, they prepare them for the most important challenges of their lives: to be parents, or priests, or religious. They prepare them to choose goodness when no is watching, and to love with consistency and generosity. Our Catholic school teachers show students how to serve the Lord, with their hearts, and minds, and strength.

The profound relationship between teacher and student is the impetus for so many great things. I am grateful for the Catholic school teachers of the Diocese of Lincoln. Please pray for them, and support them, as they help our students to know the Gospel, and to know true and lasting freedom through life in Jesus Christ.

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