Bishop's Column

The true dignity of education

The following is an excerpt from a talk given by Bishop Conley July 5 at the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education’s Regional Catholic Classical Schools Conference

Good students, and good teachers, seek to know things as they are. To know the Lord, and to see the world in light of divine truth. True schools are communities of learners, receiving and apprehending reality, not asserting themselves, or their importance. True communities of learners are humble disciples of the truth.

Pope St. John Paul II wrote that “faced with the sacredness of life and of the human person, and before the marvels of the universe, wonder is the only appropriate attitude.”

Wonder is humility before the majesty of God. Wonder tolerates no self-importance. Wonder forgets the self. Wonder seeks only to gaze at the marvelous beauty of the world, and its creator. 

In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI told American educators at Catholic University of America that “every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth.”

Encountering the living God is at the heart of true and meaningful Catholic education. This means that teachers, and administrators, must first themselves be disciples of Jesus Christ. It means that prayer—silent communion with the Eucharistic Lord—is at the center of the vocation of a teacher.

To effectively foster encounters with the living God, every single teacher must cultivate a deep and abiding interior relationship with the Lord, especially in the silence of prayer. “The Lord’s first language,” said St. John of the Cross, “is silence.” All missionary activity, which seeks to foster encounter with the Lord, must begin in silence, in lives of intimate prayer before the Lord. This is especially true in education, where fostering an attitude of receptivity and humility is at the heart of your mission.

If we want to cultivate a transformational Catholic school, and a true liberal arts education, which frees us to know the Lord, we need to cultivate a spirituality of silence, which is the sign of discipleship — most especially silence before the Lord, in adoration of the holy Eucharist.

Communion with Jesus in the presence of the Eucharist requires that we look at him and acknowledge the mystery of his presence, and that we learn to appreciate what it really means to be looked upon by him who loves us. We each desire to be known by another — and adoration of the Lord, at the heart, is the experience of being seen, known and cherished not simply by another, but by our very Creator.

The silence, and openness, concentration and presence that the Lord asks of us when we come before him, isn’t easy. But it is transformative. A teacher who sits in silence before the Blessed Sacrament, in humility is transformed by the Lord, and made fit to foster authentic transformation of students.

“The wise man builds his house upon the rock,” the Lord tells us. So does the wise teacher, and the wise school administrator. We can be proud that our schools and classrooms are grounded in an authentically Christian anthropology, an authentically Catholic metaphysics and epistemology, and an authentic commitment to the perfection of the human person, through the renewal of the mind, the will, and the imagination, through Jesus Christ. And to remain faithful to our mission and identity, each teacher, each administrator, and each student, must be committed to prayerfully and humbly pursuing the truth.

Pope Benedict XVI taught that “the dignity of education lies in fostering the true perfection and happiness of those to be educated.” I am proud to know that the teachers and administrators of the Diocese of Lincoln believe that, and live it. As we prepare for the beginning of a new school year, may each one of you “bear witness to hope. Nourish your witness with prayer. Account for the hope that characterizes your lives by living the truth which you propose to your students. Help them to know and love the One you have encountered, whose truth and goodness you have experienced with joy.”

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