“No one will ever be where you are”Saint John Paul II to Canadian Catholic School Teachers, 1984, NFLD
As CCSTA continues to work towards protecting the mission of Canadian Catholic Education, one of the most important roles to acknowledge and support is the crucial and irreplaceable role of the Catholic Teacher.
In honour of the thousands of teachers in our Catholic Schools who rose valiantly to the occasion of educating in the pandemic of the past two years, we want to offer this reflection on the highlights and marks of your invaluable gift to our Catholic Schools of Canada.
There is extraordinary wisdom held in our Church when it comes to describing and portraying the value of teaching. Beginning with the life of Christ, Catholics have safeguarded and passed down a deep admiration for the mission held within the heart of the vocation of teacher.
What is a Teacher?
While countless things can be said about the endless tasks of each and every one of our Catholic school teachers, at the heart of each of these tasks is the extraordinary calling to bear witness to Christ everyday.
When the crowds were encountering Christ teaching in the synagogues or on the streets or from a fishing boat, they were captured by Him, and often left His presence saying ‘No one has ever spoken like Him…’
In the same way, teachers are called to speak and act in a way that captures the minds and hearts of the young people entrusted to them. What a profound calling indeed!
In a Church document called “GRAVISSIMUM EDUCATIONIS”, a declaration on Christian education, Pope Paul VI proclaims,
“Let teachers recognize that the Catholic school depends upon them almost entirely for the accomplishment of its goals and programs…
Intimately linked in charity to one another and to their students and endowed with an apostolic spirit, may teachers, by their life as much as by their instruction, bear witness to Christ, the unique Teacher.”
In bearing this extraordinary responsibility to incarnate the love of Christ, teachers are tasked with finding ways, daily, to put into practice His life and teachings. From lesson planning to teaching to hallway chats with students, a teacher’s day is centred around ensuring their students have an experience of Christ.
A Calling Rooted in Grace
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness”2 Corinthians 12:9
As with every vocation within the Church, the ‘success’ of a teacher’s mission relies entirely on the grace of God, who accompanies us in the Holy Spirit, to live out such an enormous calling.
After the resurrection of Jesus, just before He ascended into heaven, the disciples were worried about how they would continue to live what they had been taught by Him once He was no longer with them. Jesus assures them, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
And we know how the story goes… after Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples, gathered in fear within a locked room, were filled with the Holy Spirit and through the grace given them, had the courage to spread the Gospel to the ‘ends of the earth’ – most of them at the cost of losing their life.
Because these disciples allowed the grace of the Holy Spirit into their lives, the Gospel continued spreading as Jesus commanded, to the ends of the earth… throughout Europe and Asia… to North America… to the provinces of Canada… where we now, in and through our Catholic Schools, through the vocation of Catholic Teachers, continue on the mission of bearing witness to the love of Christ.
Such a daunting task could never have been completed had the disciples not received this power from the Holy Spirit, to have the courage to risk everything to bear the name of Jesus to those who didn’t know the gospel.
And the same is true for our Catholic Teachers – what could be a more daunting vocation than being Christ all day long to young people? It’s simply an impossibility without the profound grace offered by the Holy Spirit.
Saint John Paul II’s Address to Canadian Catholic Educators
In 1984, during his apostolic visit to Canada, Pope John Paul II addressed Canadian Catholic Educators at St. John’s Basilica in Newfoundland. Though the visit was nearly 40 years ago, his profound admiration for teachers and for their invaluable role in society deserves to be continuously passed on to those still working in Canadian Catholic schools.
He opened his address by saying,
“It is indeed a joy and privilege to join this gathering of educators to speak to those who carry out one of the most important tasks of the Church and of society.”
Commenting on the vocation of teachers, he shared,
“To teach means not only to impart what we know, but also to reveal who we are by living what we believe. It is this latter lesson which tends to last the longest…
… No one will ever be where you are. No one else will ever have the opportunity you have to accompany students in the search for truth, to foster in them a thirst for justice, and an appreciation of the goodness of God, to lead them patiently and lovingly in their journey of faith.”
(Read full address here)
Guardians of true Catholic Identity
Closely linked with the important role of teachers in Catholic Schools is the task of guarding the Catholic identity of our schools. As the culture continues to grow in a direction which often jeopardizes our Catholic faith, it is the consistently Christ-centered teaching and witness of teachers which ensures the protection of each of our schools’ Catholic Identity.
While board members and trustees are often responsible for the decisions which go into guarding the Catholicity of our schools, it’s the teachers who daily carry out this mission, with enthusiasm and passion for the importance of our Catholic faith. It’s through the conviction of our teachers that the students grasp the importance of our faith and encounter the person of Jesus.
Archbishop Michael Miller, Archbishop of Vancouver, BC, highlighted this important task in his document, “The Holy Sees Teachings on Catholic Schools.”
“With [teachers] lies the primary responsibility for creating a unique Christian school climate, as individuals and as a community. Indeed, it depends chiefly on them whether the Catholic school achieves its purpose. Consequently the Holy See’s documents pay considerable attention to the vocation of teachers and their specific participation in the Church’s mission. Theirs is a calling and not simply the exercise of a profession.”
As we join with the entire world-wide mission of Catholic Education in ongoing discussions surrounding the Catholic Identity of our schools, it is crucial that we remember to include our teachers in our conversations.
In carrying the most significant role within Catholic Education, our teachers need and deserve the support and prayers of the entire school community. Catholic School boards and systems have a responsibility to provide adequate formation for each teacher to ensure a deep understanding of what the Church is asking of them. Providing faith formation for each teacher is a necessary component to ensuring each teacher knows the Catholic faith in order to articulate and present it to students. Only through their own encounters with the love of Christ, can our teachers live and pass on the faith.
Gratitude for our Teachers
CCSTA would like to express a deep gratitude for the invaluable and irreplaceable role of our Catholic teachers. We know, keenly, the difficulties you have faced in the past several years and the resiliency with which you responded to your call in the midst of tremendous difficulty. We see and hear about the sacrifices you made to ensure the continuation of our schools and the education of our students. In these two years when the world was filled with fear, you played a vital role in bringing peace, stability and the love of Christ to our students. We are humbled and inspired by your “yes” to Catholic Education – and we pray that you are blessed abundantly for your faithfulness to this mission.
We couldn’t carry out the mission of Catholic Education without you. For all that you have done and continue to do for our schools, thank you.