A religion teacher’s gift

God has seen fit to save me through my wife and my children, but also through my students.

As a husband and father, I share the grace of many who have the privilege of those roles. But as a religion teacher in a Catholic high school, I have been blessed as few will ever be.

God calls each of us to holiness through our own circumstances. And so, I get the pleasure of sharing my faith and love of God with high school students. However, I also get the pleasure of being blessed by their faith and love.

As I live my vocation as a religion teacher, I teach them the courses of the Curriculum Framework as unanimously passed by the USCCB in 2007. I also share with them Jesus Christ as he is lived in my life.

In turn, when they live their vocation as students, they share Jesus Christ with me as he is lived in their lives. They let me know their faith by being students: responding to and asking questions, completing tasks, studying for and taking tests, and completing projects as a part of their lives in the classrooms.

For example, I asked my juniors, “Why is marriage a sacrament?” It is a deliberately open-ended question intended to spark their ability to analyze, apply, and evaluate the sacrament of marriage. As I read, I look for the ability to pull together the content we have studied, but also how they have assimilated the information into their lives. My desire is that it becomes so much a part of their lives that they will remember it when they undergo immediate preparation for marriage. One student responded:

"Marriage is a sacrament for many reasons. Jesus Christ raised the institution of marriage to a sacrament because he wanted us to experience his presence more fully through it. The Sacrament of Matrimony serves two purposes: procreation and unity. By receiving the sacrament, a couple receives the necessary graces needed to carry out the purposes of marriage. Marriage is a sacrament because it helps bring a couple closer to God and the effects guide the couple in their lifelong journey to holiness.

"The Sacrament of Matrimony has special graces that the couple receives when they receive the sacrament. One effect of this grace is that it helps the couple perfect their love for each other and strengthen their bond. This effect of grace helps the couple to unite with each other and bring Christ into that relationship as well. The grace received in marriage also assists them as they work to fulfill the responsibilities of married life. This includes raising children in the faith and ensuring that they stay faithful and loyal throughout their marriage. A third effect of marriage is that it guides the couple on their journey to eternal life. By receiving a sacramental marriage, the couple openly allows God into their relationship where he can work and guide them in the faith. Marriage is a sacrament because of its connection to Christ and the graces which the couple receives.

"Marriage is a sign of love and fidelity in the Church. By being a sacrament, marriage can bring a couple closer together and closer to God. The couple receives unique graces that guide them throughout their married life. Marriage is a sacrament because it was instituted by Christ at the wedding at Cana and it connects the couple to God. The Sacrament of Matrimony serves the purposes of procreation and unity in order to help the Church grow and guide the couple to eternal life." 

This response, and others like it, is a gift to me. It calls me to reflect on my marriage and my relationship with God through my marriage.

Another example of receiving a gift of faith is when I asked my sophomores, “Why would God the Father allow his Son, Jesus, to suffer and die the way he did?” This gets to the heart of the Paschal Mystery. It also connects with the problem of evil, which is so crucial to address with respect to the idealistic leanings of adolescents. With this essay, I am looking for the sense that they understand that God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to save us. In other words, I am looking for variations on John 3:16. One student’s response transcended that equation:

"God loves each and every one of us far greater than we could ever love something on Earth. We are to love God with all our being as he loves us with His. His undying love goes so far that he sent His only Son to die for us. What kind of father would do that? Why would he sacrifice His Son and not Himself? That’s just how much He loves us.

"God loves the Son to an infinite extent and the Son loves Him the same way. This exchange of love is the Holy Spirit. Some people think that God is a bad father for having His Son die for us. No father in their right mind would tell their son to go experience ultimate pain and suffering and then die. Some people argue that God should have done it Himself.

"The reason God made His Son do it is to prove how much He truly loves us. It all makes sense the more I write this. As I said before, any normal father would want to take the place of their son and that is the very point. God loves His Son and he loves us so he offered what he loved most for us. Jesus suffered, but so did God the Father. God had to let the person of whom he loved to an infinite extent die because he loves us the same way. So God is not a coward for not sacrificing Himself; it just expresses the extent of His love."

This response provoked me to a deeper reflection on God’s love for me.

Finally, a test question on the Creed given to my ninth-grade class garnered this response:

"What are the three main parts of the Creed? God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God the Father is the one that created us. God the Son is the one that died for our sins so that we can have an everlasting life. God the Holy Spirit is the one … that is in the Church.

"God the Father is the one that created heaven and earth ….

"God the Son is the Savior of the world. He died for our sins so that we can have an everlasting life. He is the Son of God, but he is part of him. He blessed people, healed them through preaching, and he worked miracles on people. God the Holy Spirit is the one who is over the Church and in the Church and is the one that protects."

Though simple, it has elegance. My students witness to me God’s role in their lives. I offer them as a gift to all who wonder whether Catholic education is worth it. It is.

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