Like all teachers – well at least like many teachers – I entered the classroom ready to change the world. Sure, I was a bit older than most when I took my first steps into the parochial middle school milieu; but certainly wisdom and an ability to laugh at life would be my allies. And to change the world I couldn’t have been given a more anointed set of classes to teach: English and religion.
It just doesn’t get better than that.
My first couple of years went pretty much how you’d expect: every day was an opportunity for me to grow as a person and teacher – apparently God wasn’t done with me yet! But more importantly, each and every day provided me with an opportunity to share my passions for the Catholic faith in ways unimagined.
So when God opened the doors for me to teach English and religion in a parochial middle school, I took it as a heavenly sign to ignite fires in a group of young people who may not know how very fortunate they were to be in such an environment. It didn’t take long to confirm my suspicions. The daily rolling of eyes – as I jumped around the room exclaiming the Good News – made it clear that these young people really weren’t near as excited to be in the classroom as I was.
However, as the mother of three sons, I was used to kids rolling their eyes at me and much to the chagrin of my captive audience, this didn’t curb my enthusiasm for what I was doing. Oblivious to all the grumblings and head-shakes, I kept hammering away at how fun it was to be Catholic and that through baptism these kids were initiated into the best thing since sliced bread.
They didn’t appear to be buying what I was selling and yet I wouldn’t surrender my convictions.
Literally day after day, week after week, year after year I relished the chance to explore the teachings of the Catholic Church and to share those teachings – as well as the excitement of diving into the depths of the faith – with my charges. Moans and groans became the norm as I continually challenged my students with “Let’s see what the Catholic Church says.” But even amidst the disgruntled sighs and the rolling of eyes, there came a time when I knew that something I was doing was giving the Holy Spirit an “in” and was taking root.
The grades I taught were 6th and 7th and in our school 8th grade was the time of confirmation. My own sons are part of the Chaldean Catholic Rite and were confirmed with their baptism; but, knowing that what I was doing in my own classroom was in no small way laying the foundation for an upcoming Sacrament, I always felt blessed to be planting seeds – even if I wasn’t sure if they were being washed away or not.
Then the fruit began to appear.
Throughout my years as a teacher there were a number of times that I was approached by former students and asked to fill the role of Confirmation Sponsor. Very often we don’t see the seeds we plant (whether as parents, grandparents, teachers or even coaches) take root let alone produce fruit so I’ve often considered it a gift from God that those requests – which I humbly and with great honor fulfilled – were made of me. God blessed me with rewards beyond measure when a student who openly ignored me in the classroom came back to see if I would stand beside him, hand on his shoulder, while he received the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Recently I was asked to respond to a number of questions about fiction for kids and to share my thoughts about the differences between Protestant and Catholic books. Well, having had first-hand experience in this, I was well-equipped to address the questions asked of me.
As an English teacher, it quickly became apparent that along with such classics as the works of The Chronicles of Narnia and other notable standards, our Catholic kids need a steady supply of fiction that engages and entertains but also educates and upholds their faith.
Not an easy task, I will admit.
However, just because something isn’t easy doesn’t mean we ought to give up on it as a goal. Think virtues. Think diligence. Think about running the race set before each of us.
So, on more than one occasion I simply threw out the issues and offerings of the classroom book clubs that arrived in my mailbox every week with all their enticing promotional goodies that could be had for my classroom. I wasn’t going to cave in to their lure of free posters and great deals because I was dismayed at their lack of truly Catholic offerings and frustrated with their almost palpable assault on the students’ moral barometers – which are often, at that age, tenuous at best.
Why, I really wanted to know, is our Catholic money good enough for these secular book clubs to take but not worth respecting?
I quickly understood that what I would teach, plant, or in some way build up in one classroom (religion) could easily be taken down by one popular, immoral book in another (English). And so I would have none of that.
But what in my eyes became almost worse than the flat out assaults on Catholic values – because that was a visible enemy that could be combated – was in supplying kids with fiction that was deemed “better than nothing.” Don’t get me wrong, for a while I bought into the whole something-is-better-than-nothing-at-all phenomenon sweeping through most Catholic circles. It is that same thinking that drives countless Catholic adults to purchase books by Joyce Meyer or Joel Osteen but then wonder why they still feel empty.
But isn’t something better than nothing?
No. In fact it could be worse because it is completely lacking in regards to the real truth of Catholicism and gives an impression of a fullness that it does not have. In fact, I would love to see some statistics on how many Protestants purchase Catholic books. I would argue very few indeed because they see our teachings as possibly corrupting their teaching of salvation.
Should I interject here that my best-friend of more than 20 years is Protestant? It’s true. And she has always encouraged me to stay true to my Catholic faith!
While I readily admit that we have much to learn from Protestants—I credit my best friend with helping me develop a rich and deeply personal relationship with Christ—I would also suggest that we have some things we can teach as well. But that door remains closed to us; and maybe rightly so from their perspective. I’m not here to argue who has what to teach the other guy but to say that what we teach our Catholic kids is of utmost importance.
The attitude of “settling” and saying “Well, it is better than nothing, right? It’s good enough, isn’t it?” can be quite harmful.
When our Catholic kids miss out on such things as learning about saints and why intercession is, in fact, a very valid and important part of being Catholic, they miss out on a huge connection to the spiritual way in which the faithful on earth are bound to those “who have gone before us.”
When our Catholic kids are denied the reality of Mary’s Immaculate Conception and her role as Queen of Heaven and Earth they are unable to develop and nurture a relationship with both Mother and Son that will be inherently valuable to both their earthly journey and they heavenly goals.
When our Catholic kids do not see how priests are called in a special way to stand in for Christ, they will disregard the vocation in whole or in part – either way to the detriment of themselves and the Catholic Church.
When our Catholic kids do not understand how baptism is the Sacrament of Initiation upon which all others rest, then they do not ever fully grasp the ways in which Sacraments and Sacramentals are tools of grace to be used and embraced.
Our Catholic children are far too precious for us to allow a seemingly benign mindset of something-is-better-than-nothing to pervade their faith development.
It also goes without saying that a Catholic adult not steeped in the faith risks all the same detriments when opting for a something-is-better-than-nothing mentality in regards to his or her own faith walk.
So here’s to jumping up and down – even amidst rolling eyes – with an understanding that “The apostles entrusted the “Sacred deposit” of the faith (the depositum fidei), contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to the whole of the Church. “By adhering to [this heritage] the entire holy people, united to its pastors, remains always faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. So, in maintaining, practicing, and professing the faith that has been handed on, there should be a remarkable harmony between the bishops and the faithful” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #84).
Now why would anyone settle for anything less that the full deposit of faith?