Theological Virtues in Real Time
Posted: Thu, 15 Oct 2020 19:17
A look back at his first teaching job interview prompts Michael Bennett to consider how Catholic teachers are called to live the values of the Gospel.
On a rainy Thursday evening in 1998, I was appointed to my first teaching job. The interview started at 7:00 pm. There were no children in the school. The three candidates were given the ubiquitous tour of the school. Dressed in our graduation suits, we asked questions, looked keen and took our seat in front of the panel.
"Mr Bennett, can you outline your understanding of the three Theological Virtues as found in sacred scripture?" enquired the Parish Priest and Vice Chair of Governors.
Wow! Not a 'Hello Michael, can you tell us about yourself and why you are attracted to this post?'
My reply was, "Yes. In Pauline Theology the three Theological Virtues expounded in his letter to the Corinthians are: Faith, Hope and Love. With your permission, I would like to explain how I will live out these virtues as a member of this community."
The kindly PP dropped his stern look and smiled; I had passed the orthodoxy test. "Please do Michael," was his reply.
Theology is little more than words on a page if it is not imbued with the spirit. Orthodoxy in thought is fine, yet if it is not lived in 'real time', it is not lived in reality! Think of the clashes Jesus had with the Pharisees: they had their theology, understood their scripture and were well versed in the law – they kept the letter, yet ignored the spirit. It's not enough to 'know the answers', authenticity is to live the answers. Whenever I speak to a teacher, I can often tell in seconds their world view of teaching, young people and their commitment to the vocation and ministry of education.
The good Parish Priest wanted to know if I was a practising Catholic with an understanding of the theological tradition that supports the Church. I wanted to demonstrate that I not only knew the theology of the Church but was willing, indeed yearning, to live it as a member of the school and transmit it to the youngsters in my care. Rather than ask a person if they have a faith, let them show you by their actions that they have it in abundance. St Francis of Assisi reminds us to preach the Gospel at all times, and if required, use words!
As teachers, our faith must be rooted in the God of creation, who said each stage of creation was 'Good'. The high point – humans – were 'Very Good'. Faith as a virtue is best lived in real time. Faith is trust. Teachers can demonstrate their trust in a loving and merciful God by loving and showing mercy to their students. St John Baptiste de la Salle instructed his Brothers to treat the children in their care as if they were the children of princes! This is having faith that these little ones—and not so little ones—are worthy of the utmost care and dignity. To hold dear such faith, with all the baggage that youngsters bring to school each day, is to be truly faith-filled. A wise person once said, "I asked a tree to speak of God and it blossomed." Faith is allowing children to blossom. This will only happen when we trust that their goodness will shine when allowed to do so.
For Catholic leaders, faith is to continually trust in the skills of their staff, and work hard to develop each individual. To have faith is to try and continually find the 'lost sheep', be it student or staff. The symbol of the Good Shepherd is such a potent image of loving kindness and faith in real time.
I see hope as never giving up on the youngsters in my care. I have to admit that when four out of sixteen Year 11 students turned up for my revision session today, I had a wobble. Yet my faith teaches me that all humans are inherently good. And I must constantly look for the good and hope for the best.
My Salesian formation taught me that cheerful optimism is the key to hope. St Francis de Sales told us that we attract more bees with a jar of honey than a jar of vinegar! In these difficult Covid 19 times, schools are difficult places to be. We must all hope that things will get better. Have faith that we can overcome the challenges that lie ahead. Ponder the difficulties and celebrate the positives. Faith and hope, I am convinced, will see us through. As I cycle the five miles to school in these dark mornings, I am reminded that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Christ is our light and our hope --- keep the faith
Love, when not practised, is an abstract concept that will not have any real impact. St John Bosco reminds us that it is not enough to love children in the abstract: we must let them know that they are loved. Surely this is to put our love into action. St Paul teaches that love is patient and kind. These are the marks of a teacher who loves their students. Love is self-giving and life affirming. The teacher who understands this form of agapeic and sacrificial love will move mountains with their students. As will the school leader who assumes the role of servant.
Faith, hope and love can move mountains. Teachers who embrace the ministry of education must have the theology but must put it into action, and practice the Theological Virtues in real time.