Teach Me to Teach, Jesus- Readying the Soul for Teaching

 It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Mark 1:  9-11

When we are baptized, we are initiated into God’s family.  Through this ceremony, we repent from sin and acknowledge God as our spiritual Father.  As a result, we are considered sons and daughters of God.

Jesus had absolutely no reason to be baptized under the context of repentance by which John the Baptist preached.  What would the Son of God in His perfection need to repent from?  Jesus, in fact, was baptized for other reasons- one of which was to ready His soul for the mission that was ahead of Him.  That’s why it was so important that He be cleansed by the waters of the Jordan.  For it was then that the heavens were “torn open” and “the Spirit descended upon Him like a dove.”  His humanity and the Spirit of God became one thing.  His soul was now ready for His mission.

We too, have been given a mission inside our classrooms.  In fact, we have been given many missions ranging from the different subjects that we teach, committees that we are a part of, after school activities we partake in, etc.  With these among others, we are given the mission of educating souls through the use of textbooks, worksheets, activities, experiments, and management.  Our mission is to teach the Gospel (and our subjects) in the same way Jesus did- by example.

For that reason we too should follow the example of Jesus and ready ourselves in the baptismal waters of our faith.  By recognizing His presence early and often throughout our day, He will respond to us in the same way He responded to Jesus, “You are my beloved son/daughter, with you I am well pleased.”

Like this post?  Want to have one like it every time you get ready to teach?   Download 180 of them right now and be set for the rest of the school year, or buy the paperback.

Book Review- Dear Communion of Saints by The Ironic Catholic

This book was flippin’ hilarious.  I caught wind of it a few weeks ago after discovering the Ironic Catholic (a.k.a. Susan Windley-Daoust) and her blog.  This piece of work is exactly that, a piece of work.  It takes common (and not so common) questions from the Church Militant and taps the shoulder of the Church Triumphant to field them.  For every question, one or two canonized Saints responds with a soft shell taco filled with the guacamole of humor, the lettuce of common sense and the meat of undeniable truth.  The result is a delicious literary snack for Orthodox Catholics to munch on at any moment of the day.

In one of the questions, the Ironic Catholic herself questions why mothers are unable to bilocate.  She argues that such a grace would be very helpful for a mother whose son is dipping his hand in the cookie jar while she bathes her youngest.  She interrogates the Communion of Saints as to why this particular grace has only been given to consecrated religious nuns and priests up until this point.

The responder is none other than famed bilocator, St. Padre Pio.  He tells her in short discourse that she knows not what she asks, that it is greater to seek Christ first and allow the graces to flow from that love, not the other way around.  To keep the mood light, he finishes saying that the mother should put brussel sprouts in the cookie jar.  Problem solved.

This book is a quick read for Orthodox Catholics looking for a lighthearted giggle as well as “casual” Catholics who are looking to awkwardly laugh with everyone else around them even though they don’t quite get the jokes.  In either case, I found myself laughing out loud on many occasions as I read it, mainly because the Communion of Saints were laughing right along with me.

If you like this book, you might want to try Saint Watching by Phyllis McGinley.

Teach Me to Teach, Jesus- The Joyful Beginning

Today begins a new exercise I’d like you to join me in.  I love teaching and I know many of you do too.  Whether you are homeschooling your children, teaching catechism at your parish, or educating the future of the world in your private or public school classrooms, you’ll want to check back here every Thursday.

Each week, to celebrate the Luminous mysteries of the Holy Rosary (which I consider to correlate most with the educator’s vocation.  Think about it… Proclamation of the Kingdom, Transfiguration, light bulbs turning on over the Apostles and our students’ heads…), I will publish one of Jesus’ teaching strategies for us educators to use in our classrooms and homes.  I’m dubbing it “Teach Me to Teach, Jesus”.

Enjoy.

The Joyful Beginning

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ [the Son of God].

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;

he will prepare your way.

A voice of one crying out in the desert:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

make straight his paths.'”

John [the] Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. And this is what he proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy Spirit.”

Mark 1: 1-8

Today is our first day of the school year and we will surely be anxious to meet our students and begin our planning.  Today’s gospel reminds us of two specific things that go hand-in-hand with our excitement:

  1. Teaching can be done effectively just as John was able to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins with some success.
  2. Teaching can be done more effectively with the help of the holy Spirit who uses us as an instrument to “prepare the way of the Lord.”

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” takes full precedent on this day, which marks the beginning of our vocation as “Teacher.”  Today, we not only are teachers of worldly subject matter, but we also become God’s servants who have been sent to prepare His way, just like John the Baptist, and to preach the Gospel message, just like Jesus Christ.

Our first step is to be joyful for the arrival of our students and even more joyful for the arrival of holy Spirit into our classrooms.  When these are mixed with the willingness of a Christian teacher, miracles are sure to happen.

Like this post?  Want to have one like it every time you get ready to teach? Download 180 of them right now and be set for the rest of the school year, or buy the paperback.

Probably the Most Controversial Thing You’ll Read All Day

I recently read an article by one of my favorite bloggers that stated bluntly that the best way to get more readers is to “break the rules”.  By that, he meant that bloggers should write about a controversial topic and wait for the bickering to begin in the combox.

I’ve been savoring the idea and interesting post titles like “My Church is Better than Yours Because Jesus Founded It”, “Why (enter any religious institution besides Catholicism here) Is Wrong,” and “When He Said, ‘This Is My Body.’.. dude, He REALLY meant His body” came to mind.  However, after grounding my thoughts in ecumenical charity (and facebook and twitter), I arrived to the conclusion that there exists an even more controversial topic.  Sadly, the irony is that this topic will more than likely result in very few page views.

Here it is:

“Jesus Christ is Lord” & “God is love.”

There you have it.  That’s it.  The most controversial thing anyone can say has just been published on my blog.  I stole it from Philippians 2: 11 and 1 John 4:8, so technically I’m guilty of violating two laws:

  1. Plagiarism (what can be more controversial than that!)
  2. Going against the current mood of society

“The Catholic Church never suits the particular mod of any age, because it was made for all ages.  A Catholic knows that if the Church married the mood of any age in which it lived, it would be a widow in the next age.  The mark of the true Church is that it will never get on well with the passing moods of the world.  “I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” John 15: 19

~Venerable Fulton J. Shane

Here’s the ironic part.  While it may be controversial, the odds of it booming my blog stats are slim to nil.  Why?  Because the way people show their love to bloggers is by visiting and commenting on topics that interest them.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of bloggers have already made their vows to the current mood of the world and find my little plagiarized nugget of truth unbearably naive and uninteresting. They won’t comment.  I will not be liked.  Three of my four followers will unsubscribe.

So then, the success of a Catholic blogger is not found in page view totals.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  The controversial content of your blog might lead to a true understanding of what St. Paul meant when he said, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” ~2 Corinthians 12:10

I’m a Francarmeliscanite Dominicallian… what about you?

As most of you know, I’m Catholic.  What not too many of you know is I have an affinity towards Religious Orders, especially ones with Third Orders.

Let me back track.  You might not know what all of that means.

One of the jewels of Catholicism is its robust array of charisms.  A charism is almost like a spiritual personality.  It is a manner of living the Gospel that serves one purpose: allowing you to love, serve, and honor God in the most profound way possible.

The Catholic Church has a slew of Religious Congregations that all aim towards giving God right praise and loyal service through a particular charism.  You may have even heard of some of them.  Do the Franciscans, Dominicans, Benedictines, or Daughters of Charity ring a bell?  Those are all examples of religious congregations (or communities) that the Catholic Church approves to do serious work based on a certain spiritual lifestyle.

Each of these congregations have a certain charism for which they are known.  The Franciscans, for example, are known for their devotion to poverty and penance. The Carmelites are known for their dedication to contemplative prayer (and their wicked cool scapulars).  Dominicans are known for their preaching.  And finally, Lasallians are known for their abilities to teach.  There are many, MANY more that have different ways by which they help construct and maintain the Kingdom.

Although I have not officially joined any religious congregation, I find my soul constantly contemplating whether I should.  It is an interesting dual that takes place, is my spirituality more contemplative or Apostolic?  Is it more mission driven or preachy?  Have I been create to teach or act in silence?

The answer I know not.  That’s why I consider myself a Francarmeliscanite Dominicallian (Franciscan, Carmelite, Dominican, Lasallian).

What about you?  Do you have a strong connection to any religious congregation(s)?

Accountability- a dangerous word for many, the key to success for all

I recently sat down to lunch with a colleague of mine to ponder the problems of the world and figure out what we can put into motion to solve a few of them (because that’s what teachers do during their lengthy summer vacation).  I came out of the restaurant with two truths-

Photo by David Roseborough @ Flickr Creative Commons

1) the tacos at El Ganadero on the northeast side of Grand Rapids are undeniably flavorful and

2) everyone in the world needs someone to keep them accountable.

It is true.  It doesn’t matter if you are a lawyer, doctor, teacher, student, writer or professional base jumper, if you don’t have someone motivating/ guiding you to be the best you can be, you will inevitably become mediocre.  And mediocrity spawns a life of disillusionment, fear, and spite towards those who have people keeping them accountable.

Here’s the irony, accountability requires people to humble themselves in the criticism of another.  This means that a certain degree of trust must be established in an accountable relationship.  Trust and humility are two aspects of life that most would prefer to do without.  The “I don’t need nobody” and “I can do this myself” attitude springs forth and a series of unfortunate events ensues.

My colleague and I talk often about our teaching crafts and we have scratched the surface of what our writing means to us.  He, very unknowingly, keeps me accountable in these two portions of my life.

My wife keeps me accountable as a husband and father.  She even gives me time to write and go to adoration to foster not only my spirituality, but that of my family.

So who keeps me accountable to God?  That is the question I have meditated on for many years now.

My wife?  To the (GREAT, WONDERFUL & AMAZING) extent that the sacrament of marriage allows, of course.

My parish priest? En persona Christi during Mass and Confession, yes.

But even with such spiritual giants as these keeping me somewhat accountable, how can I seek even more spiritual growth?

Answer- get a spiritual director.

After reading countless biographical and autobiographical pieces on the Saints, there is one common strand almost all of them share besides loving God more than all things- they all had spiritual directors.

And so, this Monday, I have my first meeting with a spiritual direction pro.  Let’s hope it goes well.  I’ll let you know what we come up with.

What about you?  What are your dreams? Who keeps you accountable for striving for them?  Do you have a spiritual director?  If so, how is it going for you?

Debunking the claim that “we are all animals”

I recently came across a post titled I’m getting pregnant on purpose to piss off my parents and saw this in the combox:

“I have to agree with you, We are all animals and if kids want to have sex, just like dogs, bonobos or bunnies, they will so it’s best that they are prepared to have it as safely as they can.”

Ok, before I begin debunking this claim, I’m not looking for controversy, but I will probably get it.  Here it goes:

I’ll start with some wicked intelligent truth from St. Thomas Aquinas to help me out.  If it is too wordy for you, skip it and go to my explanation below.

   “As we see if we reflect on the order of things, the addition of a greater perfection causes variation in the species of a nature.  Thus, a thing (such as a plant) that not only exists but lives, difers in species from a thing that merely exists (like a rock).

And that which exists and lives and feels (such as an animal), differs in species from the plant, which merely exists and lives.  Likewise a being that exists, lives, feels, and understands (namely, a human), differs in species from the brute animal, which merely exists, lives, and feels…

According to the true teaching of the Catholic Faith, Christ had a real body of the same nature as ours, a true rational soul, and, together with these, perfect deity

The closer any creature draws to God, the more it shares in His goodness and the more abundantly it is filled with gifts infused by Him.  Thus he who comes closer to a fire shares to a greater extent in its heat.”

Translation:

Rocks exist.

Plants exist and live.

Animals exist, live, and feel.

Humans exist, live, feel and understand.

Jesus exists, lives, feels, understands and is God.

The closer we get to Jesus, then, the more like Him we become.

What does this have to do with sex?  Everything.

If we believe sex is merely an animal instinct, humanity takes a step backwards. We become more animal-like and less like Christ in whose image and likeness we were created.

But if we define sex as a moral, holy act whose prime goal is to give oneself to another out of love (and to co-construct the miracle of life with God), we become more like God who, as St. John tells us, is love (1 John 4:8). The more we become like God, the more we draw closer to His original design for us and, essentially, the more human (and God-like) we become.

Want to know more about the sanctity of sex?  Check out 1flesh.org to see how a few sex-abstaining Catholic teens are changing the world.

What about you?  What do you think?

 Aquinas, St. Thomas, The Shorter Summa, Sections 206 & 209

Book Review- The Church and New Media by Brandon Vogt

For the past 2,000 years, the Catholic Church has survived numerous attacks, slanders, conspiracies and persecutions.  It is considered to be “the Bride of Christ”, “the communion of God’s people” and “the pillar and foundation of truth”.  Besides having celestial protection, one of the aspects that makes this Church so great is that it is constantly evolving to better serve its people.

Brandon Vogt’s book, The Church and New Media, is a perfect example of how the Church evolves in its capacity to spread the Gospel message in the new age of communication.  Social media has become the foundation of the current generation, and Vogt’s book introduces readers not only to the new technologies, but to the the main players of those technologies.

For example, when introducing blog technology, he passes the baton to Mark Shea, famed Catholic apologist and writer, to better describe the do’s and don’ts of blogging.  When mentioning the online community, contributor Lisa Hendey goes into great detail as to how to foster them.  In each aspect of social media, Vogt consults with the masters of each domain to paint the best picture of the Christian’s role in online evangelization.

From social media beginners to tech savvy sages, this book is a must have for all Catholics who find themselves online on a regular basis.

Do you stink?

The other day my daughter was eating dinner on my lap and I caught a whiff of a disturbing stench.  Being the father of two kids below age three, these aromas aren’t normally a surprise, but this one was.  I checked my girl’s diaper, sniffed her sweaty head, and checked her arm pits.  Nothing outside of the norm.

Then I thought, maybe it is me…

When one sweats, it is because their body temperature has risen too high. The body’s natural defense against overheating is to release liquid though the pours of the part of the body that is overheated. This sweat acts as a refresher in that it absorbs the heat and provides the body with a cooler temperature.  I can safely say that the majority of Americans are quite overheated as this heatwave continues to roll on.

So when Jesus was praying in the Garden the night when He was betrayed, His body was overheated. This heat was not caused by an exertion of force. In fact, it was more likely that at the hour of His prayer, the temperature was probably quite cool. I would venture to say that He was not running a marathon inside the Garden. In fact, the Bible tells us He was “prostrate” and very likely immobile on the floor, during the cool nighttime hours. (Matthew 26: 39)

So what caused this immobile man to sweat that night during His prayer? Some say it was the pure stress and they might be correct. But, could it be possible that, like the transfiguration, Jesus, in this intimate conversation with His Father, was transfiguring Himself once again into the blazing fire, the heat that other Biblical authors refer to when they speak of the Cherubim angels (Ezekiel 1:13), or the Holy Spirit (Revelation 4:5) or even God Himself (Exodus 3:2)? Could it be possible that, because He sweat blood instead of regular sweat, He was bathing Himself in the purifying “blood of the lamb” (Revelation 12:11) prior to the ultimate sacrifice on the cross? Could this blood have anything to do with “spiritual overheating of the soul” that came to save the earth? Could this be the spiritual refreshment just as sweat is physical refreshment?

I believe that this “sweating of blood” is the Spiritual defense against the overheating of a perfect soul. I believe that this blood was an effect of the raging fire of burning love that dwelled inside the carnal body of God. I believe that this serene soul lives within those today who are able to hear the sound of His resurrected voice when He says “I came to set the earth on fire. How I wish it were already burning!” (Luke 12:49)

Finally, I believe that when we drink this blood at mass, we too cover ourselves in the sweat of our souls so that they might be cooled down from the temptations of this world. Better yet, this blood transfigures our souls to become more like the raging fire of burning love for others. When we are on fire and actively participating in the Will of God, it is then that we become Jesus for others in the most profound way: by accepting the Eucharist we become the fire!

It turns out, the combination of my daughter and I after a day of playing outside in the humidity was the source of the foul stench.  That just made me think about Jesus’ sweat.

I hope that both my daughter and I can stink like God too.