By Msgr Ambrose Vaz
My dear friends, the occasion of the feast of the holy cross indeed provides a very good backdrop for our celebration of teacher’s day. You know as teachers very often, you will use something as a kind of visual aid in order to bring out a message. And today when we look at the cross, we see that as a beautiful aid, to remind us of the tension in life that exists, and the need therefore for someone to help us to cope with the pressures and difficulties of life. And the one, who therefore hangs on the cross, Jesus, is for us the ultimate teacher, the ultimate educator; the one that helps us not only to recognise, but to accept and to live out the mysteries of life.
And so the readings we find today are also appropriate in helping us recognise not just the paradigm but also perhaps the method of education. And if you look at our first reading, we have the story of the Israelites in the wilderness. They have been rescued out of Egypt in slavery and were on their way to the promise land. But on the way they started to get impatient, and started to grumble and to complain. Even as we look at this, we realise, ignorance, very often leads to a certain amount of frustration, and correspondingly impatience – an impatience that sometimes makes us arrogant, and even rebellious. And so as we look at the first reading, on the way through the wilderness, the people lost patience.
Today in the face of that kind of impatience, caused very often by ignorance or misinformation, there is a need for education, a need for someone to enlighten us. But even as we do that, we ask ourselves, what would be the source of that information? What would be the means by which we impart this information? And so the reading would go onto tell us, the people grumble and complain, and then Moses recognises that there was a need to do something, because their grumbling and impatience led to a certain degree of frustration to the point that they were bitten by fiery serpents.
Today we realise that when we remain impatient, angry, or ignorant, we end up hurting ourselves. The analogy given could be that bitten by fiery, poisonous snakes. And so Moses, recognising this, realises that the only way he’d be able to educate them, the only way he’d be able to help them effectively was to intercede with God. And so from the impatience caused by ignorance, we end up feeling more pain, more suffering. The help that we get eventually, has to come, has to be supplied through the intercession of God. And so that’s what Moses would do; he interceded for his people. In other words he asked God for the answers. Moses has a situation in which he has to give an answer; the people asked him why. And Moses turns to God for the answer. And the answer God would give to him was “believe in me, and as a sign of that faith you have in me, build a bronze serpent. When you look at it in faith, you will be healed.”
Today my dear friends, this is what education is all about. Education is much more than the imparting of information. Sometimes information can cause even more problems. Because we may not know what to do with that information, how to use it, and we may not know for what purpose to use it. And so a true educator is one that does not only impart knowledge, but also the reason for that knowledge, and the purpose and goal in using that knowledge. And ultimately we say, all knowledge comes from God, and all knowledge is to be used in order for us to be able to appreciate and serve God. And so that’s what the people would be made to realise, they wold be given a vital piece of information, that even though they are not aware of why they are made to walk in the wilderness, even though they are not very confident about why things are the way they should be, they have got to realise that the one that allows that and calls them, is the one who knows best.
And today when we talk about our catholic schools, we ask ourselves whether we are actually doing this. Are our students in our schools able not only to receive information, much knowledge, secular sciences and other wisdom, but are they able to see that the knowledge they receive, is ultimately pointing to serving God. Would they be able to recognise that the knowledge they receive is for a particular purpose, to help them not only acknowledge the God who gave them this knowledge, but to be able to use it to serve Him.
And so in our second reading, we see the example of Jesus himself. Jesus who empties himself, so that he’ll be able to be a model of humility, a model of the one that has come to show us how to be truly wise. Our true wisdom comes when we empty ourselves of our pride, when we are able to recognise that knowledge is from God, and therefore we are going to benefit from that knowledge. It means we have got to empty ourselves of our pride. Again today in our schools, that is what hopefully we are doing. Allowing our students to realise that the more brilliant they get, the more knowledge they receive, the more humble they are required to be. Because the knowledge and information they receive is not for themselves, but to be used to help others recognise God.
And so as we look at our gospel, this is what Jesus says as he tells Nicodemus the whole plan of God. God so loved the world that he emptied himself, He gave His Son, he gave up something, so that others may be prepared, better informed, and to be able to respond. Today my friends as we celebrate the feast of the Holy Cross and at the same time we celebrate teacher’s day, we thank God for the gift of our teachers. We thank God that in His effort to bring us through education, the education to being formed into his children, into the likeness of His Son, He has allowed us to have people in our lives, teachers, educators, who through humility, through emptying themselves, through their service, allow us to experience this. Our catholic schools are visible signs of the willingness of God to reach out to us, to be able to experience Him. Today we honour our teachers, who not only impart secular sciences and knowledge, but who through their life example, humility, and sacrifices they make, communicate to our students that knowledge alone is not enough. But knowledge has to shape character, and character has got to point us to God. As we celebrate this Mass today we pray for all our catholic teachers and schools, for all our teachers to continue in the mission of Jesus, the true educator, who educated us to the point of laying down his life. And therefore if all there is any reason for us today to teach, to proclaim, it is Christ.
Our theme today has been “Christ, Our Claim to Proclaim”. Our very reason and essence for being able to teach and communicate knowledge to others, is because essentially the true knowledge, true wisdom, truth itself, is Jesus Christ. And so let us celebrate Christ, our claim to proclaim, and even as he invites us to continue the mission that he came to achieve, the mission that he came on, let us at this Mass express our willingness to do so. Our willingness to walk in his footsteps, proclaiming the love of His Father, through the way that He lived in humility and service. Let us pray that we too can continue to be that kind of proclaimer, in a way that we as teachers, educators, parents, and all those involved, interested in education, will and should continue to do. Let us pray today for our teachers, and for our students that they be open to receive this education that comes from God through our teachers.