Encountering God through Education
The Christian faith is not defined simply by a series of doctrines or traditions. It is centred on the Person of Jesus Christ, a personal God Who wants a relationship with each of us. Christianity is, at its core, a covenantal religion based on encountering God and others, sharing our lives with the Persons of the Trinity and the members of Christ’s Body, the Church.
When Jesus rose from the dead, He did not tell the apostles to write the Bible before He ascended into Heaven. He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a). The emphasis was on personal encounter, a teacher-disciple relationship.
The Ethiopian eunuch admitted to St Philip that he needed guidance in understanding the scriptures (Acts 8:31). We do not leave students to teach themselves from textbooks; we have experienced teachers who guide them through intellectual frameworks and concepts, who model to them what it is to be a mathematician, a writer, a historian, a scientist. So it is with the faith. We learn from others how to be Christians, to live as followers of Christ.
The word “disciple” is from the Latin discipulus, meaning “pupil, student, follower”. A disciple is one who follows another for the purpose of learning. This in turn is derived either from discere, “to learn”, from the root dek-, “to take, accept”; or from discipere, to grasp intellectually or analyse thoroughly, from dis- (“apart”) and capere, “to take hold of”. The word “tradition” is also from a Latin word, tradere, “to deliver or hand over”. The Gentile apostle Luke tells us that his Gospel is “an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by the initial eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1:1-2). St Paul says, “I handed down to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3).
The written tradition of the Bible, along with the oral traditions of the early Church, have been handed down faithfully to us from generation to generation. Think of how you first came to know about Jesus. Didn’t someone tell you about Him? Even if you simply picked up a book about Jesus, somebody wrote it. Christianity is based on the Incarnation, the God-Man. God chose to establish a Church led by the Apostles, despite their weaknesses, and He continues to work through human nature today, even in its brokenness.
The Catholic education system is based on Christ’s call to make disciples of all nations. School founders like St Jean-Baptiste de la Salle (known as the Father of Modern Education, who created the first training school for teachers), Bl. Nicholas Barré, St John Bosco, Ven. Mary Ward and Maria Montessori dedicated their lives to the education of impoverished youth, seeking to form them in virtue, giving them the tools to live fruitful and purposeful lives. Christians recognise that every person is made in the image and likeness of God, and the cultivation of our faculties for reason, knowledge and compassion helps us grow into healthy, flourishing human beings, contributing to the overall welfare of our communities.
The Catholic Education Conference 2021 reflects the wonderful reality that: “Through teaching and learning, praying and playing, and growing up and becoming wiser, God encounters everyone in school, regardless of race, language or religion, in myriad ways to shape our lives for better. Each encounter reminds us that we are in God’s holy presence.”
May this conference be a time for educators to be rejuvenated, so that they may reflect the loving face of Christ to others, and recognise the lovable face of God in each person they serve through their noble vocation.