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THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE CATHOLIC TEACHER
IN THE RULE OF ST. BENEDICT

A conference given by Father Herve de la Tour, September 15, 1987

  The teacher is a father. Pope Pius XII said that teachers should be "fathers of souls" rather than "propagators of sterile information." The Benedictine spirit is a family spirit. The first words of the Rule are "Listen, my son, and with your heart hear the principles of your Master. Readily accept and faithfully follow the advice of a loving Father." The teacher represents Christ the Good Shepherd. Our Lord entrusts to us a little flock of students so that we may lead them to Him. Jesus says to us: "I give you these souls. I bought them at a dear price, since I shed all my blood for each of them. I want you to take care of these children. Your mission as a teacher is to lead them to MY Heart."

  Our mission as teachers implies a great responsibility. "We should always remember that we will be held accountable on Judgment Day for our teaching" and "any lack of good in our students will be held as our fault." In the same way as a father will have to render account for the souls of his children, a teacher will have to render account for the souls of his students. How frightening to realize that we may go to Hell because of the sins of our students! However, "we shall be held innocent in the Lord’s judgment if we have done all within our power to overcome the corruptness and disobedience of our students." Yes, we will only be responsible for the loss of our students if we are guilty of a grave negligence (e.g., showing them bad example, not teaching them the truth and being aware of it). So let us be faithful to our mission.

  A teacher should be a leader by his words, his example and his prayer. It is how St. Bernard describes St. Benedict: he was feeding his flock "by his doctrine, by his whole life and by his intercession." Our classes have to be interesting, enriching, inspiring and uplifting. We have to bring forth the life of the intellects of our students. Then we have to live what we preach, "to show our students by deeds more than by words what is good and holy." "To those who understand, we may expound verbally the Lord’s directions: but to the stubborn and dull, we must exhibit the Divine commandments by our actions in our everyday life." And finally we must pray for our children. Kneel down before the tabernacle and beg Jesus to have mercy on them, e.g., to help this one who is unhappy or to help that one who is disobedient.

  As teachers, we should not show preference (i.e., have favorites). If we must care for someone in the class, it should be first for the slow, the stubborn, the skeptical, and the selfish child. He is the one who needs attention, he is the lost sheep that we have to seek. It is indeed easy to love the kind, the gentle, the one who gets good grades or the one who pleases his teachers. It is difficult to love the others, the ones who are not so attractive. So we have to love them out of love for Jesus, seeing Him in all these souls.

  St. Benedict exhorts the teacher to "mix encouragement with reproof. He should show the sternness of a master and the love and affection of a father. He must reprove the unruly and undisciplined with severity, but he should exhort the obedient and patient for their own betterment." Here we see another trait of the Rule, which is its great balance. Firmness and fairness should go hand in hand. Teenagers especially are prone to get discouraged. We need to make ourselves loved. We have to win their hearts. If there is no confidence, we will only have exterior discipline but no interior motivation for good. Our Lord did not say: "I am the Master. You have to obey Me." He said: "Behold the Heart which has loved you so much." Listen to St. John Bosco: "Human nature is prone to evil and at times must be dealt with severely. Yet charity should prompt all our actions, for, indeed, the inspiration of my whole life, of my priestly efforts and ideals has been my love for poor, abandoned youth. We are the friends of our boys; we take the place of their parents. You will obtain anything from your boys if they realize that you are seeking their own good. To gain their confidence, act towards them as a good father, who punishes and checks his children only from a sense of duty, when reason and justice manifestly require it."

  The teacher "should recognize the difficulty of his position to care for and guide the spiritual development of many different characters. One must be led by friendliness, another by sharp rebukes, and another by persuasion." Yes, we have in our classes many different characters, many different temperaments; one is a leader, the other a follower; this little boy is a whiz, this other one is a slow learner; this teenage girl is outgoing and that one is timid and quiet. We have to adapt ourselves and practice patience and understanding. St. Theresa of the Child Jesus says the same thing: "I told you, dear Mother, that I had learned very much when I was teaching others. I saw first of all that all souls have very much the same struggles to fight, but they differ so much from each other in other aspects that I have no trouble in understanding what Father Pichon was saying: ‘There are really more differences among souls than there are among faces.’ It is impossible to act with all in the same manner. With certain souls, I feel I must make myself little, not fearing to humble myself by admitting my own struggles and defects; seeing I have the same weaknesses as they, my little Sisters in their turn admit their faults and rejoice because I understand them through experience. With others, on the contrary, I have seen that to do them any good I must be very firm and never go back on a decision once it is made. To abase oneself wound not then be humility but weakness. God has given me the grace not to fear the battle; I must do my duty at all costs."

  Let us not lose sight of what is essential in our mission of educators. "The teacher must always remember his task is the guidance of souls (for which he will be held accountable) and he must put aside the worldly, transitory and petty things. And if he complains of less abundant earthly goods, he ought to remember: ‘Seek first the kingdom of God, and His justice, and all things shall be given to you’" (Matt. 6:33). And "Nothing is wanting to them who fear God" (Ps. 34:10). We have to overlook the material drawbacks (e.g., low salary, difficult parents, old textbooks, etc.) to see the greatness of our mission of Catholic education.

  St. Benedict finishes this chapter of the Rule by reminding the teacher in a Catholic school that "He will be cleansed of vice himself by helping others through admonition and correction." Teaching is an "ars perficiens", an activity which perfects not only the student but the teacher himself. Teaching makes us better persons. Teachers obtain a great reward already here below and later in Heaven. St. John Baptist de la Salle, in his meditations for teachers says: "What a consolation for those who have procured the salvation of others, to see in heaven a great number whom they have helped attain so great a happiness! This will happen to those who have taught many the truths of religion, as the prophet Daniel has said: ‘Those who instruct many in Christian justice will shine like stars for all eternity.’ They will shine, indeed, in the midst of those they have taught, who will eternally bear witness to the great gratitude they have for the valuable instructions of their teachers, whom they will regard as the cause, after God, of their salvation." To finish, he continues: "what joy a teacher will have when he sees a great number of his students in possession of eternal happiness, for which they are indebted to him by the grace of Jesus Christ! What a sharing of joy there will be between the teacher and his disciples! What a special reunion among them in the presence of God! It will be one great celebration for them, sharing together the blessings for which the call of God had given them hope, the wealth of the glorious heritage God has given them with all saints."