Jennifer Miller
Jennifer Miller
Freelance Writer
September 12, 2018 // Diocese

Catechizing educators: Catholic School Mission Day

Jennifer Miller
Jennifer Miller
Freelance Writer

In both Mishawaka and Fort Wayne on separate Catholic School Mission days, Dr. Timothy O’Malley, managing director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life and professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, enthusiastically addressed diocesan schoolteachers and administrators. His keynote talk, “Worshipful Wisdom: The Liturgical Vocation of Catholic School” offered a fresh view of how a Catholic school might serve and operate through a eucharistic mission.

From the teachers’ own spiritual lives to a curriculum paradigm shift, O’Malley suggested: “Education is always a gift. A Catholic education finds its center in the gift of the Eucharist; the total, self-giving love of God. We as educators create a milieu where our students receive this gift of love. Thus, we need the Eucharist, to go to Mass as often as we can, so that we can receive this love. Having received this love, we offer it to our students.”

O’Malley clearly and humorously articulated the foundation behind Catholic education. “We don’t provide education with Catholic sprinkles on top. Catholicism is the transformation of a worldview. … (It) should transform all we do. Our God is the god of math, science, literature, art. … How do we place this God in the center of all we do?”

He challenged the teachers present to reflect on the purpose of education with first and fundamental questions such as “What am I doing? Why am I doing it?” He reminded them that education forms humans: that babies are not born ready to run, like a horse or other animal.

Quoting the Vatican II document “Gaudium et Spes” (19), he recalled how humans are first called to communion with God. This essential quality of human beings cannot be denied. “God is not a “little extra,” O’Malley explained, but rather an intrinsical part of their students’ lives. In education, “to exclude God from this is irrational!”

With spirited, relatable and yet pointed examples, O’Malley offered an educational model with which schools and educators could fully engage themselves and their students in the life of Christ, following their baptismal call. By living and engaging in the Eucharist, “the source and summit of our faith,” they themselves can share that same love of God with their students, he said.

An academic and educator himself, O’Malley’s words hit the essential points of life. “You go to Mass yourself,” he directed. “Jesus Christ is the risen Lord. Not just a past event, no: Christ is alive. … He acts here and now.”

Quoting Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, he explained, “Christians, in all their actions, are called to offer true worship to God. Here the intrinsically eucharistic nature of Christian life begins to take shape. The Eucharist, since it embraces the concrete, everyday existence of the believer, makes possible, day by day, the progressive transfiguration of all those called by grace to reflect the image of the Son of God (cf. Rom 8:29ff). There is nothing authentically human — our thoughts and affections, our words and deeds — that does not find in the sacrament of the Eucharist the form it needs to be lived to the full” (Sacramentum caritatis, no. 71).

“Catholicism is an economy of gift,” O’Malley continued. “Creation is gift. Love is gift. God created the world out of love, redeems us out of love. In the gift of self, (we) return the gift that matters. In the celebration of the total gift of love, we offer back to God what God first gave us. This eucharistic gift changes everything.”

This paradigm shift, away from “We have Mass, therefore we’re a Catholic school” to “Our belonging to Christ changes everything” offers a student authentic, Catholic education, he added. “Education is the forming of being. Allow students to wonder, ponder; creating a classroom environment that offers awe, wonder, the intellectual life. Assess your own teaching. Publically admit when (you’re) wrong … We can’t know everything. We are sojourners with them, to the full reception of truth.”

As a father with his own son in a Catholic school, O’Malley offered: “Learn to give yourself, in love, away — a gift of love and a return of love. All education is meant to be eucharistic.”

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