Discipleship is possible within the classroom if...

By Marlon De La Torre

North Texas Catholic

10/20/2014

What do you suppose is the primary intent of a parent when they send their child through a religious education program? Whether through the parish religious education program or a Catholic school, the hope would be that the intent of the parents is for their child to continue to develop an awareness of God and an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ that has already been established at home. You would think this would be the primary purpose of religious formation.

G.K. Chesterton once remarked that: “One of the chief uses of religion is that it makes us remember our coming from darkness, the simple fact that we are created.” And here lies an important point to consider when we bring the notion of discipleship into this equation.

The basic tenet of a school of religion is to assist in the ongoing formation of not just a child, but anyone young and old, toward an active and living proclamation of the Gospel. This tenet in turn results in the person having a genuine and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Hence the question, “Is discipleship possible within the classroom?” St. John Paul II wrote that the proclamation of the Gospel must bring an initial conversion that leads toward a maturation and education of the human being in the person and message of Jesus Christ (Catechesis in Our Time, 19).

Is discipleship possible in the classroom? In short, yes. Prior to any formal catechetical formation taking place, the classroom must be arranged in a way where an invitation to know God and his Son Jesus Christ is established. Merely sitting someone down behind a desk and having them take out their religion book, for example, will not suffice if the intent is authentic discipleship. Any student young or old within a classroom setting deserves to be brought from an institutional format of instruction toward a systematic presentation of the Gospel where questions are answered about the faith, and curiosity about the faith is established.

Children, for example, should be asked and exposed to the question of where they see themselves in relation to God. And depending on the age, provided living witnesses i.e., active disciples who can effectively share how they have walked with Christ. Frank Sheed once said that the “special object of religious education is to prepare the pupils for life in Christ.”

Discipleship is possible if:

1.  Our intention is to form disciples in the faith and not just to regurgitate information the student may or may not comprehend.

2.  The classroom invokes an opportunity for prayer, especially to Christ.

3.  The teacher is truly interested in Jesus. Note: A student can immediately tell if a teacher is interested in and is living a life in Christ.            Putting on a false face doesn’t help.

4.  There is an authentic joy in presenting the Gospel and active Gospel living i.e., the sacramental life.

5.  The teacher truly values the development of the student’s soul.

The Catechism reminds us that all the baptized (us) are called to conversion (CCC 1427). By its very nature the sacrament of baptism is the principal place for the first and fundamental conversion. In other words our evangelistic efforts should be directed toward helping all young and old exercise their baptismal call to seek Christ and in turn become disciples.

One of the great realities that we as the body of Christ oftentimes neglect to see is that we are created by God to freely and openly speak about Him if we so choose. Discipleship is possible if we choose to exercise this reality and communicate who Christ is instead of ignoring it. In communicating the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we begin to illuminate the mind of the student to something other than themselves. Instead we gradually and continually draw them into a sense of discipleship i.e., a sense and desire of belonging with and in Christ. At the heart of authentic discipleship is revealing the identity of our Lord and the hope displayed through the offering of his Son Jesus Christ to humanity. Our efforts should naturally reflect this desire in that we want God accessible, not distant.

St. Paul provides us with an exhortation on discipleship to St. Timothy that could very easily be directed toward us to “keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; and this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords …” (1 Timothy 6:14-16).

What do you suppose is the primary intent of a parent when they send their child through a religious education program? Whether through the parish religious education program or a Catholic school, the hope would be that the intent of the parents is for their child to continue to develop an awareness of God and an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ that has already been established at home. You would think this would be the primary purpose of religious formation.

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