On Thanksgiving day I took some time to take stock of all the blessings I have known in my life and as I did this I came to realize that one of the truest blessings for me has been the gift of having good teachers throughout my life. These teachers through their effort and patience have helped to instill within me a love for learning that continues to this day. I can easily call to mind each of these men and women from elementary school at St. Mary’s to high school at Science Hill, classes at ETSU, seminary at Conception Seminary College and Mundelein Seminary and now teachers that I encounter in life. A good teacher leaves a lifelong impression.
As I reflected on these men and women who have taught me so much I came to realize that there are three things that each was able to do; three things that I would say are the mark of a good teacher. A good teacher helps the student to be aware; secondly, helps the student to think for him or herself and finally, encourages the student, therefore helping the student to find hope.
Mrs. Transou taught history at Science Hill High School when I was a student and she had a way of making history come alive in her classroom. The lesson in her class was not just, “remember these dates and spit them out on the exam!” but rather, see and understand how all these events, all these movements, factors and ideas have worked through time to bring us to where we are now. In other words, be aware of both where we find ourselves and of all that has led to where we are now.
Secondly, a good teacher (in my estimation) does not just tell the pupil what to think but aids the student in discovering and developing within herself or himself the very tools and insights needed to think for oneself. It is easy to tell a student what to think (it is also safer), but to help another person think for oneself takes great skill and also implies a fundamental respect for the student as a human person. There is an appropriate time and space for the teacher to give information and knowledge but there is also an appropriate time and space for the teacher to back off in order to let the student wrestle with what has been given. A wise teacher is able to navigate and hold this balance.
Finally, a good teacher encourages and gives hope. It must be noted though that this hope is not unrealistic wishful thinking about a fanciful future but rather, is a hope solidly grounded and achieved only through the student’s mastering of the first two lessons already discussed. It is precisely because the teacher sees that awareness is developing and that the student’s own abilities to wrestle with knowledge and shape his or her own opinion is being gained that hope for the future is found. The good teacher encourages through realism and offers a “hard-fought for” hope based in reality.
Now, the reason why I think I have been led into this reflection on the gift of teachers in life is the recognition that the season of Advent – these four Sundays leading up to Christmas – can be the best of teachers for us on living discipleship if we let it. We all know how busy this time of year can be and, in one form or another, every year we hear the same admonition from the pulpit – “Don’t rush to Christmas; learn the lessons of Advent!” Well … it is true. So I will say it again this year. Advent is the best of teachers and it has so much to offer us … if we let it.
“Be aware!” Advent is not naive about the human condition. If, in this season, we have visions of peace (…the mountain of the Lord’s house being established … swords being beaten into plowshares…) it is because we do not know peace. There is violence in our world and in our hearts. There is sin and suffering, there is pain, hardship and injustice. We have become problems to ourselves. We yearn for peace because we do not yet know peace. In Advent there is the honest recognition that we find ourselves, in our world and in our psyches, lacking peace. The world recently has been given two powerful images that truly illustrate for us the situation in which we find ourselves and that therefore are powerful Advent images worthy of our continued reflection throughout this season. The images are those of the Chilean miners trapped underground and rescued and the three teenagers just rescued from being adrift at sea for over fifty days. These two events have much to teach us if we take the time to listen…
If we become aware, if we come to recognize the situation in which we find ourselves, then the question arises, “What are we going to do about it?” In the light of God’s grace what can we do? It is not just enough to dream of peace, to dream of a better world, we have to do something about it. This is the whole thrust of the second reading. “Wake up!” says St. Paul, “…throw off the deeds of darkness … put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day...” The work of Advent, which is the work of the Kingdom, if it is to be authentic must first begin and take root in the heart of each disciple, in our very lives – with the aid of God’s grace. Just as the world claims that the cry of “Save yourself” is the only real choice to make in life; we, as Christians formed in the truth of the gospel, need to stand up and say, “No, you are wrong. There is another choice – the choice to love, to serve and to let go of self. The choice that our Lord himself made and it is in this choice where true life is found!”
Finally, Advent gives us a hope and encouragement founded in the ultimate reality and recognition that before we ever even begin to turn to God; God has already come to us. Even as we light the candles of the Advent wreath we realize that Christmas has already come. Christ is teacher, but even more fundamentally, Christ is savior!
When we listen to the accounts of the miners trapped underground and the three youths lost at sea we hear a common theme that they all express – their faith in God gave them hope. This is not a trivial statement nor should it be passed over unheedingly. In Christ, we have the surest hope.
Advent is the best of teachers. Come, Lord Jesus!