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If Christ was our teacher

Fr Lou DelFra | Thursday, September 22, 2011

Jesus’ teaching method in the Gospels is to begin with what is most apparent, with what first strikes us, what is right before our eyes, and to look at it closely with eyes of faith until its deeper meaning is yielded up to us.

In his relentless search for what many conceived as a remote and faraway Kingdom of God, Jesus is never afraid to begin his search with the stuff right before his eyes — the seed that his countrymen scattered each season, the sheep that dotted the Galilean hillsides, the loaves and fishes that they ate each evening or the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. All of them, for Jesus, became answers to the question: “To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God?”

At all of these simple, ordinary things, Jesus gazed with eyes of faith, gently peeling back their layers, until finally he unearthed from within them a revelation of the love of God.

How many times a day do we become conscious of the daily stuff of life as revealing the love of God for us? Take, for example, one of the most present phenomena in our entire lives — the gift of light. We live almost every day bathed in sunlight (well, “bathed” may be a little strong in South Bend). Yet how many times are we grateful to God for the gift of light? Hardly ever — perhaps precisely because the light is so constant.

Now remember a time you have been sitting quietly in a church, and all of sudden the stained glass windows make you become very conscious of light. Perhaps you looked down at the ground and saw a red triangle of light dancing in the aisle or along your forearm. Or you’ve seen a blue or yellow beam of light slanting through the open space of the church.

What happens in that moment? You suddenly became aware of light’s presence, light’s beauty — but not because all of a sudden light has appeared. Light, of course, is always surrounding us. But through the stained glass, which magnifies the light in a beautiful way, we suddenly become aware of the reality and the gift of light.

“To magnify what is there, in a beautiful way, so that others can become aware of it.” It is a beautiful image of what it means to be a teacher. It is a description of how Jesus teaches.

The Jesuit poet Gerard Manly Hopkins wrote: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. / It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.” When Hopkins wrote this in the 19th century, aluminum foil had just been invented. So Hopkins was captivated, in a way probably lost to us, by what happens when one shakes a piece of aluminum foil in the sunlight. When one of its creases catches the light in a particular way, the light “flames out.”

What an image of how Christ taught his disciples: to observe things in the proper light until its deeper beauty, or inner logic or sacramental significance “flames out.” If Hopkins, as a disciple of Christ, can look at something as ordinary as a piece of aluminum foil and write a beautiful hymn of praise to God, then what else will not yield up its secret meaning? For Christ the Teacher, all was charged with “the grandeur of God” — mustard seeds and barley loaves, fish, sheep, birds of the air, lilies of the field and lightning in the sky.

Perhaps we might conceive Jesus’ teaching method like a stained glass window — which takes the reality of the daily stuff of life, the stuff that is as present as the sunlight and magnifies it in a beautiful way, allows God’s presence within it to flame out, so that we are suddenly captivated and learn how to see.

One day, Hopkins was taking a walk on a forest path with a friend who had unexpectedly visited. He arrived at a turn in the path where he always turned around to return home. But this day, his friend invited him to go farther, around one more bend. And when they came around the bend, he suddenly saw these majestic hills hovering in the distance. They were essentially right behind his residence, but he had never seen them before. They transfixed him.

Wondering about this experience later, he wrote about the hills, which, like the sunlight, were always there but never noticed: “These things, these things were here and but the beholder wanting; which two, when they once meet, the heart rears wings bold and bolder, and hurls, o half hurls earth for him off under her feet.”

Jesus taught, “The Kingdom of God is in your midst.” In the stuff of our daily life — the stuff we study, the stuff we observe, the people with whom we live — the Love of God is always present. “And but the beholder wanting.”

Present too is Christ the Teacher, like a stained glass window, magnifying the presence of God in all our world so that we see its beauty, which leads us to the Creator of beauty.

Our world waits to yield up its deepest significance. Christ shows us the way. And our hearts rear wings.


Fr. Lou DelFra, CSC, is the Director of Pastoral Life for ACE and a member of Campus Ministry. He can be reached at delfra.2@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily that of The Observer.