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Placing the astonishing within our grasp

Chuck Lamphier | Tuesday, January 31, 2012

“When the Sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this?'” (Mark 6:2).

I’ve always thought that this line from today’s Gospel is one of the most authentic and reasonable reactions to Jesus in all of the Gospels. Jesus is back in his hometown, back in the synagogue where he had worshipped as a child. He’s with people who knew him as a helpless infant, a stumbling toddler, an awkward teenager. Can you picture the woman in the midst of the assembly, listening to Jesus’ call to repentance, who could herself remember scolding the six year old Jesus for running in the synagogue? Or the carpenter in the back of the room, who was there the day Jesus bloodied his own thumb with an errant swing of a hammer, suddenly encountering Jesus teaching with such apparent authority?

Of course they were astonished! Who wouldn’t be? I’m sure they were wondering, “Where does this kid get off telling us what to do?” At that moment, they were having a profound experience of God’s presence, but simply weren’t prepared for it. Instead, they were held hostage by their previously held — and seemingly legitimate — beliefs about Mary and Joseph’s son.

Jesus came to make us ready for God. To put this another way, Jesus’ life was all about taking “astonishing” truths about God and making them humanly comprehensible. This is precisely why we are so ready to call Jesus “Christ the Teacher.” If we can believe that God walked along the dusty, desolate back country roads of ancient Palestine, maybe it’s not so hard to believe that God can be found amongst the poor of Calcutta, Haiti or South Bend. If we recognize that Jesus’ impulse was toward forgiveness, mercy and communion, then it must mean that God invites us to be agents of reconciliation. If the truth of Christ’s dying and rising gets into our bones and becomes the central theme of our lives, then we will surely approach suffering and difficulties with a spirit of hope. These are some of the astonishing truths that Christ placed within our human grasp.

This week, as we mark Catholic Schools Week, we celebrate an enterprise that continues Christ’s work of revealing God. Today, millions of children and young adults throughout the United States attend Catholic schools and universities in which the Gospel message is proclaimed, community is fostered, worship and prayer are encouraged and service to our neighbors is modeled.

Somewhere today, a child is studying the parable of the Prodigal Son and is learning that God will run to us the moment we take a step in the direction of home. In a high school classroom, students are debating immigration policy in light of Catholic social teaching on human dignity, solidarity and the common good. On college campuses — right here at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s — undergraduates are being challenged to consider how their deepest desires intersect with the world’s greatest needs, thereby discovering how God is calling them to a life of service to others.

When Blessed Basil Moreau, founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, wrote, “Education is the art of helping young people to completeness,” he could have been describing the lifelong work of Jesus’ listeners in the synagogue. That is, to their own question, “Where did Jesus get all this?” Moreau might well have answered “He got a lot of it from you!” The believing community educates and helps to shape us into the person we’re going to be.

Every inch of the world is a classroom for somebody, and Catholic schools are at work forming and sending out good teachers to share astonishing news. In a world that offers lots of lessons — some that are true, and some that are ultimately empty — Catholic schools seek to prepare the next generations to share their faith by bringing values into the marketplace, ethics into the laboratory, justice onto our streets and a witness to faith, hope and love to all the corners of the world.

May our experience of Christ the Teacher astonish us, rouse us, challenge us — as it did that synagogue assembly in Jesus’ hometown — and so lead us to become better students and teachers ourselves. And during this Catholic Schools Week, may we pray in thanksgiving for the countless men and women who have answered this challenge through the ministry of Catholic education.

This week’s column is written by Chuck Lamphier (ND ‘03, M.Ed. ‘05, MNA ‘09), the Director of the Alliance for Catholic Education’s ACE Advocates Program. He can be reached at Lamphier.1@nd.edu

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