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Catholic Teacher blog: Food that will last

Nathan Ahearne  |  31 July 2018

eucharist - bread and wineAs you stumble out of bed for another term of lesson planning, marking, reporting and administrative trivia, do you ever wonder what gets you passionate about teaching?

We certainly aren’t lured back to our classrooms with lucrative salaries and bonuses, so what feeds our appetite for education? Many teachers would say that it’s the kids that keep them going – the friendly smiles, youthful optimism and infectious sense of humour makes teaching more than a job. In John 6:24-35 Jesus challenges his disciples to consider what they are working for, ‘do not work for food that goes bad, but work for food that endures for eternal life’. What are you working for?

Catholic teachers need nourishment to strengthen the work that Christ does through their lives. We can be tempted to look for the sugar rush, a quick fix between meals. Binging on Netflix and scrolling through social media keeps us distracted from our real hunger, offering barely enough to make it through the day. US author and lecturer, Christopher West suggests that many of us a driving around with flat tyres and we’ve been doing it for so long that ‘we lack a point of reference for anything different’. How often do we drive around with the fuel gauge on empty, just getting by? However, what happens when we run out?

Many of us live on scraps of prayer, junk food for the soul; turning to processed prayers, thoughtless words that roll off the tongue. These pre-cooked prayers are easy to pull off the shelf, requiring minimal effort and offering little sustenance. We sacrifice nourishment for convenience, packing our prayer life full of preservatives to extend the use-by date. In his book Tools and Fuels: How Catholic teachers can become saints, beat burnout and save the world, Jonathan Doyle discusses the constantly increasing demands and complexities of teaching. He points out that teacher accreditation, lobby groups and parents are expecting schools to ‘do more and more, often with less and less’. Doyle and the Church point to the Latin adage of faith formation, Nemo potest dare quod non habet, you can't give what you do not have. If we barely sustain our own prayer lives, do we have enough left in the tank to help those around us?

In a world where fast food, pre-cooked meals and eating on the run are the norm, the Eucharistic meal offers a radical alternative. Much like the nostalgic Sunday roast, Mass demands that we take our time, slow down, prepare ourselves, offer the works of our hands (to be blessed, broken and shared), listen to God’s word and be in communion with others. This meal slowly transforms our whole being and strengths us from the inside. Dr David Benner urges, ‘If your heart longs for more, don’t settle for junk food. Don’t settle for anything less than the wholeness that comes from living in alignment with the Spirit of Wisdom who inhabits all of creation and is our truest and deepest self… The Christian way involves the transformation not just of individuals but of communities, cultures and the world.’

As a Catholic teachers, we must also feed the faith of those we educate, calling them to the table and witnessing the joy of the Gospel. The Church teaches that ‘young people have to be taught to share their personal lives with God. They are to overcome their individualism and discover, in the light of faith, their specific vocation to live responsibly in a community with others’. Amos 8:11 reminds us to savour that which most nourishes our hearts. Jesus offers us ‘food that will last’ – food that will continue to nourish and sustain our work in Catholic schools.

Nathan Ahearne is Director of Faith Formation at Marist College, Canberra. See also Nathan’s blog.

Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash


Topic tags: prayer, liturgyandthesacraments, vocationsandlifechoices

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