Tuesday, January 10, 2012

An Attentive and Faithful Presence

The true educator does not bind people to himself, he is not possessive. He wants the child, or the disciple, to learn to know the truth and establish a personal relationship with it. The educator does his duty to the end, he does not withdraw his attentive and faithful presence; but his objective is that the learner hears the voice of the truth speak to his heart and follows it on a personal journey (Benedict XVI, Homily for January 8, 2012).
As usual, Pope Benedict provides a succinct but profound meditation in these words, and here he addresses the reality of teaching and learning. This is something I have been living all my life, in various aspects: as a "child" myself (a seeker of truth), a student, a professor, a friend, a writer; as someone who tries to share his own experience and understanding, and who seeks in turn to be receptive to what others can show him; someone who tries to offer his life and talents to doing works of mercy, and who is desperately in need of mercy.

The more we come to know the truth--not an ideological scheme or agenda, but the truth about reality--the more we realize that all truth speaks of the Mystery that is the source and meaning of everything, a Mystery that is Personal in the deepest sense, and who calls us to a living relationship with Himself. In presenting us with all the wonderful facets of reality, truth whispers to the heart that it is worthy of adherence and affirmation; it discloses all the goodness and beauty of reality, and thereby points to the One who is Good and Beautiful. Thus we affirm the truth with conviction and joy, and thus we continue to seek it.

The true educator points to the truth, not to his or her self. The truth, ultimately, is the Infinite Mystery who creates and calls the heart of every person. There have, of course, been people throughout history who have proposed themselves as "the answer" for others. They are the manipulators, the violent, the abusive characters of history and of life--in their "purest" form, they are the cult leaders and totalitarian dictators of history. They betray the relationship of persons which ought to exist between teachers and students, leaders and followers. They turn people into slaves, and they destroy families, communities, cultures, and societies.

But there was one man who was different. Once in history, a man came and said, "I am the Truth." Once in history a man said, "come to me, follow me" and that man was not abusive and manipulative. He transformed those who followed Him. They became, not less human, but a hundred times more profoundly human, and more than that, they themselves became reflections of the Mystery; they became--in a unique way--witnesses to the presence of the Mystery dwelling among us in this man. And their followers have carried the light of the hope of the human race down through the centuries, keeping it alive even in the midst of all their human frailty, and bearing witness to all the peoples of the world.

Jesus Christ is totally unique in history. He and He alone stands before the human person--with integrity, with spectacular greatness and goodness and beauty--and says, "who do you say that I am?"

The answer to this question is a continual source of amazement to me. The Mystery that sustains all of reality became a man. Thus everyone's "personal journey" to a "relationship with the truth" finds its true path and its fulfillment in Him. Billions of human beings don't really know Him. Still, if they are searching for the truth, they are searching for Him. In fact, it is He who is calling their hearts. He has come for each and all. He loves them. There is much that is mysterious about this, but for Christians it should inspire a great desire to make Him known to all the world. For as Blessed John Paul II said, "every human person has the right to know the truth that Jesus Christ came for him."

The Infinite Mystery reveals Himself by becoming man in order to give Himself to us. He comes as loving mercy, to be our path and our sustenance and our fulfillment. He comes for the "personal journey" of each one of us, and He draws close to that personal dignity and the special quality, attractions, capabilities and aspirations that distinguish each of our hearts. We have been created to give ourselves in love. He knows who we are destined to be by means of that gift, and He empowers us to achieve it. He gives to all things their attractiveness and beauty and meaning, and then He draws all things to Himself.

The fact that all things find their fulfillment in Him does not mean that things are reduced to "religious stuff" (inasmuch as we conceive of "religion" as a collection of merely human rules and invented schemes and theories). It means that He really is the Mystery: "all things were created through Him, all things were created for Him." His "particularity" in history and in our lives is not meant to suffocate us. Rather it shows that in Him we really will find the fullness of life; indeed we will find "eternal life." His particularity in the life and worship and ministry of the Church brings the Mystery of God close to us and communicates it to us, so that we might live forever as God's children, and so that we might see the vividness of God's mercy and goodness in every aspect of this earthly life, in its joys and hopes and sufferings.

What, then, can someone like me--a "professional teacher"--possibly offer to my students, my friends, my children? What can I, who claim to be an educator, possibly do for them? Can I be an instrument through which they might "hear the voice of the truth," with all of my inadequacy and all my weaknesses? I shall fail again and again. My own personality will get in the way. There are always too many words, too much desire for my own success, too much of the sneaky way in which I try to insert myself into the Christian witness. It is the pharisaical temptation to want for myself some of the awesome attention of the human religious sense, an attention that is meant to be directed to God alone. I want people to know God's love, and yet, like every human being, my inclinations for appreciation, recognition, and success are out of control. Insofar as these inclinations are not ruled by charity and mercy, the "voice of truth" is weakened and can even be obscured. Hypocrisy is almost unavoidable in those who claim to teach about the ways of God, because we fall short of Him in so much.

Still, I must try, and entrust all my efforts to Him. For this is an essential part of my own personal journey.

In many ways, my own children bring things down to earth. The vocation of fatherhood awakens a tenderness for them, and a perception of the uniqueness of each of them, an awe in front of them. The educative task of a father is clearly more than a discourse; it requires a witness. The children need my living witness to the truth. They need the "attentive and faithful presence" of their father. I must "do my duty to the end," which is to love them not possessively, but for the sake of their destiny.

I must be an attentive and faithful presence for them as each of them discovers the path of his or her vocation. I pray that I might rejoice in seeing the particular quality of love in His gaze upon each of them within the circumstances of their lives.

Fatherhood brings me to my knees. I realize that I cannot care for what has been entrusted to me except by depending completely on Him. It makes me remember once again the truth of my own journey, and the Mercy that enables me to make that journey as it unfolds before me.