THE TEACHER IS A DISCIPLE
BISHOP SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Bishop Of Balanga
For the RVM EAP Convention held in Tagaytay City last November 18, 2007
The first mission of the Church is to teach. The proclamation of the Kingdom is at the core of the mission of Jesus and therefore our mission too. How can people pray and worship unless they are first taught? How will they encounter the Lord and seek baptism unless they have been taught? How will people learn to the love and serve the Lord in the least, the last and the lost of society unless they have received teaching?
Teaching is the primary mission of the Church. If the Church were to abandon its mission to “teach all the nations” all her other functions of sanctifying and serving would crumble down and lose meaning.
Teaching as a gift from God is a grace. Jesus is the first and only Teacher and we are all his disciples. When we are sent forth to “teach all nations” we must always be aware that it is gesture of undeserved trust and confidence from a gracious God entrusting to our unworthy hands the fate of his mission.
Education as a gift that society makes available to its citizens is a right. Education often implies formal instruction but specially stresses the development of inborn capacities. Educators must know their field and excel in it. What is required of an educator is expertise.
The teacher's expertise may be narrow and limited but the power of the teacher is the Lord at work in his life. The credibility of the teacher is not his training but his life witness. My mother may never qualify to hold the dignity of a college professor but she is certainly the best teacher I have ever met because her life spoke so eloquently.
The good educator is admirable but only an authentic teacher can inspire.
What makes a good teacher? It is imperative to ask this question because answering this question will also allow us to answer the query what kind of students do we wish to produce. As the teacher is so is the student. The good teacher must first and foremost be a good disciple.
The disciple is he who has heard the invitation of the Lord “Come follow me!” The disciple must not miss the succeeding invitation of the Lord “Come follow me! Come and die with me!”
The vocation of the teacher is not simply to instruct and to mentor. The first duty of the teacher-disciple is to die with the Teacher. His teaching mission reaches its peak when the teacher has died for his student.
Let me share with you this parable.
A young man searching for meaning in life and desiring to be holy approached a wise old man to ask for guidance. Wanting to pay his reverence to the wise man, the aspiring disciple brought a bunch of flowers with his left hand and extended it to the guru. The wise man said “Drop it”. The young man thought the guru was referring to the left hand holding the flowers so he dropped the flowers and caught them with his right and offered them again. The wise man said again “Drop it”. So the young man dropped the flowers on the floor. And the wise teacher said again “Drop it!” This time getting confused, the young man asked “What shall I drop?” The guru said “Drop yourself”.
Three times the wise man told the disciple to drop. Drop the beauty you carry. Drop the right things you do. Drop yourself.
This is the vocation of the Christian teacher. Drop what you think is beautiful about you. God does not care about your masteral degrees or doctorates. They may be good for the government and useful for your career ladder but in the presence of the Lord, we are all apprentices and inexperienced neophytes. We cannot let Christ glow unless we let the glamour of our doctorates go. Is there anything beautiful about you that you did not receive from God? Everything is grace. Your being a teacher is a gift, a great grace. If we could be less conscious about our qualifications and be more aware that all that we have, we owe to God, we would be more credible to our students. They will see no longer our beauty but the beauty of God shining through us.
Drop what is right! There is something more important than being right. It is to be a loving disciple. You may be correct and impeccable but have you been a loving teacher? What will it matter if you know the correct teaching about the Holy Trinity but do not live the love that binds the same Trinity? At the sunset of life, we will be judged according to love. At the twilight of life, the only right thing will be love.
Finally, your discipleship demands that you drop yourself. If the seed dies, it bears much fruit. Bruce Lee, the idol of my teen age years, introduced me to the spiritual life through his words “The cup realizes itself only by being empty”. The core of our mission as teachers is sharing in the dying of the Lord so that we may share in His glory. Teaching is not a profession. It is not a job. It is a grace. It is a ministry. It is a challenge to lay down our all and to allow the lesson of our self oblation to bring others to fullness of life.
Teaching at the core of the prophetic ministry of the Church seeks to create a world where people “act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with God”. Why have we not been effective? If we keep on putting the blame on the so called hardness of heart of others, we will never make any dent in social transformation and in teaching the power of the Gospel to change the destinies of peoples.
If the two thousand year history of the teaching mission of the Church has not made a dent in the promotion of a just world according to the spirit of the Kingdom, we must examine ourselves and ask where we have failed in our mission. Could it be that we have opted to be professional administrators rather than witnessing teachers? Could it be that we have considered pursuing the vision and mission statements of our schools at the expense of personal prayer and contemplation? Could it be that we have seen the urgency of meeting our PAASCU and ISO deadlines that we have become ugly in our words and arrogant in our manners? Could it be that we have considered the economic gain of the school as more important than the pursuit of the values of the Kingdom of God? Could it be that because of our poverty, we have considered ourselves exempt from the law of love and sharing?
Let me share with you another story of Jesus that happened in one of our parishes.
A priest was assigned by his bishop to take photographs of the soup kitchen sponsored by the cathedral. Two hundred food stubs were distributed to poor people living near the church. Not far from the food distribution table, there were four children who had no food stubs but who wanted some food for themselves. The eldest of the four joined the line even if he had no food stub. When he got to the table, there was no food left except a piece of banana. The lay leader in charge of the distribution gave the banana to the little girl who immediately rushed to her three waiting siblings. There was brilliance in the eyes of the four children as they made a sign of the cross and prayed before eating the small banana. The eldest peeled the banana and divided it into three parts for her three siblings. What was left for the eldest was the banana peel. As her three siblings enjoyed one third of the banana, the eldest satisfied herself with scraping with her teeth the inside of the banana peel.
The priest told me he wanted to take a photo of the beautiful scene of love but he could not because he was crying. My priest friend was sure that if he would peep through his camera, he would see the face of Jesus. In the face of this young girl, the compassionate face of God glowed. She is the youth that Jesus stays with. She is the youth that stays with Jesus. She is the student who teaches us teachers.
The best lectures have no words. The best homilies have no words. The disciples teach by the power of God and the strength of witness. Go forth and teach this way.