Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, drew his inspiration for a talk to 1,200 elementary teachers in the Diocese of Oakland schools from a trip to the grocery store.
The bishop, who drew on his own experiences as a Catholic school student as well as teacher, outlined six ways to provide a Christ-centered education:
Christ in the teacher
"Children need to see a model of Christ's love in you," the bishop said. Sometimes that includes "tough love," with "real discipline and real consequences."
"My first year of teaching high school was one of the hardest years of my life," he said. "The students all looked older than me. The sophomores scared easily but seniors ran the school."
The first day, "I was extremely terrified," he said. But with discipline, and kindness, respect grows.
Christ in the curriculum
Among the questions he asked: "Do our kids know the Scriptures, especially the great stories of the Bible? Do they know the catechism? Do they know what Jesus' death meant and resurrection? Do they know about heaven and how to get there?"
He encouraged greater emphasis on content in the curriculum.
He told of visiting a classroom of kindergartners and first-graders and being asked about the Trinity: "How can God be 1 in 3?"
"Now that's a good school," he said. "That was one of the questions we had on the exam before ordination."
Christ in the atmosphere
"We need to have Christ in the atmosphere of the school, on the playground and the sports field," he said. He said what he liked about the movie about De La Salle High School, "When the Game Stands Tall," is "it's about values and sportsmanship."
"Are we plugging our kids into Christ's mercy?" he asked, noting Pope Francis' emphasis on the mercy of Jesus. "Are our kids participating in service projects where they're looking out of themselves?
He suggested hands-on service to people less fortunate than they are helps children be part of that mercy.
"I have asked St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Charities and Catholic Worker in our diocese to create more ways for our schools and parishes to participate in their corporal works of mercy," he said.
Christ and beauty
"Do we use the beauty of art, music and nature to attract kids to the source of all beauty, which is God? The bishop had celebrated Mass for the eighth-graders of the diocese the previous week; a Mass he planned to show the beauty of the liturgy.
Encountering Christ in the sacraments
"Do we expose our kids to Christ in the sacraments?" he asked. "Do we teach our kids that the sacraments are personal encounters with Christ?"
He recalled a First Confession, on a Navy base outside London, where the children wore nametags in the shape of lambs that they had colored. After confession, they tenderly placed their little lambs at the feet of a big picture of Christ the Good Shepherd.
"Parents watching this were themselves converted and went to confession," he said.
The bishop cited issues facing educators — rising costs and tuition becoming increasingly less affordable particularly for families in the middle. He said he had asked Gov. Jerry Brown: "Should I just go out of the education business?"
The response: "We can't teach faith-based values. You are doing something we can't do."
The bishop addressed challenges facing the schools, including affordability, especially for middle-income families; schools with empty seats in Latino neighborhoods; how to evangelize parents; and working with pastors.
On the latter issue, he asked Father Dan Danielson, retired pastor, to offer some perspective. Father Danielson, a graduate of St. Jarlath School in Oakland, noted that many things had changed from the time he was in school, when all the students lived in the parish, and the sisters taught them.
"Some things are still the same: parents still love their children and want the very best for them. The school is still an integral part of the parish."
Family faith formation, for example, might be a means of evangelizing parents, he said.
In thanking the teachers for their service and commitment, the bishop said the work of Catholic education "is definitely worth the effort. We can't let the kids down."
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