On Kingdom Vision, Proper Education, and Tampering the Fire: Educating the Whole Person by Sister Josephine Garret
I'd like to reflect on a talk from the Good News Conference, organised by Word on Fire. Videos from the conference were recently uploaded on the Word on Fire Institute YouTube channel, and I'm really enjoying them. I find the timings of these videos to be very apt, as they address the issues and dilemmas I've been struggling with recently, And I believe this is no coincidence, as always. God is great, all glory to Him.
The talk that I'd like to meditate upon in this post is one by the brilliant and entertaining Sister Josephine Garret. She talks about educating the whole person. Sister Josephine believes education shouldn't be confined just to the mind and the intellect, but it should be holistic and include the physical, the senses, the emotions, the spirit. As a teacher by profession, this resonates with me very deeply. Philosophies of education around the world advocate education of the whole person, but at the end of the day students are mostly tested based on how much they learn at the intellectual levels. Some sort of values are sometimes ascribed to students' achievements in the physical, e.g., in sports. But very few systems care about emotional and spiritual education of the learners. Religious educations exist, yes - but more often than not learners' 'achievements' are almost always assessed based on how well they perform in an academic test of some sort.
If you want to apply to study in a place like Cambridge, for instance, what criteria would the admission and scholarship boards be looking at? Mainly academic qualifications, i.e., how well you do in standardised tests. So school teachers aren't really to blame when they tend to emphasise on the academic - most teachers just want to see their students excel, and to do that they often have no choice but to conform to the demands of the systems of the world.
But can we change this?
The need to tamper the fire
True to the message she advocates, Sister Josephine doesn't just talk about education at the worldly (superficial) levels. She also focuses on what educating the whole person should mean to me as a Christian, as a Catholic. What touches me deeply is the meditation on kingdom vision. Sister Josephine describes "kingdom vision" as "the act of looking everywhere for signs of the Resurrection." She also says, "proper education will open the senses to all the signs of the risen Lord." Striving, and advocating for an education that will open the senses to the risen Lord, so that people can get closer and closer to having a 20/20 kingdom vision. That should be the goal of everything I do.
She also talks about hope that will come about as a result of kingdom vision. Hope is never a bad thing, but Sister Josephine warns that "hope is vulnerable," and "can be difficult to hold, because it is full of longing." She points out that "we cannot bear the weight of hope without union with Christ."
Sister Josephine says that her heart is on fire, it is always gloriously ablaze, and that she with the help of her spiritual director is trying to tamper it. Listening to her, I wonder why is there a need to tamper that fire. Isn't it a good thing to have a heart that is fully ablaze for the Lord? But this message on hope makes it clear to me. People whose hearts are set ablaze are always full of longing hopes, and while this can be a good thing, it can also be a dangerous thing. It can lead to the wrong kind of worship, the wrong kind of praise, a distorted outlook on what it means to do good and to live a meaningful, fruitful life. I see this in my past younger self, brimming with energy and ambitions to make the world a better place, but without Christ in the picture. I thought I was doing it for Him, but looking back I realised I was actually doing it for myself. Through my work and advocacies, I wasn't conveying the good news about the Christ who saves, I pushed Him aside and made myself the saviour.
Wayfarers on the road to Emmaus
So how do I deal with this? According to Sister Josephine, "This road to Emmaus that we walk can be a way of purification and maturation in ways of God." Like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, we are always on a journey, talking with one another, asking questions, sharing doubts and disappointments, seeking answers together. But modelling after the two disciples, we should also be ready for the stranger who might interrupt our journey midway, who might participate in our conversations and rumination in unexpected ways, offering insights that reveal all truths to us. As we approach our Emmaus, the stranger might continue on "as if he were going farther" (Luke 24: 28). When that happens, what should we do? Like the disciples, we should "urge him strongly, 'Stay with us..."(v. 29).
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognised by them when he broke the bread.
(Luke 24: 30-35)
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus demonstrates what it means to educate the whole person. He educates the minds and the hearts by talking to the disciples and opening the Scriptures to them. He sets their hearts ablaze. By taking the bread, giving thanks, breaking the bread and giving it to the disciples, he educates the senses. He opens their eyes and they recognise him.
The goal of Education
The goal of education is not to make an individual smarter. By pursuing education, I should never make "increasing my smartness" as my ultimate goal. As a Christian, I should yearn to have an education that sets my heart ablaze and opens my eyes so I can recognise Christ. I should long for the kind of education that will increase my faith, "faith that is robust not because it is set ablaze by human ideas, but by the Word of God and His Real Presence in the Eucharist" (Sister Josephine).
Sister Josephine ends her talk by encouraging us to not be shy "to be a wayfarer, so that Christ may increase, and I may decrease, and Christ lives in me." Nothing makes more sense to me than this. So thankful to God that he allows me to be a wayfarer with him, on this road to my Emmaus.
ccj, Cambridge, 1 May 2022, 23:29