“If I could do the last thirty years over again, I would do it differently. I would try to make people fall in love with Jesus.”
A story was being told about a conversation with an elderly priest nearing death, but it pierced my heart and filled me with a great desire to do the same thing. In teaching Theology, I feel these seemingly conflicting pulls on my heart. I desire to teach them concrete information yet I want to show them how to fall in love with the Lord. These two desires aren’t mutually exclusive, but the balance is a difficult thing to ascertain.
While I wish we could have daily conversations about the matters closest to their hearts or the questions they really want answered, I also have a curriculum to follow. We need to take quizzes and tests. I am required to give them assignments and to grade their work. Yet, somehow, in the midst of the formal education, I am also supposed to provide an education of the heart.
How? I’m uncertain. I know it sometimes happens when their sincere questions spring from the topics at hand. Or during unplanned times of heart sharing and depth. The Holy Spirit will surprisingly show up and elevate my lesson to something far beyond what I could do on my own.
I want to answer all of their questions about the Catholic Church and Jesus Christ. Sometimes they don’t know how to phrase the questions or are uninterested in engaging in a conversation that may challenge their status quo. Despite my desires to help them encounter the Lord, I cannot manufacture an encounter in a 50-minute class period. I attempt to provide opportunities and share experiences I have had, yet with 25-30 students in a class, I am unable to personally reach each person as they need to be reached.
Regardless of the difficulty of it all, the words of the priest stirred my heart. They convicted me and called me to try harder. I often find myself getting tired and slipping into the mentality of just getting by in my classes. Of course, doctrines and teachings must be passed on to these students. Primarily, however, the students should be presented with the great love of God. In falling in love with Him, they will naturally desire to know more about Him. How do I show them how to fall in love with Jesus?
First, I need to intentionally and diligently seek to daily encounter the love of the Lord. If I am not deeply in love with Jesus, how can I provide the opportunity for others to fall in love with Him? It is impossible. Immersed in His love, I can then allow this love to overflow into their lives. When it is obvious that my love for Jesus transforms my life into a life of joy, they will be attracted to the calling of Jesus in their own lives.
Christ is not a figure of the past. He is a person of the present. I am seeking to re-present this reality of Christ dwelling among us still, entering into relationship with us, and revealing His radical love for us. Let our lives be a living testimony of how love can transform.
Love consumes us only in the measure of our self-surrender.
-St. Therese of Lisieux