March 1st, 2011 by Archbishop Charles Chaput
All adult Catholics are teachers. That’s one of our mandates as believers. And like never before in history, we need to be people rooted in the Church and faithful to her teachings. In an age of confusion, the Church is our only reliable guide. Through her, it’s our job to form our children and ourselves in the truth that will make us genuinely free.
Most of us know C.S. Lewis as the author of “The Chronicles of Narnia” or “The Screwtape Letters.” But he was a teacher as well as a writer—and in his lectures, he often described God as a sculptor. For Lewis, the suffering in a person’s life has a special meaning, which is echoed again and again in Scripture.
Proverbs tells us, “Do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (3:11-12). And the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that in suffering, “God is treating you as sons, for what son is there whom a father does not discipline?” (12:7).
Suffering is a tool. God uses it to shape each of us into the saints he wants us to be. God sees the shape of our holiness in the marble of our humanity. Then He cuts away the stone of sin to free us.
It’s a great metaphor. Anyone who has seen Michelangelo’s sculpture of the Pieta knows exactly what Lewis meant. The figures of Jesus and Mary have a living humanity. The smoothness of the skin, the elegance of the limbs, the sorrow on Mary’s face—these things are so real that we can forget they came from a slab of marble. The sculptor saw the beauty in the stone … and he set it free with a hammer and a chisel. Nobody remembers the hammer blow; that was over in an instant. They’re too moved by the beauty of the results. The beauty lasts forever.
Now, people aren’t blocks of stone. They’re living tissue, with the freedom and dignity of children of God. And teachers aren’t chisels and hammers. Or at least they shouldn’t be. They are active, cooperating agents in God’s plan, not merely his instruments. But we can still draw some lessons from the sculptor and his work.
First, the great sculptor is motivated by love, not merely technical skill. The sculptor loves the beauty and the truth he sees locked in the stone. In the same way, the great teacher loves the possibilities for beauty and truth—the hint of the image of God—she sees in the face of her students.
Next, the great sculptor has a passion for his work and a confidence in his vision. In like manner, no Catholic catechist, teacher or parent can form another person in the faith without a passion for the Gospel, a personal zeal for Jesus Christ, and an absolute confidence in the truth of the Church and her teaching. No teacher can give what she doesn’t have herself. If you yourself don’t believe, then you can only communicate unbelief. If I’m not faithful myself, then I will only communicate infidelity. Who we are, is part of the formation we give to others.