Christian Education: Spiritual formation in relationship

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Christian Education: Spiritual formation in relationship

By Martin Tobin, Director of Catholic Identity & Evangelisation, Catholic Education Tasmania

What motivates a teacher of religion? Surely it must be a personal love of Jesus; the kind of love that fills faith-filled teachers with one driving ambition; the desire to form our students in a personal relationship with Christ Himself.

The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education puts it this way:
“The teacher under discussion here is not simply a professional person who systematically transmits a body of knowledge in the context of a school; ‘teacher’ is to be understood as ‘educator’ - one who helps to form human persons.”

At the heart of all Christian formation is cognitive/affective exchange. This happens within a formative relationship between learner and teacher - an exchange of knowledge, emotion, imagination, affectivity and understanding between a teacher who is forming her/himself in faith and the student who is being formed. How important is this formative relationship?

“The personal relations between the teacher and the students, therefore, assume an enormous importance and are not limited simply to giving and taking.”
(The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium)

So, the relationship between teacher and student has such a deep spiritual intensity because of the teacher’s awesome responsibility to communicate and live the truths of Revelation, whole and entire: as a faith-filled witness. The Church describes this as a privileged opportunity for giving witness. A formative relationship is always a dialogue rather than a monologue, and teachers of religion usually find that the enrichment in the relationship is mutual. The experience is equally formative for both the teacher and the learner.
Because of these distinctive spiritual dimensions, religious education is a work of grace. The teacher of religion is never the only adult in the classroom – for Christ, Himself has promised that He will always be present (Matthew 18:20). The presence of Jesus is an active and dynamic presence; an outpouring of grace and a light to the intellect – for learner and teacher alike.

With contributions by Gerard Gaskin, Director of Learning and Teaching at Catholic Education Tasmania.