A few years ago, I remember my Dad and I were out for lunch and I was venting frustrations to him about the challenges of being a high school Religious Education teacher.
I was sharing with him the difficulty of promoting God’s greatness to adolescents who, for various reasons, might see God as uncool, uninteresting and unrelated to society.
I revealed how it can occasionally be mentally exhausting and emotionally taxing to stand in front of a group of indifferent or apathetic teenagers each day and talk about how wonderful the Lord is, how He loves them so much and how our world needs Him more than ever.
I told my Dad how deflating it can feel when I see their looks of disinterest and how my passionate personality and enthusiastic teaching style can sometimes yield fruitless results during class activities and discussions, no matter how inspiring my anecdotes or creative my lesson plans might be.
It was after waiting patiently during my rant that my Dad simply took a sip from his soda, paused and then told me I was like John the Baptist.
What? Come again? Have you even been listening to me these last few minutes?
John the Baptist? Uh, no, I don’t stand in a river wearing clothing made of camel’s hair, nor do I eat locusts and wild honey. (Matthew 3:4)
But once my Dad explained his remark, I understood and agreed with his point.
John the Baptist’s voice was one crying out in the wilderness, urging people to repent and prepare for the Messiah. (Mark 1:3-4)
Teachers like me, we strive to encourage our students – churched or unchurched, believers or non-believers – to open themselves to God and His daily presence, accepting His love and celebrating His wonder in all they do.
However, this is not a task given just to high school Religion instructors.
In a society that so often tunes out God rather than inviting Him in, we are all called upon to be modern-day prophets in the wilderness, living counter-culturally to proclaim God’s Gospel message.
On my classroom wall, I have a poster of a fish swimming in the opposite direction of the rest of the school.
I reference it often with my students, stressing the message that is included over the picture:
What is right isn’t always what is popular. What is popular isn’t always what is right.
In an age where messages of violence, drugs and alcohol, sexuality, selfishness and egotism are so often celebrated in media and popular culture, it can sometimes feel impossible trying to promote values of respect and peace, chastity, altruism, humility and concern for the long-term common good.
And yet, that is precisely what we are here on earth to do.
Much like the apostles following Jesus’ ascension into Heaven, we are all sent to be the Good News of Christ. (Luke 4:18-19)
Canadian Archbishop Terrence Prendergast (Ottawa, Ont.) wrote in a church publication a few years ago that humanity had a vocation to holiness. He called on Christians to go out into their communities and, led by the Holy Spirit, share with others the experience of Christ’s salvation.
St. Pope John Paul II put it even more directly when he once stated bluntly we must wake up the world.
So how do we do this, exactly? It’s not as if we’re going to just walk up to people and sound a ringing alarm clock in their ear.
Strange as it might sound, we can awaken the world by living like mirrors.
You see, we can reveal to others our true self-identity.
If we are, indeed, God’s children created in His perfect image, we must live as mirrors of God, reflecting Him to the world through our thoughts, words and actions.
This is not at all easy, and often requires plenty of patience and dedication – as evidenced in a high school Religion class.
But by our humble and persistent example, we can encourage others to ultimately turn away from sin and return to a path leading to Jesus’ eternal light.
Now then, I’m sure I can say more, but I suppose I should head out to the local farmer’s market and see if I can pick up some locusts and wild honey.