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Why Jesus is astonishing

The Sermon on the Mount by Fra Angelico

Manuel Cohen / Aurimages

Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP - published on 01/30/21

The personal authority of a teacher is indispensable.

“Repetitio est mater memoriae” he often crooned. “Repetition is the mother of memory.” 

The Dominican friar Fr. A.C. Fabian, O.P., who for almost 50 years taught logic and Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy at Saint Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota, was famous for reciting over and over again his classroom aphorisms. We called these little phrases after him: Fabianisms. He even had a 72-word mantra, which he repeated every class, which I can still recite without missing a syllable, even though it’s been over a decade since I stepped into his classroom.

Fr. Fabian was an extraordinary teacher, not because he used the latest methods or knew every scholarly trend in vogue. In fact his classroom was rather the opposite. Fr. Fabian was an unforgettable teacher because he knew that teaching was not about his own life or ability. In the classroom, he was “Coach Fabian” and we were all on “Lady Wisdom’s team.” He was a dutiful servant of Truth, himself disappearing into the shadows and allowing students to gaze, many for the first time, into the deepest mysteries of life.

Nevertheless, the personal authority of the teacher is paramount. Without the lull of Fr. Fabian’s voice, the light in his eye, or his persistent accompaniment, I would not love philosophy the way that I do. 

The role of the teacher, present and personal, is indispensable in the project of education. The Italian philosopher and educator Luigi Giussani insists, “To educate means to offer a proposal, this proposal will reach the student’s heart and move him only if it is carried by an energy originating from the presence of the educator.” The teacher is not only an instructor, but the teacher must be an exemplar, too.

Christ the Teacher

In the Gospels, we hear of the amazement of the crowds at the teaching of Jesus. Mark the Evangelist reports, “On the sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:21-22). Jesus’ capacity to teach was extraordinary; many heard and recognized the Gospel was offering something new.

As disciples we are called to communicate the particular quality of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus’ teaching is not like any other. More than rhetorical skill or well-organised content, the Lord calls us to a fullness of life we would not otherwise have known, revealing to us even the deepest secrets about ourselves. As Vatican II teaches, The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light.”Jesus’ teaching carries us through the shadows of suffering, death, questions of meaning and value, leading us to abundant life!

Confidence in the Teaching of Christ

In the midst of a culture that increasingly considers the Gospel oppressive and outmoded, we must have confidence in Christ’s teaching. John Paul II writes, 

By Christ’s institution the Church is its guardian and teacher, having been endowed with a unique assistance of the Holy Spirit in order to guard and teach it in its most exact integrity. In fulfilling this mission, we look towards Christ himself, the first evangelizer, and also towards his Apostles, martyrs and confessors.

The Gospel teaching of Jesus, which proclaims the sacredness of every human life, liberty to captives, compassion to the poor and mercy to sinners, alone will lead us to full and lasting happiness. 

Confirmation of his Teaching

We are told over and over again stories of the miracles of Jesus. We can think of the multiplication of loaves, any number of healings, the changing of water into wine, or the raising of Lazarus from the dead. What is the purpose of these miracles? To impress us? To move our hearts?

The miracles of Christ show the truth of his teaching. These extraordinary suspensions of the normal physical order teach us that Christ means what he says. His teaching is plain, affectionate and lived. He embodied all that he taught. Christ commands and his hearers, winds of the sea, and human heart alike, obey. 

Christ’s teaching is not based on a show of force or popular acclaim. Still less is it based on impressive display or moving rhetoric. Christ teaches with authority because he, in his own person, embodies the Truth he teaches. 

For our part as disciples, we must not be swayed by other authorities, other teachings. The Gospel message of Jesus is perfect, living and true! Only Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life will satisfy the questions that are raised in human hearts. It is the role of the disciple to know and love and embody this teaching, that all the world might come to know it. 

May we never waver from proclaiming the teaching of Christ!


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