Note: Regular readers may notice some changes. Please hang in there while the dust settles; I will be posting an update on said changes (including background on the new address and blog title) this weekend. You can still expect reflections on faith, literature, and current events, but I also want to include more science (and specifically astronomy) based content as well. As always, I reserve the right to post as frequently or infrequently as needed, due to my primary duties and busy schedule as a seminarian and graduate student in Theology. Pax.
Augustine’s Confessions: Book I, Chapter 16
But we are carried away by custom to our own undoing and it is hard to struggle against the stream. Will this torrent ever dry up? How much longer will it sweep the sons of Adam down to that vast and terrible sea which cannot easily be passed, even by those who climb upon the ark of the Cross? –Confessions I.16
Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings; for it is well that the heart be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited their adherents. -Hebrews 13.9
Being a teacher is tough. I know. Even though I was not in education any great amount of time, I worked in both the private and public systems. My experience ranged from being an assistant in a program that welcomed students with the most difficult situations and histories to teaching English in a small Catholic school.
Yes, teaching is tough. As a teacher, you are left with the responsibility of forming young minds, of helping them grow and become well-formed individuals. Your job extends far beyond school hours. The Lord knows how many late nights I spent up as a teacher! It is not for the faint of heart, for teaching is one of the greatest tasks a person can undertake.
And yet, there are teachers out there who lead their students astray. Whether through imposing their own personal ideologies or teaching outright error inside the classroom or outside the classroom, it is sad to note that some teachers do not lead their students down the right path, and this is what Augustine speaks about in this week’s passage. He recognizes that many of his instructors not only taught contraditions, but taught outright error as well. I know that many reading this may think that surely it is not so bad today (even I bristle at all of this), but I wouldn’t be so fast to make that assumption. While I have been blessed to work with some of the most gifted educators who deserve far more credit than they have received (specifically those in the Catholic school and those who worked with students who experienced Emotional Disturbance), I have also recognized that many parts of the system are broken, particularly in public schools. False ideologies trump truth and more money is thrown at the problem, rather than trying to spend the existing money more responsibly.
Educators have a lot of hard work ahead of them, and we need to pray for those dedicated teachers who seek to teach and form their students properly! But, that’s not what this post is about. This post is about the student…
Augustine recognizes that even though some of his teachers led him down wrong paths, he was more than willing to follow them: “It is true that I learned all these things gladly and took a sinful pleasure in them. And for this very reason I was called a promising boy” (I.16). Augustine acknowledges that even though teachers have a certain responsibility, so to do the students. As we journey on the spiritual path, we should and must look to others for guidance. But those whom we seek need to be well-founded in the truth.
Let’s look at science: would you trust an established scientist who presents peer-reviewed research, or the guy selling snake oil or other “get well quickly” schemes in order to treat an illness? Would you look to an experienced cosmologist to teach you about the universe or the conspiracy theorist who sees shadows around every corner?
But what about our faith? How does all of this apply to Christianity? As Catholics, we have the authority of the Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. Clinging to the Word of God, looking to the history of the Church, and allowing ourselves to be rightly guided by our shepherds, we can grow closer to the Lord. Some practical ways to do all of this are to read Scripture daily, study the lives of the saints, and get to know the Catechism. In the next few days, I will pass along some helpful hints on reading Scripture and staying with it.
There is one true teacher, but we as students must choose to follow Him.
Questions for reflection:
- What can I do to better inform myself about my faith?
- Have I allowed myself to be carried away by strange teachings?
This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey, which travels along with a particular companion in the spiritual life, one of the great saints, in order discover how some of their writings might be applicable to our everyday lives. Currently, we are traveling with Augustine of Hippo through his work, Confessions. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.