Teach with Apostolic Attitude

As we start another school year, I have a charge to my fellow classical teachers: take on an apostolic attitude!

Apostolic attitude, you ask? The term comes from a wonderful book entitled Sources of Renewal. It is a commentary on the Second Vatican Council, written by Karol Wojtyla, Bishop of Krakow, the future Pope and Saint John Paul II. He penned the commentary in the 1970s for the Polish bishops as a guidebook on how they could implement Vatican II. That implementation was part of the rich ground that gave rise to the Solidarity movement a decade later, one of the greatest expressions of Christian culture in modern history.

Wojtyla’s text is sweeping in its scope and vision for the laity, but one core principle that runs throughout is that the laity, which includes almost all of us, are apostles. In particular, he charges us to adopt an “apostolic attitude,” a topic to which he devotes an entire chapter. The apostolic attitude is a vision and mindset whereby each day, in each circle we inhabit, we rise and seek the charisms proper to the tasks we have been given and move out to bring the Gospel to bear on each sphere for which we are responsible. Under this attitude, apostles stay close to Christ, live by the Holy Spirit, and seek out the good of others.

That sense of responsibility for our neighbors was at the heart of the Solidarity movement. In an article entitled “The Ethics of Solidarity,” Jozef Tischner, known as the philosopher of the movement, defined solidarity this way: “The meaning of this word is defined by Christ, ‘Bear ye one another’s burdens: and so you shall fulfill the law of God’ (paraphrase of Gal. 6:2). What does it mean to be in solidarity? It means to carry another’s burden.”

As Wojtyla reminds us in his reflections on Vatican II, the Council Fathers called for a time of renewal. It is a theme familiar to all Christians who have been attuned to the movement of the Holy Spirit in the last few decades. The last three popes underscored the call I am discussing and have consistently urged the laity to actively engage in the evangelization of the culture. You can find similar calls among Evangelical voices such as Tim Keller and the This Is Our City series a few years back in Christianity Today. Our national culture needs what the Christian laity have to offer. The Holy Spirit has been reminding us in a new and powerful way that this is the time to get out of the pew, to cross the road, to reach our neighbors and to take back our cities. And according to Wojtyla’s interpretation, the renewal envisioned by the Fathers hinges on a commitment to solidarity, a basic allegiance with our neighbors, a driving impulse to seek their good.

To evangelize the culture, we need to adopt an apostolic attitude. We also need to know what role we play as teachers. First, a few words about the term culture.  

At its highest, culture is how we express what we hold in common as sacred. There is a kind of passive element: our culture is our heritage, our patrimony. In that sense, we receive our culture. But culture has an active element as well: we cultivate how we live and work, we give shape to things. We are responsible for culture, its maintenance and its improvement. Tending to culture, which impacts our neighbors, is an expression of solidarity: because we are responsible for our neighbors, we cultivate the best and the highest for their good and ours. We have that good in common. This common good includes the improvement that education brings.

The Council Fathers charge the laity with the broader responsibility for improving the order of society, by which they mean elements of our common life such as law, politics and commerce. Laws, for example, that protect life or foster political liberties or that provide for just wages and the freedom to own property will reflect what we as a people hold true about our humanity. Those beliefs will shape how we take responsibility for one another.

The culture of education, of course, makes all the difference in the world for the content and preservation of our most important beliefs. What we teach and how effectively we teach will shape how the generation we serve will go on to serve our common good. There is an urgency, then, to the work we have. Our students and our national culture need us. They need us to take responsibility for education. That may not be news to most of you. What might be news, however, is that there is also something sacred about the work of teaching, and it is wrapped up in the apostolic calling we have.

The term apostle, as you may know, comes from the Greek apostolos. In ancient Israel, it meant a representative of a person of great authority. If a new king was crowned in ancient Israel, he would send out his representative to announce that good news. If a high priest needed to collect revenue for the temple, that duty fell to his representative. And, when either kind of task was carried out, the apostolos had the authority of the one he represented.  

This should help us understand what it means for us to be apostles. We are representatives of Christ. With the charisms proper to each calling, each of us bears in our persons the authority of Christ.  

If we teach our students well, they experience the highest expression of their humanity. In other words, they drink deeply from their cultural inheritance. In our teaching we establish the best foundation for our students’ future contributions to God’s purposes. It is just the kind of young men or women we teach who will improve the social order; give hope to our neighbors where their futures are threatened; create beauty and peace where there is degradation and strife; and provide healing, shelter, food, and education where sickness and poverty burden our neighbors’ lives. Thus, both the excellent schools we develop and the future work of our graduates are direct sources of cultural renewal.

Classical teachers, take up the call: teach with apostolic attitude! And as the school year begins, let’s all pray for one another, especially for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the willingness to renew the culture.

 

Andrew J. Zwerneman is president of Cana Academy.