August 26: A Questions Curriculum (21 B)

“Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:60-69.



Good Morning and welcome to all gathered for our 9:30 AM Santa Catalina Mass. Most notably, we welcome our newly arrived residential students from countries around the world.

Over the next few weeks and years, you will contribute significantly here and provide a vital cultural lens to see our world in all of its diversity and wonder. Welcome aboard!

One of the hallmarks of our Catholic religious service or Sunday Mass is the goal of becoming closer to Jesus Christ and thus closer one another. Yes, the idea behind all of our religious, spiritual, and community gatherings is friendship with God through Jesus, the human face of God among us.

So for those of you who may be new to Catholic religious expression, we welcome you warmly and pray with you that together we become friends in Christ.

My task is to explain more fully the readings, the sacraments & liturgy, and Catholic cultural expression drawing from our art, music, and the lives of the saints.

So today, we hear Peter say to Jesus, “Master, you have the words of eternal life.” It comes early in Jesus’s ministry, where some like Peter and the disciples follow Jesus, and others no longer accompanied him.

Two themes emerge for me – first, let’s consider memory and the “words of eternal life,” and second, “Master, to whom shall we go?” You may wish to call it a “questions curriculum.”

So memory and the “words of eternal life.”

This past week I attended a national conference on preaching, and one of the comments from the immensely gifted speaker, Bishop Robert Barron, was that preachers should consider memorizing individual sections of the Old and New Testament.

It’s a way of expression beyond the reading and to capture the emotional tone of sacred scripture. I know of only one priest who was very good at this – and could memorize long passages.

As students, you are asked to memorize a whole range of knowledge from foreign languages, musical scores to the words of Shakespeare, or a sonnet. We use the phrase they know or remember a poem “by heart.” So it becomes you, by heart.

Coming back from the conference, at the John Wayne airport, and before my flight, in the convenience store to purchase some water, and I caught sight of this book, entitled “Scripture Memory Guide,” by Ed Strauss.

Well, what do you know? A helpful guide to learn by heart — how to memorize critical passages of scripture.

In the opening chapter, the author makes the case Jesus himself memorized scripture. The gospels record Jesus having quoted no less than thirty-one Old Testament passages.

For boys, this began at the age of five in the bet ha-sefer or the “house of the book.” They spent half a day, six days a week learning, and committing the Torah (the five books of the Jewish law) to memory.

The ancient historian Josephus noted: “The result then of our thorough grounding in the laws from the first dawn of intelligence is that we have them engraved on our souls.”

At the age of ten, children graduated to the bet Talmud or the “house of learning,” where they began memorizing the Mishnah, the Oral Law, and learned how to interpret the Torah.

From there, a few young Jewish men went on to become disciples of a rabbi, as Peter and Andrew did with John the Baptist, and later with Jesus.

Today’s gospel brings us to that moment when the disciples choose Jesus as their teacher, founded on their commitment to him, and rooted in the very words of eternal life found in Jewish scripture and tradition.

It’s here when Jesus, realizing that some may never follow him, says to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Peter answers, “Master, to whom shall we go?”

And this brings us to a second theme, the so-called “questions curriculum.”

Once long ago, when I was a newly minted high school teacher, I asked one of the older priests on the faculty how to evaluate a class or what makes for an outstanding class experience for both students and teachers.

Father Tom Fahey responded that from his experience, he had only one criterion for a good class, no matter what subject or field of knowledge.

And here it is: If the teacher talks all the time, and the student doesn’t ask questions or make comments — you know the course is a failure.

To the extent the students are engaged and ask the right questions, the close connection of student and teacher in the particular course or the subject matter — make the class a success.

This observation of his stayed with me as I taught students over the years — sometimes resulting in a successful class and, honestly, sometimes not so much, but always trying to engage and spark the right questions.

These followers of Jesus were capable of this kind of learning and engagement because they were personally committed to Christ. They believe he was the “holy one of God” and based on his “words of eternal life.”

So learning for them and us is a key to further spiritual and religious development, something that requires an amount of intellectual discipline, and to some extent, based on skills of the mind and precise language.

That’s why we’re here – to apply all that we hear, see, and learn in the Santa Catalina classrooms to grow our spiritual and religious lives.

Classes in science, the arts, and language can help us explore more fully our knowledge and help apply it to the spiritual and religious realms around us.

You, too, have questions on your mind. I hope a curriculum of subjects, that will further your knowledge of Christ and help us more faithful to serve one another in his name.

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA









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