This afternoon I spoke at a holy hour of "Roses for Our Lady," a group in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee that gathers at the local seminary to pray for vocations in the Church.
I asked them: Who was your favorite teacher? Who was your best teacher? Sometimes the two aren't the same person. Our favorite teacher might be someone who was nice and friendly and who pretty much let the class do what it wanted. Our best teacher might be someone who was tough and challenging.
Don Clifton, a professor in the School of Education at the University of Nebraska, developed an interview to find the best teachers. He discovered that all those teachers who were considered the best in their field according to their peers and administrators had one thing in common. When asked what they enjoyed most about teaching they responded that it was seeing growth in their students. Naturally, to achieve such growth they had to be challenging at times.
In today's Gospel (Matthew 15: 21-28) we see Jesus, the best of teachers.
At first glance Jesus appears harsh with the Canannite woman, telling her that it wasn't right to give the children's food to dogs. This was a common way for the Israelites to view pagans, yet Jesus softens this by using a term, according to commentators, that means "little dogs," "pets," or "puppies." The woman persists in her plea for help and Jesus, having challenged her to grow even deeper in her faith and seeing her growth, responds by healing her daughter. What joy it must have given Jesus, the teacher, to see her growth demonstrated by her "great" faith.
Pope Benedict is about to challenge the youth of the world. World Youth Day begins in Madrid, Spain on August 16 and on Saturday, August 20, at the Eucharistic vigil, he will consecrate the youth of the world to the Sacred Heart. This is not a symbolic gesture. It has significant meaning. He is placing the youth of the world into the Sacred Heart of Jesus, praying that they will truly be both rooted in the love of Jesus' Heart and strong in their faith. In a special preparatory catechesis, the consecration is called an act of faith. The Pope is challenging the young people of the world, as Jesus challenged the Canaanite woman, to grow in their faith.
The consecration is also an act of hope: "The Pope will consecrate every young person in the world, not only the ones present at the vigil. In today's youth we find the hope of the Church and of humanity. In this consecration, the youth will state, together with the Pope, that 'apart from Jesus Christ risen from the dead, there can be no salvation! He alone can free the world from evil and bring about the growth of the Kingdom of justice, peace and love to which we all aspire.' (WYD Message)"
And the consecration is an act of love: "In this consecration we will touch Jesus, and we will renew the grace of our baptism in which we were immersed in this Love."
Let's all pray that Christ our teacher, speaking through Pope Benedict, may help the youth of the world grow in faith, hope, and love this coming week.