C.S. Lewis is the gift that keeps on giving!
Along with G.K. Chesterton he is one of the great masters of what modern political spindoctors would call ‘cut-through’ – the ability to reach a large audience with a simple but powerful message.
This week in the Going Deeper Online Catholic Staff Professional Development Program we looked at one of Lewis’ greatest statements.
In his typical common sense style he went after an idea that is pervasive in Catholic Education. It’s an incredible destructive idea that seeps into endless staff rooms and especially endless Religious Education classrooms. It’s probably the root cause of the lack of ‘missionary zeal’ that pervades so many schools and the hearts of so many teachers. It’s simply the idea that Jesus is, ultimately, despite all the nice mission statements in Catholic school reception areas across the country, just one option among many and the last thing we should do is take him too seriously or even worse teach our students that he was who he actually said he was and actually mean it when we teach it.
It’s the idea that deep down, Jesus is just another great moral teacher. A loving and compassionate human teacher but ultimately no more.
So now, let’s let C.S. Lewis make his point:
“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.
He would either be a lunatic–on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg or he would be the devil of hell.
You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.
You can shut him up for a fool or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God.
But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher.
He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
You need to go back read this a few times. You need to print it out and put it somewhere where you can see it on a daily basis. You need to sit in a chapel at your school sometime in the next week and prayerfully consider it. If you let it take you in the direction Lewis intended then you’re life will never be the same again.
In Catholic schools this, (the question of Jesus identity) is the fundamental question we are invited, or, as I wish to argue, compelled to confront. Either Jesus is the Son of God and his life death and resurrection transform every aspect of human existence or he is, as C.S. Lewis says, as mad as someone who tells people he is a poached egg!
If you actually really believed that Jesus is who he says he is then this is the ultimate copernican inversion. Suddenly the reference point of my life and yours begins to shift. John Paul II said something similar with profound force in the very first sentence of the encyclical letter Redemptor Hominis (Redeemer of Man) He put it this way, “Jesus Christ is the centre of the universe and of history.”
Ever wondered why many (not all) Catholic schools bear absolutely no genuine discernible difference from the local government school? Ever wondered why so many Catholics live lives that bear essentially no difference from someone who has no interest in Christianity? Ever wondered why less than 5% of our graduating Year 12 students attend a Mass in the 12 months after graduation? It’s a really simple answer. It’s just that either no-one, or a tiny fraction of a school’s teaching population have dealt with C.S.Lewis core question.
The especially important part of his quote is the focus upon the fact that Jesus himself denied people the option of confining him to being a wisdom teacher. He made multiple, direct, unambiguous statements to be the Son of God. He made it very clear that he was the gate of the sheepfold and the door of salvation. He did not offer to be anyone’s personal guru. He did not invite us to live out some nice ideas about how to get along well with each other.
Jesus invited us to encounter him and to put our faith in him as the only one who can bring us home to heaven and give us grace to live in the here and now as saints-in-training. That grace is now mediated through various channels including prayer, scripture and creation but it is powerfully mediated through the Catholic Church and especially the sacraments.
As such, when people have reached their conclusion on C.S.Lewis’ core question then they will often go looking for the place of encounter. They get hungry. They want more. Some grow ravenous. They want the sacraments. They have to know Him more.
My heart cries out that Catholic teachers would wrestle with this core fundamental question of human existence. Who was Jesus Christ? If he is just a human teacher then as St.Paul says we are amongst all people the most to be pitied and we are still lost in our sins. (1 Corinthians 5:17) If, on the contrary, he is who he says he is then we, in time, will become transformed. From that place of transformation how can we not radiate that to our students? How can we not transform our staff-rooms to places of charity, fraternity and collegiality?
There is much talk of Pope Francis’ refreshing and renewed sense of mission. Do you think for a moment that it is not deeply, deeply Christological? He is what he is because of whom he serves. He says what he says because of whom he follows? Some time, long ago in the barrios and poverty of Argentina he resolved C.S.Lewis’ question. He gave up, as Lewis’ says, “…any patronizing nonsense about (Jesus) being a great human teacher.”
If you want your staff to begin this journey then come and join us at Going Deeper - a weekly online video program for Catholic teacher formation.
In the meantime please post a comment under the blue box in the comments section at the bottom. What are you seeing in your school? What do you think of Lewis’ statement?