Joy Wows Us

Catholicism, joy, and the iGeneration

By Mr. Justin McClain, O.P.

I’m often asked, “What is the hardest part of teaching?” For me, the difficulty is not in establishing high standards of classroom discipline, mustering patience while waiting in line to use the photocopier, or surviving until casual Friday. My biggest challenge is “wowing” my students.

I am writing this as a millennial. My generation is the last one in Western history to remember what life was like prior to the Digital Age, while the iGeneration has no experience of occupying Mayberry. Limitless entertainment — often in the form of perilous content — is at their fingertips, and statistics indicate that they look at electronic screens more than at their family members and friends. How can they be “wowed” by an immaterial yet omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent God?

In a culture that glamorizes money, power, and influence, why would they have any inclination to listen to the teachings of a poor, uneducated carpenter from an out-of-the-way Middle Eastern town in the first century, let alone consider teachings that fly in the face of what society says is acceptable? Because they know joy when they see it. And joy wows us.

Jesus stated,

“If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you” (John 15:10-12).

The apostle Paul reinforces this evangelically joyous notion in Philippians 4:4-7:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Isn’t this peace actually what humanity is seeking when either scrolling aimlessly through social media or limiting itself to the merely physical and ephemeral?

This joy in the Lord is what the Catholic Church has embraced and promoted for nearly 2,000 years, and it’s what makes our Catholic schools unique. Technology, of course, is a useful tool, from the first manufactured flame and the first wheel to dustless chalk and the iconic Ditto machine. But what our students are really attracted to spiritually, and what ultimately fulfills them, is the joy of knowing that they are loved by God, and that he has a plan for them.

If you want to be as effective as possible as a Catholic school educator, be sure to embrace and live the Gospel. Following the Lord Jesus Christ will provide you with an incalculable joy that your students will notice, drawing them to discipleship. That inimitable experience will wow them for this life and in the next, as long as we take seriously our vocation to help form current disciples and future saints.
We might end up wowed ourselves in the process.

Image credit: George Martell/Bayard Inc, 2017. All rights reserved.

Mr. Justin McClain, O.P., a lay Dominican, teaches theology at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland, and has written for various Catholic outlets. He and his family live in the Archdiocese of Washington.

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