Heaven help us: Cultivating an eternal perspective in the classroom

The Last Judgement

“Heaven is totally overrated. It seems boring. Clouds, listening to people play the harp. It should be somewhere you can’t wait to go, like a luxury hotel. Maybe blue skies and soft music were enough to keep people in line in the 17th century, but Heaven has to step it up a bit. They’re basically getting by because they only have to be better than Hell.”

Joel Stein, columnist for the Los Angeles Times

The above quote was part of Starbucks’ The Way I See It program, designed to stimulate coffee-house discussion by printing edgy talking points on their coffee cups. When I first learned of the program, I was surprised that a business so concerned with maintaining a sophisticated public image would employ such a crass marketing tactic. But then I got to thinking. Maybe these secular stereotypes of Heaven are fueled at least in part by a lack of clarity in our teaching about Heaven and how well our lives reflect fidelity to that teaching.

What’s Missing?

All catechesis should in some way point to Heaven in a joyful and expectant manner. Great care should be taken to ensure that youth understand that it is not some lofty, dainty abstraction but a beautiful “communion of life and love with the Most Holy Trinity, the Virgin Mary, the angels, and all the blessed … the ultimate end and fulfillment of our deepest longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1024). Joyful teaching, the celebration of God’s presence among us in word and Sacrament, the personal witness of our lives, and devoutly reading and discussing the lives of the Saints all contribute to enkindling in students the desire to live and love in a manner consistent with the sublime end for which they have been created: eternal life in Heaven. “A saint,” as our beloved late Pope Benedict XVI observed, “is one who is so captivated by God’s perfect truth and beauty as to be progressively transformed by it.”

Transforming Perspectives Through Classical Catholic Education

Classical Catholic education provides a privileged environment for advancing this noble aspiration through creating the formative conditions for students to encounter the living God throughout the curriculum in the context of a vibrant, joyful community life. But regardless of whether young Catholics are being formed in classical Catholic schools or in some other way, all Catholic educators should be vigilant in keeping Heaven and the desire for it among their highest catechetical priorities. Fidelity in this pedagogical enterprise will undoubtedly contribute to the transformation of our deeply secularized culture, one saint at a time. Perhaps it may even contribute to a decline in the production of condescending religious jibes about Heaven and other precious tenants of our Catholic faith on coffee cups or in the many other venues of pop culture. But whether it will or not, Heaven only knows.

Hal Plummer

 

 

 

Hal Plummer is the President and Head of School at Holy Spirit Preparatory School.

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