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The Pope Benedict XVI is visiting Spain this days for the World Youth Day in Madrid. And for the first time he wanted to meet with young PhD and University teachers (under 30 years old) in the magnificent Monastery of Escorial, where there are one of the more rich antique libraries in Europe. Well, that’s the scenery. And then it came the message for this young people who are beginning to teach younger people who have the opportunity to go to the University. Students, adolescents, need role models not just a person with great knowledges that can transmit them and turn them in efficient productive professionals. That’s a lot, but not all.
And nowadays, students and adolescents (this is my word, not the pope’s) have role models very poor, spiritually empty: instant success, media stars at 16 years old or you are a failure, or famous people who only cares about their looking, sex appeal and fashion, and then, maybe, maybe, when they are very, very, very, unimaginable rich, they go to some charity but not renouncing to their privileged life.
For the Pope Benedict XVI, young teachers can be if they want role models, maybe no glamorous, but truly role models if they make the effort to be close to their students. He explained better than me with this words:
Young people need authentic teachers: persons open to the fullness of truth in the various branches of knowledge, persons who listen to and experience in own hearts that interdisciplinary dialogue; persons who, above all, are convinced of our human capacity to advance along the path of truth. Youth is a privileged time for seeking and encountering truth. As Plato said: “Seek truth while you are young, for if you do not, it will later escape your grasp”. This lofty aspiration is the most precious gift which you can give to your students, personally and by example. It is more important than mere technical know-how, or cold and purely functional data.
I urge you, then, never to lose that sense of enthusiasm and concern for truth. Always remember that teaching is not just about communicating content, but about forming young people. You need to understand and love them, to awaken their innate thirst for truth and their yearning for transcendence. Be for them a source of encouragement and strength.
For this to happen, we need to realize in the first place that the path to the fullness of truth calls for complete commitment: it is a path of understanding and love, of reason and faith. We cannot come to know something unless we are moved by love; or, for that matter, love something which does not strike us as reasonable. “Understanding and love are not in separate compartments: love is rich in understanding and understanding is full of love”. If truth and goodness go together, so too do knowledge and love. This unity leads to consistency in life and thought, that ability to inspire demanded of every good educator.
In the second place, we need to recognize that truth itself will always lie beyond our grasp. We can seek it and draw near to it, but we cannot completely possess it; or put better, truth possesses us and inspires us. In intellectual and educational activity the virtue of humility is also indispensable, since it protects us from the pride which bars the way to truth. We must not draw students to ourselves, but set them on the path toward the truth which we seek together. The Lord will help you in this, for he asks you to be plain and effective like salt, or like the lamp which quietly lights the room.
Knowledge and love, Humility and science, and search for the truth. that’s a lot to thing about. How many scientist think that they are like little gods and transmit that idea to their disciples? How many professionals have manipulated the truth to make match things to their interests? How many powerful people or economists see humans only as a potential consumers? So let’s put aside for a moment the flash lights, the magazine covers, the fashion shows, shut down the speakers with loud music that make impossible to talk to be able to have a conversation, to think and create a space for that “lamp which quietly lights the room”.