Lord, what are you saying to me in this situation?
I was in the chapel with a class of students as we prayed the Stations of the Cross. Only a few were actually praying the words out loud. Others were loudly flipping their papers every time they needed to turn a page. Some acted like genuflecting was a gargantuan task when I know they will go work out at the gym after school. Others were barely alert, kneeling and standing only because the people around them were doing it.
Frustrated and a bit angry, I wondered what I should do about it. It wouldn’t go well to stop them all to tell them to pray louder or ask for more of them to pray. Telling them to not act like kneeling was difficult would only draw attention to it if they continued to carry on in that manner. So I tried to forget about their indifference and enter into the Stations myself.
Interestingly, the words of my spiritual director kept coming to mind. He mentioned that teaching and following the Lord might look like the Stations of the Cross. My life might have to resemble that suffering if I was to do the Lord’s will. And here I was: actually praying the Stations and feeling so done with the antics of teenagers.
Lord, what can I see in this?
As I watched them mechanically perform the proper actions, I thought about how they don’t care. Ah, Lord, sometimes I don’t care, too. I imagined myself on the couch watching a movie and the Lord inviting me to pray yet not caring enough to do so. I pondered the Lord asking me to love my neighbor yet realizing that I do not do that very well at all. The very thing I was lamenting in my students was rooted deeply within my soul, too.
Their indifference and lack of desire irritated me. To some degree, it angered me to see them behaving so flippantly in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord. How does Jesus respond to me when I am indifferent? He loves, patiently and tenderly and without condition. When I complain that I need to unwind and use it as an excuse to not pray, He lovingly gazes at me from the cross. When I focus on myself and overlook others, He embraces me in His cross and invites me to find true communion.
Able to see myself in them, my anger was abated. I do what they do, just in quieter and more hidden ways. Exteriorly they are being ridiculous and I simply make that ridiculousness more interior. Recognizing my students in me helped bring a bit more humility into a place that had been filled with frustration.
I still chatted with the most obnoxious ones after we prayed, but I can see myself in their responses, too. When I asked why they were making so much noise and acting like children instead of nearly adults, one of them said they didn’t mean to make a bit deal and they didn’t think about what they were doing. In the moment, I had a terse reply yet looking back I can see me in that response. If the Lord were to ask me why I did or didn’t do something, so often I would probably respond that I didn’t think it was that big of a deal to delay or wait or not do it at all. Like the son in Matthew 21 who says he will go into the field to work yet doesn’t, too often good intentions are delayed to never.
Paradoxically, this life is the place where we die, so that we may live forever. In particular, teaching is one of the places where I am called to die the most. To move beyond my annoyance at their immaturity and consider more truthfully the many ways I am so immature in my walk with the Lord. I am granted opportunity after opportunity to be humbled and to see that embracing the cross is the only way to embrace the depth of life.
Forgive us, Lord, we know not what we do. Grant us the grace to see you speaking to us in the troublesome and frustrating parts of each day.
St. Alphonsus Liguori’s Stations of the Cross
My beloved Jesus / I will not refuse the cross as Simon did: / I accept it and embrace it. / I accept in particular the death that is destined for me / with all the pains that may accompany it. / I unite it to Your death / and I offer it to You. / You have died for love of me; / I will die for love of You and to please You. / Help me by Your grace. / I love You, Jesus, my Love; / I repent of ever having offended You. / Never let me offend You again. / Grant that I may love You always; and then do with me as You will.