I like simplicity. And I like beauty. I am continually amazed by things that would be so easy to pass by or discount as being of little importance. A simple cup of coffee from home on the way to work with the sun shining on the plains filled my heart with joy. The Sacred Host exposed in vulnerable love as voices rise like incense to fragrance Our Lord’s throne. A glorious sunset that mixes the palette of colors into a never before seen array of splendor. The simplicity of a humble priest who, with eyes closed in a concentration that must have been often etched upon Our Lord’s face, raises his hand to absolve me from my sins. The moment in the confessional when you say the Act of Contrition and you are struck for the first time by the words “but most of all because I have offended Thee, O God, who art all good…” My heart desiring the simplicity of a human love that will rival all fiction and will lead me steadfastly to Heaven’s embrace. The conversations with dear sisters placed hundreds of miles away from me. This song. A beautiful red tomato freshly picked from the garden and an apple harvested from the nearby tree. This picture:
A moment to stop, look around at the countryside, and breathe in a deep breath of crisp autumn air. The silence, the peace, the luxury of looking across the land and seeing no human person in sight. The knowledge that I am because He always is.
Sometimes I wish I wasn’t a teacher so much as “The Giver.” Instead of hoping they will be open to what I have to say or open to a new experience, I want to give them something. And I don’t want them to have the option to say no. I suppose this is one of the reasons that if I was God, I would have done things remarkably different. I wouldn’t have done them nearly as well, of course, but as a selfish human being I would make a selfish god. I wouldn’t let people choose to love me or reject me. I wouldn’t offer my very self only to have it pushed back in my face. When I offer a mere piece of my heart to someone, be it a student or otherwise, and I feel it is rejected or not fully appreciated, I pull back and desire to not surrender any soft part of my heart to anyone. My love is still very self-centered, still very egocentric, and feeling motivated. I would want to force people to acknowledge my greatness as they should. We should all thank God that I am not Him.
Even on behalf of God I desire to be “The Giver” and not simply allow free will be operative in the lives of my students. Today I told my five classes that part of class tomorrow would be spent in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. For at least 15 minutes in each class, we will be before Jesus. I know I am not naturally a very emotive person and so I purposefully over-emphasized my joy so that they could see how excited I was. The looks on their faces varied from amusement at my obvious enthusiasm to dismay at the prospect of suffering through mandatory adoration.
I was not so naive as to assume that every student of mine would leap for joy at the prospect of spending 15 minutes in the chapel tomorrow. While I know some of my students are glad for the occasion, the general feel of nearly every class was a picture of unwilling surrender. They aren’t excited for tomorrow but it is a necessary consequence of going to a Catholic school. They must suffer unwillingly through monthly mandatory Masses, morning prayer over the intercom, dress code, Theology classes, and bi-annual adoration time and Reconciliation services. Accepting that the system will not change for them, they are resolved to not reveal any joy that might betray their distaste for the religion that is forced upon them. Yes, that is an exaggeration for some of the students, but, unfortunately, not for a sizable faction. Some students will write that they wish they weren’t forced to take Theology classes or go to Mass every month and I wonder to myself what they thought Catholic school should be like. If I was to ask them, the undesired answer might be, “Nonexistent.”
So as I tried to share my joy with my students, I also spent some time talking to them about why they dislike adoration or why they find it difficult/boring. The answers I received weren’t altogether surprising but they did reveal an aspect of the culture that I find extremely troubling. Among the top contenders for the most popular reasons why adoration isn’t a wonderful prospect is that their minds wander, they can’t think of what they should do, and it is boring. However, the response that seemed to draw the most agreement was that they don’t like the silence and they find it awkward. For 15 minutes they are asked to sit silently and pray. I do not think the silence is so difficult because they long to talk to their friends, although that is certainly a temptation for them. I believe the silence is so difficult because they are completely unaccustomed to it. That is troubling. We have an entire generation, an entire world that is inundating itself with so much noise and busyness that a few minutes of silence is awkward and difficult. No wonder they ask me why they can’t hear God speak to them or why they don’t think God is listening to them. They haven’t even paused to listen. To really listen. Because when I tell them they need to be quiet and listen to the Lord, they stop to do it for a minute but then any time beyond that seems superfluous. One of my students said that adoration didn’t need to be so long, that he could say everything he needed to in about a minute.
I don’t have the time, it seems, to teach them this silence. I, the introverted melancholic that I am who loves silence and solitude, cannot give them the joy of stopping and being still that I am blessed enough to have. That is why I desire to be “The Giver” and simply bestow it upon them. So that they may simply experience what it is that I mean and not just hear about it. I want to make them see what adoration can be like if they allow themselves to be still. While I can still their bodies and mouths, for the most part, I cannot reach in and still their minds and souls. They can spend 15 minutes running from the Lord’s graces while I spend that same time praying for their hearts to be open. Yes, I would override their free will and make them accept the Lord’s graces into their lives. Ah, but there is the problem—would I mandate love for Love? How much greater is the joy when a student, like a little rosebud, begins to open up to the truth that he is hearing and develops a greater desire for that life-giving truth.
While I cannot make them acknowledge the God who loves them so radically, I can continue to present the Truth to them. And I can continue to grow in how I present this truth so as to make it more appealing and more palatable to their 21st century tastes. How much this teacher has to learn! I cannot give them the experience of peace in the arms of Our Lord, this is true. However, I can give them my prayers through Our Lady and Our Lord. And those, my friends, they cannot refuse.