Lord, show me what You love about them

Lord, show me what You love about them

I apologize if it seems like I can’t get over this whole “belovedness” thing. (In truth, I never really want to get over this renewed revelation.) Perhaps the first step is acknowledging our own role as beloved of the Father, but there is another step that follows. It involves seeing how others are beloved children of God, too.

The end of the school year probably isn’t the best time to start deeply considering how my students are uniquely loved by God. However, their behavior is making it necessary for survival. Sophomores are getting more squirrelly and seniors are D.O.N.E. Mentally, most of them are a long ways into summer break, which makes teaching them an exercise in charity. And patience. And forbearance. And long-suffering love. You get the picture.

Last week, I was barely surviving. Tension was high and I felt stressed about several things. Add to that the attitudes and antics of students and I was waking up with stress headaches that lasted throughout the day, pretty much the whole week. Obviously, the Lord doesn’t desire that sort of life for me. It led me to wonder: Lord, what are you doing here?

Frequently on my mind was that familiar title of John as the one whom Jesus loves. Delving into my own belovedness was a good refresher, but it had to also be drawn into seeing the students’ belovedness.

Certain students cause more stress and so I prayed, “Lord, help to see ______________ as your beloved child.” There wasn’t a magical shift as I prayed this about a few different students, but it did make me start wondering. What does the Lord particularly love about these people? I wonder if I can see it, too.

Continue reading “Lord, show me what You love about them”

From One Miserable Sinner to Another

From One Miserable Sinner to Another

Turning the other cheek, bearing wrongs patiently, and choosing to be kind in moments of anger are all well and good when thought of in the abstract. In the particular moment when any of these are called for, a flood of excuses and defenses are more likely to come to mind rather than the goodness of following the Lord.

I try really hard to not let any personal dislike of students color our overall relationship. Some people are just harder to love and students are no different. I am well aware that I am not the easiest person to get along with for all people and all personality types. The same is true with the people seated in my classroom each and every day.

It is hard, however, when I make great attempts to overlook personal slights, strive to forget previous negative encounters in the pursuit of answering present questions, and other like situations, only to discover that they already don’t like me. That instead of seeing how I try to patiently attend to their present concerns despite the fact that they repeatedly laugh at me, they only see that I have not always responded favorably toward them.

A flood of defenses came to my mind. I replay the conversations over in my mind and I wonder if I had said this instead of that, perhaps it would have been received better. Or, if I’m feeling particularly cantankerous, I’ll think of all the sharp barbs I could have thrown or the harsh yet true things I could have said but did not. It isn’t a one time occurrence, but each time it happens, it strikes me anew.

It seems unfair and it seems unjust. And perhaps it is both.

Welcome to the end of Holy Week.

Tonight, we will eat the Last Supper with Our Lord and then follow Him into the garden to wait. Tomorrow, we will walk the road to Calvary and we will, despite our best intentions, cry for Christ to be crucified. On Holy Saturday, we will wait in the awkward tension between the death of Jesus and His subsequent Resurrection. It is in the light of the Triduum, these holiest of days, that I consider the small inconvenience of being misunderstood by students.

Continue reading “From One Miserable Sinner to Another”

I Climbed Mountains

I Climbed Mountains

I love when I am able to find secular examples that point to spiritual realities.  When shown explicitly religious media, my students often give what they think are the correct answers based on their years of Catholic education.  Yet when it is something that seems a bit unrelated to the class, they tend to have a greater openness and willingness to interact with the material.

On the second class day of the new spring semester, I showed them a TEDx talk called “500 Miles, Two Best Friends, and One Wheelchair.”  (Feel free to take a minute…or 19…to go and watch this video.)  The image of strangers taking the time and effort to carry a man in a wheelchair up a mountain seemed to obviously gesture toward the Church on earth and the Church in Heaven.

“Through the power of community, I climbed mountains.”

At one point near the end, Justin says. “Through the power of community, I climbed mountains” and it resonated so much that I had to write it down.  So many conversations lately have pivoted around the need and desire for community and authentic friendship.  While some say community cannot be built, I disagree.  I believe community must be built.  While we cannot choose to magically connect with people, we must be intentional in how we use our time in order for community to be successful.

This community that Justin and Patrick found was possible because others were willing to be intentional with their time and energy.  The pilgrim duo they met in the cathedral in Burgos were willing to wait for them before climbing the mountain leading into O’Cebreiro.  Then other people heard the story and decided to wait, too, without ever meeting Justin or Patrick.  Community requires intentionality and it reminds us that in this pilgrimage of life we cannot walk alone.

A priest friend of mine often said, “You can be damned alone or saved with others.”  I think he was quoting someone but I was never certain of the source.  The idea is that Hell is isolation, but Heaven is necessarily communion.  Communion with God and with others.  The reality of this can be revealed in the many “saint pairs” that have arisen over history.  St. Francis and St. Clare.  St. Benedict and St. Scholastica.  St. Louis and St. Zelie.  St. Francis Xavier and St. Ignatius of Loyola.  The list could go on and on.  St. Teresa of Calcutta and St. John Paul II?  Saints live a foretaste of the heavenly communion through their authentic friendships with one another.  They “carry” each other up the mountain, using friendship to encourage the other to enter into deeper relationship with the Lord. Continue reading “I Climbed Mountains”

For the Sake of the Joy

For the Sake of the Joy

Nearly every Tuesday, I have “contemplative time” for my classes.  Do they actually reach contemplation?  Probably not, but I like to provide intentional time for silence and prayer.  It is ten minutes where the only thing that is required of them is to be still.  In a world overflowing with noise, arguments, ideas, and busyness, I try to offer them a brief respite from the long list of things they must do.

To help direct their prayer, I display a Scripture passage, a quote from a saint, or an excerpt from a spiritual read for the students to use as a starting point.  A few weeks ago, near All Saints’ Day, I had them focus on Hebrews 12:1-2 for their time of prayer.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

I had fifty minutes that day to reflect on these verses.  Different portions stood out to me at various points in the day.  Yet by the afternoon, one phrase continued to stir my heart.  So much so that I wrote it out on a note card and affixed it to my desk organizer so I could continue to ponder it in the days to come.

For the sake of the joy… Continue reading “For the Sake of the Joy”

In the Wake of Scandal, Choose Sanctity

In the Wake of Scandal, Choose Sanctity

I mentally planned for the day.  I supplied myself with some resources, I opened pertinent tabs on my computer, and I waited for the moment.  Unanticipated, I felt a sick pit grow in my stomach and my heart ached a little at the prospect of what I was to do.

So I started with gauging their prior knowledge, as some teachers are apt to do.

“Have you heard about the sexual abuse scandal in Pennsylvania?”  Depending on the class and the age, a few or most heads would nod the affirmative.

“How about Archbishop McCarrick?  The papal nuncio Archbishop Vigano?”  Fewer heads nodded with each question, a few gesturing with their hands to show that it sounded vaguely familiar.

Then, to the best of my ability, I outlined for them situations that had been unfolding for the last several weeks.  I emphasized the lack of clarity and focused on what our bishop is asking from us as a response.  In a textbook we use for class, it says, “One of the few things in life that cannot possibly do harm in the end is the honest pursuit of the truth.”  And while that doesn’t mean that the truth won’t be painful to uncover, I encouraged them to pray for the truth to be revealed, regardless of the personal cost involved.

As I spoke to them, I felt a certainty in the Church settle into my heart and I felt like an older sister or a mother as I gently explained to them things that pained me.  While the circumstances are awful, the Church will endure and new saints will rise up to combat the evils of the present age.

Each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.

G.K. Chesterton

Most of the classes listened closely with sad eyes and asked a few questions to understand the situation more.  One class reacted with more anger and bitterness.  It wasn’t entirely unsurprising because it is a situation where anger is justified.  Yet for young people who are initially uncertain about the Church, the blatant hypocrisy of the scandal is too much to take in.  I saw the scandal through their eyes and I wanted to cry.  My small heart ached and I felt the weight of these sins in a manner that I hadn’t yet permitted myself.   Continue reading “In the Wake of Scandal, Choose Sanctity”

Year Seven, Week One, Day Three, Tired

Year Seven, Week One, Day Three, Tired

School has commenced!

In general, teaching can be a bit tiring.  However, the first week always feels more exhausting.  By the end of the day, I must fight to keep my eyes open and most days this week I’ve surrendered to a nap, at least for a little while.

The swirl of names and faces to remember can be fatigue inducing, but I am glad to be back.  I am most looking forward to knowing my students.  Getting to know them is nice, but having a relationship built is, in my opinion, better.

A couple of students from last year stopped by earlier in the week.  It was refreshing to see familiar faces, to know how to joke with them, and to know a bit about them already.  I enjoy seeing them in the hallway as they pass by, recalling random moments from last year as they walk into somebody else’s classroom.  Building relationships takes work and time and while I know it is always worth it, I enjoy basking in the beauty of already formed relationships.  (A while ago, I wrote about the beauty of “not-new” friends, and I think the mentality applies here, too.)

I am looking forward to seeing what these classes will become, how friendships will unfold, and how we will grow together as we experience things this year.  Will the class that worries me be the one that proves the most difficult?  Or will another surpass them in ridiculousness?  Will we share joys and tragedies together?  Will there be good and authentic classroom discussion?  Will they trust me and will I trust them?  Will we become saints together? Continue reading “Year Seven, Week One, Day Three, Tired”

Overjoyed

Overjoyed

It is human nature to have favorites.  As a teacher, the same holds true.  I often tell my students I’m not supposed to have favorite classes or students.  Several classes will guess that they are my favorite, but I can never tell them if they are correct or not.  Usually, there are multiple things I appreciate about each class as well as aspects I wish they would change.  Yet, as a human, I look forward to some classes more than others.  Gone are my first year teacher days of feeling ill at the thought of a particular class.  For a variety of reasons, some classes make me a little less excited to teach them.

A couple of weeks ago, I was facing this feeling of not looking forward to a particular class.  It wasn’t dread, but I was definitely not excited for them to fill my classroom with their boisterous selves.  On Tuesdays, I have “contemplative time” with my classes, ten minutes of silent prayer with a reflection or Scripture passage given as the means to enter into prayer.  I’m a little dense, so it took a while, but after a few classes, I recognized that this meditation was speaking to me about that less-than-ideal class.

My dear friend, I am overjoyed to see you.  I am with you speaking to you and listening to you.  Realize that I am truly present.  I am within your soul.  Close your ears and eyes to all distractions.  Retire within yourself, think my thoughts, and be with me alone.  

My Other Self: Conversations with Christ on Living Your Faith*, Clarence Enzler

The word overjoyed stood out to me after several readings.  Clarence Enzler wrote this book as though it is Jesus speaking directly to us, that we are Christ’s other self.  After considering the beauty of Jesus being overjoyed to see me, I began to desire that this was my response for that particular class.  When I come to the Lord with all my worries and failings, He is always pleased that I have entered into His presence.  I want this to be my attitude toward this class.  Each day, I want to be overjoyed that these particular students are coming into my classroom and sitting in my presence.  Recognizing Christ dwelling within them, I want to respond to them as Christ responds to me, even with my less-than-ideal heart. Continue reading “Overjoyed”

Teaching: To Pursue The Truth Together

Teaching: To Pursue The Truth Together

I’ve spent a great deal of the summer considering how this next school year will unfurl.  Each fall, I start with the hopes that this will be the best year ever.  And, in many ways, that has largely proven to be true.  The more I teach, the more confident I feel teaching.  The longer I am there and the more experiences I have, the more prepared I feel to handle future problems and situations.  Yet despite all of my preparations and extra reading I do during the summer, one thing is certain: I will never be perfectly prepared for every question they ask me.

Honestly, I think I am able to answer most of the questions that arise in the classroom.  If I have never considered the question or even heard the answer, I am surprised how often I am able to give an answer anyway.  I’m not lying to them or just trying to look smart.  I’ve come to realize that the longer one knows the Lord and studies His Church, the better one is able to think with the mind of the Church.  So even if that question has never been posed to me before, I can often give a pretty confident answer because I have come to know and understand the Church to a degree.

There is, however, a lingering concern that I will be unable to answer a question.  Or, worse yet, that my lack of knowledge will appear to mean that the Church has never considered that question or that her theology is found wanting.  Regarding those fears, I think back to the summer before my first year of teaching.  I was presenting these concerns to a trusted priest and he asked if I thought that a student could ask a question that the Church couldn’t answer or that would prove her wrong.  I told him that I was certain the Church had answers and that I trusted her to be true in all things she affirmed as true.  For him, that was the end of it.  So what if I didn’t know the answer?  I knew the Church had an answer and I was fairly confident I could find it if needed.

For the last five years, that is what I have sought to do.  To a generation that I struggle to understand, I have striven to present truths they struggle to find relevant or accurate.  I ask them to consider the truths of the Church and they echo Pilate by saying, “What is truth?”  They question if it matters to know the truth.  They ask if everything could be true.  And I try to use logic and personal examples to show them the beauty of knowing and pursuing the truth.   Continue reading “Teaching: To Pursue The Truth Together”

What They Remember

What They Remember

My sister asked her if she ever had me as a teacher.  She couldn’t remember what class I even taught her, but she knew that she had.  My pride was wounded a bit at the idea that the hours upon hours I spent teaching weren’t memorable.  The question wasn’t what was the favorite thing I taught her, simply what class did I teach.

What she did remember was that at the end of the semester, I wrote every senior a card.  It was the only year I ever did that.  Apparently, that spoke louder than the arguments for God’s existence, Church teachings, and problem of evil discussions.   Continue reading “What They Remember”

Choice

Choice

The sighs and groans were heard throughout the room.  It was a Thursday and so, like most Thursdays, we had a journal entry.  It was clear to me that this was not their favorite thing to do.  Then again, they are high schoolers, and so finding activities that they actually, visibly enjoy is a difficult task.

“I hear you,” I say as they begrudgingly pull out their notebooks.
“Five to six sentences?!  Really?  That is like a whole paragraph.”
“And you are seniors in high school.  You should be able to write an entire paragraph.”
“I don’t want to do this.  What if I just write two sentences?” one student asks.
“OK.”  I decide not to fight them on this one.
“You mean, I can just write two?”
“You won’t receive full points.  You can write two sentences or even no sentences.  I’m not going to spend my time trying to get you do your work.  It is your choice.”

In my profession of teaching, I have come to realize that I am very pro-choice.

My life as a high school teacher often involves reminding my students how many choices they actually have.  They view their lives as having very few choices, always being told what to do and where to be.  But, really, they have many, many choices.  It is simply that some of them seem less open-ended.  Many of their choices involve consequences that they really don’t want to face and so they think that means they don’t have a choice.

But the reality is that I can’t make them do anything.  I can strongly persuade them or make consequences they don’t want to face, but I cannot force them to do anything.

When I talk to my students about free will, I will applaud them for using their free will in a positive way at different points.  I thank them for choosing to be in class and sit in their seats.  After I say this, they suddenly look like they never realized another option existed.  Of course another option exists, I tell them.

“If you all got up right now and tried to leave the classroom, I couldn’t physically stop you all.”  They shift in their seats as though preparing to launch from them.
“We won’t get in trouble if we leave?”
“Of course you will.  But you have a choice.  And I am thankful that you are choosing to stay in the classroom and be in your seats.”

They always look a bit deflated at that point.  As though I offered them freedom and then took it away.  Yet, in all reality, they are still just as free.  They are choosing to stay in their seats.  This is largely a result of the unhappy consequences that would face them should they choose otherwise, but that doesn’t make it not a decision anymore.

The same is true with me.  Too often I view the things I do as not in the realm of my choice.  I don’t often sit down with a stack of papers and think, “I choose to grade these papers.”  During school, I find myself wanting to take a nap, but I choose to not take one.  On one hand, that is because I need to be teaching and the consequences of not doing my job doesn’t seem worth the little snooze.  Nevertheless, it is still a choice.

A couple weeks ago, I was having a conversation with someone about the morality of a specific action.  Once again I was struck by the width and breadth of the Church’s teaching.  People often view the Church as overly strict and filled with unnecessary rules.  Yet I see a Church that is abundant in choices.  So much is left up to each person to discern, with God’s grace.  How many children should I have?  Where should I live?  What job should I have?  What type of prayers should I pray?  Where should I go on vacation?  Which charity should I donate to?  The Church provides guidance and structure (as Christ promised the Church would), but there are so many aspects that are left up to personal choice.

And God is a huge proponent of choice.  He dearly wants us to choose to be with Him.  But He does not force it.  In the end, our choice determines where we spend eternity.  Our choice is made up of the little details and decisions in our daily lives, not simply in our voicing that we would like to be with God forever.  At times, choosing God may seem inconvenient or not what we would want to do in that moment.  It may be particularly difficult to choose to follow Him.  Yet despite all of these difficulties, it is still our choice.

This freedom of choice is why I have a classroom rule that if I catch someone copying another person’s paper with that person’s knowledge, both people get zeros.  It isn’t a popular rule, but I want them to acknowledge that the choice to cheat happens on both ends.  When it happened for the first time this semester a couple days ago, I had to remain firm in my decision.  Yes, it is unfortunate for the person who did all of their own work, but they still made the decision to allow someone else to copy their work.

Life is filled with many choices.  Some are between two morally neutral things: decaf or regular?  fries or onion rings?  carpet or hardwood flooring?  Others are between a good and a bad action: punching or not punching the co-worker?  stealing that top from the store or not stealing it?  embezzling the money or not?  And some choices seem like we loose no matter what: lie about the situation or accept responsibility and get in trouble?  cheat on the homework assignment or get a late grade for not having it done?  The beauty, however, is that God gives us the freedom to make our own decision.  Naturally, they will have consequences, as all decisions do, but it is our choice to make them.

Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.  (St. John Paul II, Apostolic Journey to the USA Homily 10/08/1995)