In Defense of Summers

In Defense of Summers

A lovely perk of teaching is that most of my work stops in mid to late-May and resumes in early to mid-August.  It is a schedule I have held since I was about seven years old when I started school.  Since I have never known anything else, I sometimes have to remind myself that this is not the norm.

People frequently ask me what my plans are for the summer.  Sometimes they are curious about where I am traveling or what extra activities I will be involved in.  Other times, however, I think they are questioning why I am not getting a job for the summer.  Isn’t that what adults do?  This lingering question is also mixed with the slight jealousy that I have a few months to not work a 9 to 5 job.  I wish I had a job like that, I can almost hear them say.

Well, I’ve decided on a newer tactic this year.  If people comment on wishing they had the luxurious schedule that I have, I will tell them a little secret: this dream can be yours, too!  All you need to do is go to school, get the appropriate degree, and get a job teaching.  Last I heard, there wasn’t a surplus of teachers in our state and teaching here doesn’t require advanced degrees.

But, you see, that is the thing–there just might be a reason schools aren’t overflowing with insane numbers of candidates, at least not where I live.  I do get a summer to step away from it all, but that is a perk that must be taken with the less preferable parts of the job.  I never argue that I have the most difficult or demanding job in the world.  I don’t believe that I do.  Yet I hear over and over again from various intelligent people, “I could never do your job.”  Which I think is slightly exaggerated, but also quite telling.  I think many people could do the job I do, it is simply that many don’t want to. Continue reading “In Defense of Summers”

Advertisements

Gratitude Begets Gratitude

Gratitude Begets Gratitude

Do you know what it takes to get a compliment from a senior?  You keep them after class under the threat of a detention and listen to them try to get out of it.

Some students are just harder to love than others.  It isn’t impossible to love them, but the effort that goes into desiring to love them is significantly more.  So when a student that fits in this category pushes matters too far, I have to reflect more about the consequences that behavior should incur.  Because part of me wants to go all out and give them a harsh consequence.  The cumulation of past difficulties with that student or the tension of the particular day must all be weighed to guarantee that the punishment given fits that individual crime.

Yet I’m certain that just as some students are harder by nature to love, some teachers must fall into the same camp.  I can definitely acknowledge that I’m not the most loved teacher and I am pretty convinced that I never will be.  That doesn’t generally bother me because I’ve experienced life in a rather similar state.  High school and college didn’t find me as the most popular person around; therefore, I didn’t expect something magical to happen when I started teaching.

Despite not being the most loved, I do find comfort in being loved by some.  As an introvert, that is all I really need anyway–a few people who see under the often reserved exterior.  Those glimpses of love and appreciation from students does far more to boost me than they know.  At the end of the school year, a student stopped in with a present for me and she thanked me for my patience over the past year.  A few students wrote appreciation letters when given the chance for teacher appreciation week.  Another student chose to write his own addition to the journal entries I assigned.

That last one perhaps struck me the most.  Continue reading “Gratitude Begets Gratitude”

The Grace of Lesson Plans That Get Overthrown by Questions

The Grace of Lesson Plans That Get Overthrown by Questions

The lesson plan for the day was to discuss the argument from efficient causality.  Yet they managed to completely derail that plan.  When students ask questions that are about the faith and yet truly interest them, it is nearly impossible for me to continue with class as planned.  Interiorly, I am torn between following a schedule or curriculum and the desire to answer questions that organically spring up in their hearts.

Nine times out of ten I go with the questions they present to me.  I don’t believe I’ve ever regretted it, I only wish that each class would then magically divert itself in the same way.  Genuine curiosity and ponderings aren’t things you can manufacture in other classes.

“So is this argument saying that all things are caused to be by other things?  Or it is saying not all things are caused to be by other things?” I asked.
“I have a question that kind of relates but is off topic.  If God is caused or even if He isn’t caused, what is the point of life?  Like why did God make us?  What is our purpose?”

Those questions, dear readers, will definitely sidetrack me.  When senior boys are curious about why they were created and the meaning of life, I will dropkick lesson plans to spend time answering some of the biggest questions of life.

This is the class that argued with me about gravity objectively existing.  The day before this class, instead of working on an assignment they chose to ask me a thousand inane questions about my car, my hometown, and where my parents live.  So hearing one student start a conversation about the purpose of their lives and why God made them, and then hearing several other students jump in with follow-up questions, was a pure delight.  The only problem was the lack of time before the bell would ring.

To begin to answer their questions, I went back to the beginning.  The Trinity.  I spoke of how the Father and Son pour out a love that is so strong that it is another person, the Holy Spirit.  Within this communion of love, there is nothing that is lacking.  God was perfectly satisfied within this exchange of love.  Therefore, we are not needed.  God didn’t need us. Continue reading “The Grace of Lesson Plans That Get Overthrown by Questions”

Is there free will in Heaven?

Is there free will in Heaven?

“Do people in Heaven still have free will?”

Our conversation started with evolution and gradually meandered to angels, free will, and humanity.  I told them that angels had free will and they asked if angels could still rebel.  Explaining that angels will their decision to follow or not follow God with their entire beings, they then asked if people in Heaven could sin.  When I said they wouldn’t, they wondered how free will could be found in a place where there was no sin.

“It seems like free will would just be an illusion,” they said, when I told them that in Heaven we would be purified and would always choose to follow God, even while exercising our free will.

I needed to make a correlation that they would understand.  One student compared it to pizza.  If he said he would eat pizza for the rest of his life, he wouldn’t be free to eat anything other than pizza.  That wasn’t quite the comparison I was looking for in order to explain the situation to them.

I’m not always very quick on my feet.  Sometimes, I want to beg them for more time and to consider than I am a slow thinker, a muller of thoughts and ideas.  Instead, I tried to think of something tangible that they could understand.  How could one make a particular choice that was forever and yet still exercise their free will?

Now that I consider it, I could have referenced Jesus or Mary.  Instead, I used vocations.

“Priests, religious, and married persons make vows that they intend to follow forever and yet they freely choose to will those decisions daily.  Our free will in Heaven is kind of like that, but we are able to perfectly will it always.”

A couple committed to marriage make vows to love the other in a free, total, faithful, and fruitful way.  They still have a free will, but they have publicly voiced their desire to always will the good of the other.  This doesn’t make them less free.  Instead, their commitment allows them to experience the freedom of total gift of self to another.  Yes, they could choose to cheat or leave or lie.  But if they follow the vows, they will freely choose to not do those things. Continue reading “Is there free will in Heaven?”

Are You Envious Because I Am Generous?

Are You Envious Because I Am Generous?

The Gospel reading from this past Sunday is one that I find intriguing.  Jesus presents a parable that speaks to the nature of God.  Yet it is a nature that we struggle to understand since it is far beyond what seems natural to our humanity.  The line that stood out to me was near the end.  It was a lovingly spoken parting blow from Jesus, aimed at the egos of His followers down through the ages.

“Are you envious because I am generous?”

Sometimes.

The situation that came to mind was from a recent class as we discussed a few attributes of God.  We spoke of the limitlessness of God’s knowledge, love, and power.  As we waded into what it means that God knows all, questions arose, as I was certain would happen.

“If God knows everything, then why did He…”

You can fill in the blank with whatever you would like.  Sometimes they questioned why God would create specific people, knowing the hurt and pain they would inflict.  Other times they questioned if we truly have free will since God knows everything we will do.  They are interesting questions and ones I try to wrestle with for my students.

The closer to home I can make the examples, the more they seem to understand.  Why would God create people who do evil things when He knows they will do them?  I connected it to free will and asked, rather than answered, another question.

“Is it free will if God only chooses to create the people He knows will be good?  What would it mean if God surveyed our lives and then only created the people who would follow Him anyway?”

While still a difficult concept, I believe they began to see that God loves and creates people regardless of their future actions.  As humans, we are quick to separate ourselves into different groups.  There is Hitler and other really bad people on one side.  On the other, good people like you and me.  So I decided to pose another question to them, one that tries to pry into their idea of “good people.”

“If God chose to only create the people who were good, would we have been created?”

Our instinctual reaction of “I’m a good person” kicks in, only to be checked by, “Am I?”  I do not know what I will do in my future, maybe it will be something awful.  From my vantage point of the present, I can see the mean and sinful things I have done in the past.  I want my students to realize that appearances can be deceiving and goodness difficult to measure if we use subjective standards.

“I am uncertain that I would have been created if God only made the good people.”

This is where I think it connects to St. Matthew’s Gospel from Sunday.  At times, I question why God permits certain things to happen, certain atrocities to be committed by other humans.  Why does He create them at all?

Granted, this is a different situation than the Gospel, but it makes me pause and wonder.  Am I envious that God generously creates everyone, even when I find it difficult to love people who willingly hurt others?  Do I wish He applied a stricter test to people’s futures before He made them?  I don’t think I do, but I question His level of generosity. Continue reading “Are You Envious Because I Am Generous?”

Joyless Pragmatism

Joyless Pragmatism

“I just wanted you to know that I won’t offer to pray in class because I’m not Catholic.  If you want, you can email my parents and ask them about it.  But when you look around the room for volunteers to pray, that’s why I’m not offering.”

A student had approached me after class one day and started our brief conversation with that explanation.

“Oh?  That is fine that you aren’t Catholic.  I assume your parents are not either, so I wouldn’t email them about it.  I still expect you to answer questions and participate in class, though”
“No, they are Catholic.”
“They are, but you aren’t?”
“Yes.”

I’ve often wondered why some people remain faithful to the religion of their parents and others don’t.  Considering that this student brought this conversation up in the first place, I figured I could try to ask some questions to get some bearing on the situation.

“Are you Christian?”
“No.  I believe in God, because I think it is silly not to.  I just believe he created the world but isn’t really active in it.  I’m not against Christians or anything.  I just think you do your thing and I’ll do mine.”

This student seemed so…pragmatic.

I think the thing that struck me the most was how reasonable the student was striving to be.  Granted, I am grateful when students are reasonable, but I couldn’t help but sense an absence of joy in this system of belief.  In many ways, I was impressed with the responses I received to my questions.  Yet I also wondered if this lack of belief stemmed more from a desire to be intelligent rather than closely examining the issues.

The popular notion of ‘you do you, I’ll do me’ continues to baffle me.  If there is any honest pursuit of the truth, then clearly you doing your own thing and me doing my own separate thing cannot both lead to the correct answer.  Continual diversity in beliefs cannot lead to unity in the end. Continue reading “Joyless Pragmatism”

If We Understood the Mass

If We Understood the Mass

“I don’t think God would send someone who loves Him and follows Him to Hell.”

A conversation about exorcisms somehow veered into a free-for-all rapid fire of questions.  As I’ve said before, though, if my students ask questions about the faith and they are interested, I have a difficult time telling them no.

“I don’t believe the Church teaches that,” I told the student.

“But if I don’t go to church on Sunday, the Church says that is a mortal sin.  I don’t believe that if I love God and He loves me that He would send me to Hell for missing one Mass on Sunday.”

Understandably, this is a question I hear quite often.  My students find it difficult to accept that missing Mass is a grave sin.  They aren’t skipping it maliciously, I believe, and so I get where they are coming from with their confusion.  Usually, it is out of laziness or boredom or busyness.

So I did what I generally do–I tried my best to explain why the Church teaches what she does.

“I think if we understood what the Mass was, then we wouldn’t ask this question.  God is asking us to go to Mass to encounter Him and receive Him.  He is offering His very self to us out of love.  And if we love Him, I don’t think we would say that we aren’t able to come for one hour once a week.  The bare minimum in having a relationship with the Lord is this one hour.  We couldn’t say no to encountering the Lord and letting Him live in us if we truly loved Him.”

The answer seemed to touch a chord and we moved on to other questions.

Students are prone to question why we have to go to Mass and adults are more prone to critique the Mass itself.   Continue reading “If We Understood the Mass”

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”

The Importance of Truth

The Importance of Truth

“At the end of the day, does it matter if we believe or not?  Does it matter what we believe?”

The other day, one of my students spoke these words with great sincerity.  We were in the midst of discussing arguments for God’s existence and he delved directly to the heart of the matter: does what we believe matter?

I knew this question was going to divert us from the lesson plan I had for the day.  We were supposed to go through a few of the arguments, discuss them, and then share what we thought about those particular arguments.  But I find it difficult to pass up opportunities to discuss aspects of the faith they are genuinely interested in discussing.

So I took the bait.

I posed a question to them: Does truth matter?

They thought for a moment and then began to offer their responses.

“Yes, truth matters.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“It is simply a matter of opinion.”

This is the heart of many debates in religion, politics, science, and simply life in general: what is true?  And, perhaps a question posed more in today’s world than in previous centuries, does truth matter?

I talked to my students about how some truths are opinion based.  It is true that I think blue is the best color.  People have differing opinions on this matter and I don’t worry about people who prefer red or yellow or green.  These are truths that vary based on the person.

Yet there are truths that are objective.  These remain true regardless of my personal opinion, knowledge, or awareness of that truth.  Gravity did not become true when it was discovered or defined.  It is because it is true that it was able to be discovered and defined.

Naturally, I would argue the same thing about God.  Either God exists or He does not.  He doesn’t exist for some and then not exist for others.  He either is or is not and my opinion doesn’t change this reality.

“But couldn’t we all be wrong?” one student asks.

“Sure,” I tell them, “that is why we rely on faith in addition to reason.  We choose to believe even though we may be wrong.”

“Wow.”  At least one student seemed surprised by my admission that we could be wrong.

“What we need to do is to honestly pursue the truth.  I believe that if we honestly do that, we will find it.  Of course, you know what I think is true.  I think God is real and He exists.  But knowing and seeking the truth is important.  Because if God is not real, I want to know now.Continue reading “The Importance of Truth”