In the wake of another school year, I cannot help but feel enormously blessed. I have had a lot of fun, not a few trials, some great success, and an ever-growing sense that I am doing what God has invited me to do.
When you go to graduate school for theology, you make the acquaintance of any number of theories on a wide array of topics. Theologians, it seems, love to speculate on the meaning of apparently simple words like 'grace' or 'salvation' or 'revelation'. Grace is always a particularly interesting topic, because within one word one encounters a variety of types (like saying you want a 'candy bar' and being confronted with rows upon rows of varieties).
Three years ago, I probably could have parsed the meaning of 'grace' with academic ease. Today, I'm a bit rustier...despite my best efforts to keep up. But I cannot help but to feel that I, today, have a better sense of 'grace' and 'love' than I did three years ago because I haven't had to study either topic. I've had to live them.
- How do you offer yourself through teaching and presence...not knowing whether students will accept it?
- How do you forgive a kid who is blatantly lying to your face?
- How do you not resent colleagues who do not seem to pull their weight in the school?
- How do you offer encounters with new material, new ways of thinking, only to feel frustrated that students don't always seem to be interested in these things?
- How do you help students to realize that their narrowly-constructed worldviews keep out far more than they let in, and how do you pry them open gently to see that there is more to life than the pursuit of riches?
Teaching high school has been a great opportunity to, as Howard Gray, SJ used to say, "Love someone when he is most unlovable." I'll probably never have a daughter or son of my own who vomits in the middle of the night, needing me to clean her up; I'll probably never have a wife who, approaching death, becomes increasingly reliant upon me. How do you learn to 'give and not to count the cost'? In my life, this grace has come through teaching.
Over the course of these two years, I cannot claim to have become more jaded or embittered. I think I've become more realistic, more able to understand the hearts and values of a generation of students and their parents. Perhaps I am even more hopeful, because I do think these young women and men are capable of tremendous good and I have seen and experienced their hunger for more, the magis, and that if they can be introduced to the Good News in an idiom that reaches them, I think we will find their energy and excitement commended to the building of God's Kingdom.
Evangelism today needs women and men who can think outside of narrowly-constructed borders. Much to the dismay of some, I can say simply that I do yoga and pray the rosary; that I watch Glee and Jersey Shore and pray the Liturgy of the Hours; that I run and am training for another marathon and that I spend a lot of hours reading philosophy and theology so that I can give the best answers I'm capable of to my students; that I like to go to the bar and relax with my friends and I make the Eucharist the center of my life; that the spirit of Irish music that has been with me for almost my entire life is the same Spirit who draws me to proclaim the Gospel each day.
I am not the model, nor am I particularly good or successful. I have a temper, I get irritated with intellectually slothful or intransigent people, I eschew facile black-and-white distinctions where there is an obvious abundance of gray, and I too often speak/write before I think. The filter, as the kids point out, is not always screwed into place.
What I have learned though, this year, is that my limitations don't make me a bad person. They make me really quite normal. I can't pretend to have all the answers. What I can do is to accompany people as they ask questions, to help them find clarity, and if we can have a laugh while we do so...all to the good. My hope, now that we're at over 800 posts in just under 7 years, is that something of this has been shared with my readers.
The next week, filled as it is with travel, may result in few postings. Please keep me in your prayers as I brave an amusement park with 80 adolescent boys and pray, too, for our Tri-Province gathering next weekend. If time permits, I'll update before I head off to California but, if not, please be assured of my prayers as we begin summer vacation!