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Friday, April 17, 2009

“Jesus said to the disciples, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” (Luke 24:44-45)

“SOUL-SURFING” – April 26, 2009
Third Sunday of Easter
Luke 24:35-48
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

“The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life. One man, a CEO, decided to explain the problem with education. He argued, ‘What's a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?’ He reminded the other dinner guests what they say about teachers: ‘Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach.’

“To stress his point, he said to Bonnie, another guest seated at the table, ‘You're a teacher. Be honest. What do you make?’ Bonnie, who had a reputation for honesty and frankness replied, ‘You want to know what I make?’ (She paused for a second before responding.)

“‘Well, I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could. I make a hard-earned C+ feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor. I make kids sit through 40 minutes of class time when their parents can't make them sit for 5 without an I Pod, Game Cube or movie rental. You want to know what I make?’ (She paused again and looked at each person seated around the table. Then she continued.)

“‘I make kids wonder. I make them question. I make them apologize and mean it. I make them have respect and take responsibility for their actions. I teach them to write and then I make them write. Keyboarding isn’t everything. I make them read, read, read. I make them show all their work in math. They use their God-given brain, not the man-made calculator.’

“‘I make my students from other countries learn everything they need to know in English while preserving their unique cultural identity. I make my classroom a place where all my students feel safe. Finally, I make them understand that if they use the gifts they were given, work hard, and follow their hearts, they can succeed in life.’ (Bonnie paused one last time before continuing.)

“‘Then, when people try to judge me by what I make, I can hold my head up high and pay no attention because they are ignorant. You want to know what I make? I make a difference!’” (Original source unknown)

I discovered this powerful reflection on what it means to be a teacher posted on the bulletin board in the dining room of St. Joseph Center, home to 35 of us members of the Congregation of Holy Cross. While I’ve no idea who posted the story, I’ve no doubt it brought wide smiles and a heart throb to most in the house, since nearly everyone I live with had been engaged in Catholic education for many years prior to retirement from the classroom. Which is not to say they have hung up their hats as teachers. Far from it. Very far.

In the gospel passage we hear today, we are reminded that Jesus was first and foremost a teacher. We encounter him appearing once again to the disciples after his resurrection as he continues to instruct the incredulous followers about all he had taught them since first they met. How much energy Jesus expended in trying to penetrate the thick skulls of his followers! And how stubbornly uncomprehending did that crowd remain! Yet Jesus never gave up on them. He had a message to deliver, good news of eternal life, and he preached it until the moment he died on the cross. Then, three days later with the resurrection, he went right on preaching, refusing to give up on his chosen band. In the post-resurrection appearance from St. Luke’s gospel that we hear today, “Jesus said to the disciples, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” (Luke 24:44-45)

Thus it is that every Christian finds his and her ongoing mission: to open minds to the good news of eternal life. How many parents, the first and best teachers of their children, have known the same frustration Jesus felt when trying to instill a life-long lesson into minds otherwise engaged! Yet parents trudge on proclaiming ideals often in conflict with culture because they want the best for their children. And how many classroom teachers have asked themselves, “Am I out of my mind for becoming a teacher?” and then gone right on teaching anyway! And not because it was all they could do, either. They went on teaching because they knew how vital it was to steer wayward minds in the right direction. I saw it in my parents. I saw it in my high school teachers, the Holy Cross Brothers. And while I’m long out of the classroom, they even longer, still are they my teachers, still am I their often wayward student.

Among the members of the religious community with whom I now live, two were my teachers in high school. Br. John was my 10th grade World History teacher, Br. Leo my 11th grade American History teacher. And while I shamefully confess to remembering little about the subject matter they daily attempted to drill into my brain, their dedication to the task coupled with their compassionate care for the charges seated before them so impressed me that I wanted to become just like them. And I did, entering the Holy Cross community right after high school. And as providence would have it, I even got to teach side by side with them. Br. Leo and I were stationed together in Albany, NY, and later Br. John and I were together in Rochester, NY.

While all three of us are now retired from the classroom, they because of age, me because of a change in ministry, we live together in a community of 35 at St. Joseph Center. While we pray together, eat together and otherwise daily bump elbows, I often find myself looking across the chapel or dining room to these men who early on lit a flame within me. Something about them drew me to their ideals, to their way of life, to their commitment to making a difference in the world. It was surely something of God I saw in them way back then. And I see it still, brighter even, as home comes closer for the three of us.

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