Catholic Schools Week gives us all an opportunity to express our gratitude to the parents and families, pastors and parishes who entrust to us the privilege of teaching, and sharing in the Church’s teaching mission. They are good supporters of our work, and with them we share the weighty responsibility of bringing children to Jesus Christ; and bringing Jesus Christ to our children.
The teaching vocation
During these special days, I hope that you as administrators, teachers and staff, also hear the appreciation of God’s people for your vital work. You are the teaching Christ. You are participants in the work of the bishops, shepherding our young people. You are close co-workers with the parents. You love these children and spend so many hours with them, not only instructing them but also forming them in mind, heart, body and soul. You listen to them and correct them and encourage them. Sometimes you toss and turn at night because of them.
Thank you, dear teachers. Thank you for answering God’s call – fulfilling not just the contractual obligations of a job, but carefully and prayerfully responding to a vocation. When I was at one of the schools recently and asked the students what they were doing during Catholic Schools Week, one young boy answered that they were going to have a teacher appreciation day. He whispered to me that exactly what they were going to do was a secret. I hope you have received many signs of thanks and affection from your students.
I always thought, during my days of teaching in high school, that we didn’t get as many hugs and ‘special days’ as it always seemed to me that elementary school teachers got. They told us our day-to-day gratification as a teacher was something much more ‘internal’ rather than external.
One of the things I did after I left schoolwork was to serve as the editor of the weekly diocesan newspaper. After I had been doing that for a year or so, I happened to meet some teachers who had served with me at the high school. We talked about ‘things,’ and one asked, ‘So how is it being editor of the paper in comparison with school work?’ I said that one of the bad things was that, when you made a mistake in the newspaper, about 100,000 people see it. But there is this;’ I said, ‘every week we send the paper to press and the next day we get it back – a finished product. It’s very satisfying to see that work.’ When I was a teacher I almost never saw the finished product.
Daily acts of faith
To be a teacher is an act of faith day after day. You just have to do your best and hope that something sticks. Maybe twenty years later we might see this child all grown up - a fine woman or man - and think, ‘Wow! I had something to do with that.’’
When the School Office asked me what readings I wanted to use for my Catholic Schools Week homily in 2010, I thought we should just use the readings of the day. I must admit that when I saw the first reading from the Book of Kings about Jeroboam and the division of the Kingdom, I thought maybe I should have given this more thought!
But it is really a story about long-range hope and the faithful love of God even in the midst of our failures and shortcomings. When the kingdom is being scattered by the disobedient sons of Solomon, the prophet uses twelve pieces of his cloak to symbolize twelve tribes. He says to the rebellious Jeroboam, ‘Take the ten pieces and go your way. But the Lord says, ‘One tribe shall remain. I will preserve one portion for the sake of David my servant.’’ No matter how difficult the challenge, God gives us something to hold onto. He does not withdraw His love.
In the New Testament, we see that this piece that God saves aside for the sake of the love of His people is the shoot of David. From it would come the Messiah, the Savior, Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, Our Redeemer, Our lasting Hope, and the source of Our Life.
Daily acts of hope
Being a teacher always includes being an apostle of hope. Sometimes the ‘problem kid,’ takes all our time. Sometimes he or she nearly drives us to the limits of our patience. But who is he? Who is she? But God’s beloved. Therefore we keep at it. We always try to find a way to make it work.
We know that we are not the final determiner of this or that child’s future. We are not so bold as to think it all depends on us. But in our Catholic schools we have a wonderful opportunity and context of faith to say, ‘Each person has infinite dignity and immeasurable worth. This person’s value is not determined, finally, by what they accomplish or even by the grades they get. Their meaning comes from God.’ And you and I are privileged to be God’s co-workers and instruments for finding the good, affirming it, helping it to grow. Once they leave our classroom or school, we may never see the students or hear from them - this side of heaven.
Daily acts of love
As teachers we give from the good we have received. We give it freely in love – for love of the child and for love of God. How wonderful to be able to speak about this in every activity in our Catholic school; to pray openly and appeal constantly and openly to our faith, even as we teach our core curriculum with expertise second to none.
So, thank you teachers, my fellow teachers, for that. I admire you and appreciate your dedication. May Mary and Joseph, who had the privilege of teaching the young Jesus, never cease to encourage you in this holy work.
This article is originally found on pages 10-11 of the printed edition.