STUDENT-TEACHERS II AND THEN SOME
The recent tremendous and inspiring news of Michael Jordan’s rescuing a family from a burning house caused me to consider again how grateful I am for the outstanding students that have attended Seton and the many things that they have taught me. There have been so many very good students who have been exemplars. So in this second edition of Student-Teacher I am not going to the name the name of the student-teacher, just the family, because any one of the members of these very good families or of another family could have been the teacher. Circumstances were what led the individuals in these families to be the ones to have the teaching moment.
One Lent we were discussing in class what might be some good penances to take on for the season. I suggested going to a daily Mass during the week would be a good penance. One of the Fegans in the class didn’t say anything at the moment, but shortly afterwards in a paper was written something along these lines: “Going to daily Mass is a privilege, not a penance.” I was so impressed by this. Not just the truth of the statement, but the manner in which it was communicated. The student didn’t want to correct me in class in front of the students, but chose instead to correct me in quiet. It had the effect of changing my attitude about assisting at Mass – a change from something I was doing, to something that God was granting me. How much more so do I realize this now that daily Mass is out of the question, and Sunday Mass is only a possibility.
Not long ago, I looked up the availability of My Catholic Faith, a catechism book that I used as the basis for Religion 9. At the site there were comments on the book by readers. One had this to say: “Nothing new here that hasn’t already been told to a psychiatrist.” I presume he didn’t have a real happy upbringing in his Catholic family. I was reminded of a story that one of the Skubes told as part of many family stories on a long ride home from some game. I probably have some details wrong, but such can be the case with the retelling of legendary stories. Here’s how I remember it. The younger Skubes were given charge of an older Skube’s goldfish. The goldfish died under their watch. The death of the goldfish made them both sad and afraid, so they gathered around the goldfish bowl trying to decide what to do. Pray for a miracle came to mind. They carefully placed a scapular around the bowl and prayed in earnest for life to be restored to the fish. It remained dead. Probably many of us have endearing stories of growing up Catholic. Far from making us need a psychiatrist, their memories are part of what help to keep us sane in this crazy world. Whether the story is from a family of 15 children like the Skubes or from an only child, the joy of being a Catholic is what our stories help us to see.
Being able to go to school in the same building in which Our Lord has chosen to take up residence is indeed a remarkable and great grace. I would acknowledge His presence interiorly when I would pass by the chapel during the school day, but then I saw one of the Cooleys make an outward sign of piety. It was not ostentatious, just a simple sign of the cross, but it required a brief moment to stop and make in the crowded hallway. It caused me to remember other signs of reverence that I had seen people make that had made a lasting impression on me.
When I was in Mexico, I saw a very humble looking man pass by a church on his bicycle. As he did so, he raised his hat. It was truly a beautiful act in all its simplicity. In Spain there was a large group of school children headed home walking along a street near to a place where I was sitting. I could hear them singing “Una sardina”, a song I had learned but never heard sung in Spain. I was so excited to hear it, but they had only just begun when those in front started to pass in front of the doors of a church. They began to shush those behind them, and all the students were quiet as they passed by. They didn’t pick up the song again within my hearing. I was disappointed not to get to hear the whole song but was very impressed by these grade school students who showed such reverence.
Visible signs of the Faith are so important. Through the years, I saw more and more Seton students making a sign of reverence when they passed by the chapel. One day in freshman religion class, a student asked, “Why are there students who make the sign of the cross while walking through the halls?” I told him that it was to acknowledge God’s presence and to pay Him homage. It took just a second, but then I could see the light bulb go on. He said, “Oh, you mean in the chapel.” I could see it was a revelation to him, and one that he was very happy to understand.
This reminded me of a moment in my early days at Christendom. Growing up in rural Colorado with our parish being a mission, the church was always locked except on Sundays. Making a visit was not something I had ever done or thought about. The day being considered, I was walking through the halls of St. Francis School in Triangle, which was CC’s first campus, talking with Chris Foeckler (uncle of Seton alumnus of the same name) when he suddenly stopped and said that he was going to make a visit. I had no idea what he was talking about, but he just turned and walked into the chapel. I walked on and then realized to Whom he was paying a visit. I thought “That is really a good idea.” I have always been grateful for that lesson. My college classmate, by the way, is now Father Foeckler.
Acts of piety that we make and may take for granted may just be a moment God uses to make fruitful an actual grace. (I’m not sure what I just wrote is theologically right, but I don’t know how else to say it.) I don’t remember the student who told a story of her family in religion class one time. We had been talking about making outward signs, and she said that once her family was in a restaurant and they said grace, making the sign of the cross before and after. When the dad went to pay the bill, he was told that it had been paid for by someone who was so grateful to see a family pray before eating. Our outward signs of faith may not gain us a free meal, but there must be much grace to be gained and maybe some inspiration to be given by making them.
Jezu, ufam Tobie