From the summer of 2004 to the summer of 2006 I was a high school chaplain. I also taught Freshman Year Religion and Latin. Upon receiving this unexpected assignment I hoped to share my gratitude for experiences in over 20 years as a student. I leave it to history and history's God to judge my success, because, if you asked me, things didn’t work out so well. My classroom management and discipline were weak, and I often questioned whether I was able to engender the same appreciation for the Word of God and for the Latin language that I have.
|"Stulta es! Deponent verbs don't decline in the active voice! Have at you!"|
Like the prophet Jeremiah toward the Israelites, I had adverse physical and psychological responses at the prospect of having to address people’s misbehavior. As the "weapon of mass instruction" I knew that their behavior was simply unacceptable for their own growth, so the enforcement of consequences (if I ever set any) would best have been made with that growth in mind. The prospect of correcting students was made even bleaker by my unwillingness to seek my own improvement and correct my own faults. Even in parish life I have hesitated to suggest that a person’s current faith or moral life currently disqualifies him from serving as a sponsor at Baptism or Confirmation. Sometimes I have chafed at preaching about the “hard topics” in contemporary Catholic life, for fear of a nasty letter or encounter. People rightly call me “Father,” but what kind of parent would fail to say and do what is right for a child’s own good? In the long-term absence of constructive discipline, what kind of child is likely to develop?
Baptism makes of us prophets, charged to speak the truth firmly and compassionately. Those two qualities are not mutually exclusive! The thought of hypocrisy may reproach us (“How can I tell her not to ___ if I did it?”). While it may be worth considering, soon we must assume a mature acceptance of responsibility for the past, together with a genuine interest in correcting our faults and amending our wrongdoing. This has been the experience of our Holy Mother, the Church, for 2,000 years, despite the litany of sins that her own clergy and faithful have committed! Ever the good parent, Mother Church continues to proclaim the whole truth about man—the greatness to which God calls us as well as the sacrifices that such greatness entails. Precisely when the temptation to back down is at its strongest, the Church doesn’t relent. It says something about what she stands for, and why she stands for it.
The “what” and the “why” of Church teachings and disciplines is always love. When the Church applies authentic love such as St. Paul describes, the Primordial Enemy and our internal adversaries “will fight…but not prevail” (Jer 1:19). The grace and mercy of God, manifested in the Church, opens our own hearts to the Truth about ourselves. It enables us to begin to change whatever we find to be lacking. With an open heart, we’d be surprised with what we can do and what can happen in us. All the things St. Paul talks about--impatience, unkindness, jealousy, rudeness, self-seeking, brooding, ignorance, and fear--all can slip away. We may find ourselves becoming the channel of the same harsh yet consoling love that we children so desperately need to receive.