Friday, September 23, 2011

A Salute to Teachers

Two events occurred in the past few weeks that made me realize what a gift we have in those who are teachers.  The first was a visit to a school for the deaf where my older daughter has now begun to teach.  My wife and I were able to visit her classroom toward the end of the school day and observe how she worked with the students in her care - kindergarten and first grade students with a variety of handicaps including being either deaf or hard of hearing.

The visit made me realize how proud I was of my daughter as I witnessed her dedication to working with this group of children with special needs.  She truly loves the children she works with and is extremely competent in what she does.  She has had a teaching history of working with handicapped students as well as a time as a college professor teaching college students sign language and deaf culture.  It also made me realize how blessed we are to have such dedicated people as teachers wherever they work - in public or private schools, elementary, middle or high schools or colleges and universities.  With the kind of world we live in today where technology reigns and students need to be prepared for life's challenges, teachers are one of the most important professions we have and need to continually support.

I was recently appointed as a pastoral leader of an urban parish while the pastor is on an extended medical leave.  The parish has a parochial school attached to it and I had the privilege of meeting the teachers last week.  This also made me realize how dedicated a group of teachers we have in our Catholic schools.  While Catholic schools receive some federal aid for mandated programs as well as text book and software aid, and while local public school districts may provide transportation of students to the Catholic schools, these schools depend upon tuition paid by parents and monies provided by the parish.  This means that the salaries that these schools are able to afford in paying their teachers are substantially below the salary scales of public school teachers (perhaps as much as half of what a public school teacher may earn).  A number of these teachers must hold down second jobs in an effort to support their families.  Their dedication to Catholic education is a great gift to our Church and our Catholic communities.

I have two daughters.  Both are teachers by profession.  My younger daughter, however, has had to give up her position as a school teacher because of an injury occurring at work some years ago coupled with her ongoing disability.  Yet she remains a teacher.  She teaches through her blog which I have recommended to my readers on a number of occasions ( and by the life she leads.  As someone with a disability, her very life is one of teaching as she copes with day to day living while maintaining a wonderfully balanced outlook on life and an absolutely terrific sense of humor.  Her days in the classroom may be over but her classroom is the world where she attempts each day to survive and in the words she pens.

I am, as you can imagine, extremely proud of my teacher daughters.  I am also proud of the teachers at my parochial school and all of our Catholic school teachers.  But all teachers deserve our support no matter where their teaching may occur.  They are too often undervalued in our society.  May the master Teacher, Jesus Christ, extend his blessings on all those who teach as well as all those who receive the benefits of their teaching.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Forgiveness and Remembrance

On this, the 24th Sunday on Ordinary Time in the Roman liturgical calendar, we are challenged by our Lord Jesus to be a forgiving people.  Peter asks if he should forgive the brother or sister who has hurt or offended him up to seven times - probably a magnanimous number in Peter's eyes.  But Jesus tells him he must go further than that - up to seventy times seven times - in other words, there is no limit to be placed on the number of times we are called to forgive those who have hurt us.

This challenge of Jesus is perhaps one of the most difficult things we are called to do as Christians.  When he have been hurt, especially if the hurt is a great one or occurs a number of times, the most human and natural response is to lash out at the offender - to "get even" if possible - but certainly not to forgive the offender.  Yet Jesus calls us to do just that.  When we come to liturgy we pray together just before Communion the Lord's Prayer.  Do we speak these words: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us - do we speak them from our heart and mean them or are they just words that trip off our tongues by rote?

Jesus was the perfect model of forgiveness for us.  On that bleak Good Friday when he was lifted high upon the cross he asked his Father to forgive those who had brought him to that moment.  As disciples of Jesus we are called to offer the same forgiveness to others who have brought us to dark moments in our lives.

This weekend in our country - the United States of America - we pause to remember that tragic day ten years ago when the greatest attack ever perpetrated against our country took place in New York City and Washington and for some ended in a field in Pennsylvania.  Almost three thousand people lost their lives in those tragic moments as planes became instruments of death.  It was one of those days that we can vividly remember and remember exactly what we were doing when the attacks occured.  Emotions ran very high that day; emotions of grief, confusion, disbelief, anger and thoughts of revenge.  Certain people among us became targets of our emotions because they held particular religious beliefs and looked and sounded like those who had become our attackers.  Even today the discrimination against our Muslim brothers and sisters remains even though some of them were innocent victims that day as well, and good living American citizens who happened to be Muslim became targets of our frustrations.  It is against feelings like this that Jesus challenges us to be faithful Christians and respect others no matter what their beliefs or nationality.  We need also to be reminded that those who were our attackers also died that tragic day believing themselves to be martyrs for a cause but the judgment of their behavior lies in the hands of God and not ours.

The American Catholic bishops wrote in a pastoral letter in response to the events of September 11, 2001: True peacemaking can be a matter of policy only if it is first a matter of the heart.  Without both courage and charity, justice cannot be won.  In the absence of repentance and forgiveness, no peace can endure.

Looking through my resource file a few weeks ago, I came across some items written by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, web editors for Spirituality and Health.  Let me share some of those voices that come to us from that tragic Tuesday morning in September of 2001:

I am a World Trade Center tower, standing tall in the clear blue sky, feeling a violent blow in my side, and I am a towering inferno of pain and suffering imploding upon myself and collapsing to the ground.  May I rest in peace.

I am a terrified passenger on a hijacked airplane not known where we are going or that I am riding on fuel tanks that will be instruments of death, and I am a worker arriving at my office not knowing that in just a moment my future will be obliterated.  May I rest in peace.

I am a firefighter sent into dark corridors of smoke and debris on a mission of mercy only to have it collapse around me, and I am a rescue worker risking my life to save lives who is very aware that I may not make it out alive.  May I rest in peace.

I am a loyal American who feels violated and vows to stand behind any military action it takes to wipe terrorists off the face of the earth, and I am a loyal American who feels violated and worries that people who look and sound like me are all going to be blamed for this tragedy.  May I know peace.

I am a boy in New Jersey waiting for a father who will never come home, and I am a boy in a faraway country rejoicing in the streets of my village because someone has hurt the hated Americans.  May I know peace.

I am a citizen of the world glued to my television set, fighting back my rage and despair at these horrible events, and I am a person of faith struggling to forgive the unforgivable, praying for the consolation of those who have lost loved ones, calling upon the merciful beneficence of God/Yahweh/Spirit/Allah.  May I know peace.

And I am a child of God who believes that we are all children of God and we are all part of each other.  May we all know peace.