Last week I was blessed to attend the National Catholic Educator’s Conference, which took place right here in Boston. All of the teachers from my school went, and it was wonderful to have a few days away from the classroom and to learn and be refreshed.
The opening mass was celebrated by Boston’s own Sean Cardinal O’Malley. I have to say, I’m an unabashed fan of Cardinal O’Malley. There’s absolutely nothing flashy or showy about our archbishop: he’s a big, lumbering fellow, kind and approachable (if somewhat awkward) in person, who’s just as likely to be spotted in the drab brown robes of his Capuchin order as he is to be in episcopal garb. His deep, booming voice and slow cadence have led some of us at work to affectionately nickname him “Cardinal Treebeard“.
Despite the lack of verbal pyrotechnics, though, Cardinal O’Malley has a gift for communicating profound truths in an accessible way. His homily at the conference, on the task of a Catholic teacher, was nothing short of inspiring. He took his message from two passages of Scripture. The first was Acts 3: 1-8:
“1 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. 2 Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. 4 Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” 5 So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. 6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. 8 He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.”
The Cardinal joked that we in Catholic education can easily identify with St. Peter in this passage, because we, too, can truly say “Silver or gold I do not have”. But at the same time, he said, we have what our students really need: the Gospel.
His second passage was the story of the road to Emmaus, from Luke 24. In that narrative, we’re told of two disciples of Christ who have not yet heard that Jesus rose from the dead, and are deeply discouraged and disillusioned by the events of Good Friday. Jesus comes alongside them, but they do not recognize Him. He patiently explains from the Scriptures how the Messiah was to accomplish His Mission. Cardinal O’Malley told us that this was the model for a Catholic teacher: we are to come along side our students and patiently explain Christian truth to them. We don’t always know what discouragements or tragedies they have in their own lives, but we are always called to be ambassadors of the Risen Lord to them.
In many ways, it’s been a frustrating year of teaching: we’ve had a lot of organizational difficulties that have distracted us from academics. Despite this, my bishop has encouraged me, in his humble, Franciscan way, to finish the school year strong and to continue to try to bring the Gospel to the mission field I have in my own classroom.