If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
I wish everyone could see with the eyes of God—with the eyes of love. I wish we could all set down hate, misconceptions, assumptions, and differences and choose to see the beautiful in each other. We’re all children of the same Creator, dwellers in the same universe. We should be the prisms through which love reflects itself outward and we should see others as those prisms that show us the beauty of what it means to be human. But, to see what God sees is a choice so often ignored even ridiculed. To see what God sees requires us to become vulnerable and to tear away those parts of ourselves that dwell in darkness. It becomes easier to shut out the light—to protect ourselves from the reality that can hurt our eyes and reveal our souls—the reality that we are, in fact, all beautiful and perfect in His eyes.
It’s a choice.
On February 27, 2013 I had the privilege of delivering the homily at my school’s Lenten Liturgy of the Word. The reading for the day was the Parable of the Rich Fool. I have decided to share the homily with my readers.
“Be rich in what matters to God. For where your treasure is, there also your heart will be.” Today’s parable reminds us that we have but limited control over our future and in the time that we have we should strive for a life that is rich—not in the manner of what we can possess—but in the manner of how we love.
The rich man in today’s parable stores his grain after a prosperous season. He doesn’t plan to share his grain, but instead celebrates his wealth and looks forward to a life of comfort. He cares only for himself, oblivious to the needs of others. But, we are reminded that with our actions comes accountability. The rich man must answer God as to what will happen to those grains once he is gone. In the end, what good would storing all that grain do? In the end, no amount of grain will earn the rich man the opportunity to bargain for more time or have a second chance at life.
It is not uncommon for us to preoccupy ourselves with our material possessions. It only takes seconds of a newscast covering the latest Apple release or Black Friday sale to witness the importance placed on material goods in this world. Our treasures have become those things that we can see and touch—temporary joys that within a matter of months become obsolete and need replacement. Then we desire the next of the latest and greatest and the cycle begins again. Material possessions. Temporary joys. But, the parable does not tell us to stay away from wealth or possessions. Rather, we are reminded that in our pursuit of success and possessions we run the risk of striving for the things in this life that will lead us to a focus solely on the “I” instead of the “we.” When we are primarily driven by our attachment to our material possessions—our want for more than we need—we lose sight of our priorities and of those things that fill us with the love and joy that can’t be bought or seen. We walk hand in hand with greed and allow it to take over our hearts and dictate our actions.
Some of you may know that I haven’t always been a teacher. Before deciding to finally listen to God’s voice calling me to this vocation, I worked as a public relations executive and social media strategist in the corporate world. Like the rich fool I, too, allowed my heart to be led by temporary joys and allowed my judgment to be clouded by my desire for more. In my years in corporate life I subjected myself to working long hours and weekends at the cost of disconnecting from the people I loved—my parents and close friends. I became focused on what those long hours could earn me—fancy dinners, nice trips, technology, and many a Broadway show. I lost focus on the things that most matter to me—my family, my friends, my faith, my integrity. Instead, I became concerned with how many awards I could earn for my clients and how many I could earn for myself. There was no joy in my work except for the temporary joys I acquired. I worked harder, faster, more efficiently solely for the purpose of finding myself on the receiving end of an accolade or holding the latest gadget in my hands. I became a 21st century rich fool who lost sight of the things that mattered, but couldn’t recognize it until her closest friends sent her an email that said, rather bluntly, “we have no idea who you are anymore, we miss the you that would always find time for [others].” Those words, from their hearts to mine, led me to reconsider my priorities and reconnect with what I hold most dear. It was then that I chose the path of an educator—a treasure that fills my heart with joy from the moment I walk into this building each day and with every interaction I have with all of you.
Jesus, in the Gospels, consistently teaches us to exercise concern for others—to share our talents, our time, and our resources. To be rich in what matters to God is to give fully of ourselves recognizing that the “I” is enriched within the “we.” True riches are not those things easily found on store shelves or in online shopping carts. True riches are found in those things that make our heart sing and our soul dance. True riches are found in the love we give and the love we receive, in the relationships with our parents and families, in our interactions with our friends, in our dealings with colleagues, in our treatment of fellow students and teachers, and even in the hospitality shown to the strangers in our midst. True riches are found when what we do externally builds us up internally and gives birth to long-lasting joys—to the immaterial and intangible that no amount of money can buy for us. The rewards of love and service far exceed the wealth and recognition that material goods can ever give us.
In this season of Lent we are invited to reexamine our lives. We are encouraged to be accountable for our mistakes and failings and to turn our minds and hearts away from those aspects of our lives that keep us from being the best of ourselves. In fasting and almsgiving, we give of ourselves in order to refocus on what inside us needs to change and to reconnect with our brothers and sisters, for whom the giving of our time and talent may mean everything. The prophet Isaiah, from today’s first reading, challenges us to stand up for others not as a one-time act of humility, but as a lifestyle of service to God and others. In doing so, Isaiah tells us that our “light shall break forth like the dawn.” This Lenten season, I challenge us not to isolate ourselves with our wealth as the rich fool did. Let us give freely of ourselves and our resources. Let us share our gifts and talents. I challenge us to reach out to others within this community and outside of it. Let us allow ourselves to experience a transformation of the heart—aim to repair relationships, strive to reach out to those in need, break down the self-created walls that keep us from reaching out to those we have never spoken to before, work to heal and not destroy, and share ourselves with others. Be people of compassion. Be love. Be light. Be selfless. Our greatest example is Christ who, on the cross, did not focus on himself, but on us all in the fullness of love. You have the opportunity to change now into better people that will continue to strive for the same beyond this season.
Let your light shine…for that is your greatest treasure…
Mercy Community: Let Us See YOU Shine.
Two years ago I made the decision to leave behind a lucrative career in public relations to pursue a teaching vocation. I call it a vocation, because there is no doubt that God had been calling me to this ministry long before I finally realized it. There was no question then, as there is no question now, that I belong in Catholic schools. This knowledge and desire does not stem from an “us” and “them” mentality, but from my own experience as a product of a Catholic education. Catholic schools and their sense of community were a second home for me–the places that helped my parents set my academic and spiritual foundation and helped me grow into the woman I am today. It was in the classrooms of a Dominican elementary school, a Jesuit high school, a Jesuit undergraduate university, and a Jesuit graduate university that I grew in the academic competence to step into my own classroom in the footsteps of so many religious and lay men and women who taught me and inspired me. My twenty-five years as a student in Catholic schools taught me the values of compassion, integrity, honesty, and commitment. Perhaps the most important lessons did not come from textbooks, but from the men and women who tirelessly dedicated themselves to ensuring that we (the students) were cared for, safe, and in the knowledge of how special we were in God’s eyes. Most importantly, in their words and actions–in their relationships with students–they embodied the love of Christ in a palpable way. At thirty years old, I can remember those moments when the Dominican Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary (Philippines Order) helped me understand how to use my talents, I can remember when the Jesuits taught me to strive for justice and peace and seek the heart of God in all things, and I can remember when each of those men and women showed me they cared for the me beyond the academics.
Now, I am in their shoes. I have the privilege to teach 115 beautiful senior girls and 55 junior girls at a local Catholic high school. I am five months into a job I love–teaching students that have captured my heart in a way I never expected would happen. What I feared about becoming a teacher is the very thing that keeps me going. I care…maybe too much sometimes, but I wouldn’t change that. As I sat in the gym during our first school liturgy, my heart was filled with a sense of gratitude that I have never felt before. It is an honor to be part of the lives of these young women. As a Religious Studies teacher, I have the two-fold task of preparing them academically but also aiding in their spiritual growth and development. Being in a small Catholic school allows me to be for them what so many teachers were for me–an educator, a role model, and even sometimes that friend that will lend an ear when it’s needed and will share her heart if it’s wanted.
There is something uniquely special about Catholic schools. They provide, to paraphrase Thomas Lickona, an education of the head, heart, and hands. Catholic schools help students grow in the knowledge that will impact their future lives, in the values that will guide them, and in the spirituality and faith that will ground and sustain them. It is where I see God at work each day in the smiles and hugs of my students and in their tears and concerns about the future. I see God in them and pray that through the person I am and the teacher I strive to be daily, they will see the joy of God’s love in me. It is with joy that I walk into the school each day and greet my students and savor each moment of this ministry. Unbeknownst to them they, too, minister to me and that is a joy for which no amount of thanks could ever be enough.
This piece originally published at Catholica Omnia as a guest piece celebrating Catholic Schools Week.
It is almost cliché to say that caring is an integral part of teaching. We wake up in the mornings, head to our classrooms, spend a full day teaching, and then spend our afternoons and evenings planning for the next day. We, unlike most professions, spend our day in the presence of people much younger than us. We find ourselves having to learn about the latest technologies or the latest pop culture fads just to keep up with what is important in the lives of our students. I have found that being a teacher has my mind continuously “turned on” to what I can bring to the classroom or what might benefit my students. But, the caring that Durka (2002) wrote about goes beyond the lesson planning, the waking up early, and the act of teaching itself. According to Durka, caring implies fidelity (p. 49). Fidelity is an observance of a promise or duty, which we frequently define as loyalty. The ethic of caring, however, is not simply a fulfillment of duty; it is also a response. Durka wrote:
The fidelity we exercise in fulfilling our responsibilities is not faithfulness to duties or principles, but it is a direct response to our relationships with our students. When we are guided by an ethic of caring, we do not ask whether it is our duty to be faithful; rather, faithfulness to persons is fidelity. (p. 50)
I would add that the fidelity we exercise is also a direct response to our relationship with God and to our vocation. To say that we care, then, requires from us a willingness to build relationships and to know our students. Only then can we see the person beyond the grades, beyond the behavior, beyond the laughter and occasional tears, beyond the texting, and, beyond all those circumstances that hinder us from seeing our students for who they truly are and helping them grow into the people they are meant to be. This means that our caring must manifest itself in all aspects of our teaching and must focus on more than helping our students excel academically; we must help them become responsible members that grow into an ethic of caring of their own.
As educators, we show that we care through the selves we bring to our students. As Durka wrote, “What we reflect to our students contributes to the enhancement of that ideal if we meet our students as they are and find something admirable in them” (p. 57). She also wrote, “People conform to the image of them that we project” (p.57).
In the spring, I completed the student-teaching portion of my credential program at a large public high school in San Francisco. I took over two English classes—one section of freshmen and one of seniors. My freshman class was unofficially considered a “remedial” class and all but one student, in a class of twenty-two students, had failed the class in the Fall semester. I inherited twenty-two students who had been told that they were slow, whose names were not remembered by the previous teacher, and who were consistently put down no matter what they did. When I took over, the students had given up the hope that they could do any better with me than they had done with their previous teacher. They had conformed to the image that had been projected of them and refused to work together or to do any work with me. There were students with special needs and other students for whom school had always been a disappointment. I had to start from the very beginning and help make the class a community before I could ever get them on board. We did various group activities, I made sure to learn their names quickly, I asked about their extracurricular activities, spoke to their counselors and parents, and did everything I could to know them and to reach them through the unique qualities they brought to the classroom. It was then that I started to see a change in my students—a willingness to learn and work together, a greater respect for each other, respect for me, and a desire to do better. A quote attributed to Lao Tzu reads: From caring comes courage. When I got to know my students, I began to care about them and their well-being far beyond the STAR tests and essay grades. That is what inspired me to take risks with my approach to teaching; that is what gave me courage.
Originally published at lightingafire.angelq.me on July 12, 2012.
A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying Him. It “consents,” so to speak, to His creative love. It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree.
The more a tree is like itself, the more it is like Him. If it tried to be like something else which it was never intended to be, it would be less like God and therefore it would give Him less glory. [...]
Therefore each particular being, in its individuality, its concrete nature and entity, with all its own characteristics and its private qualities and its own inviolable identity, gives glory to God by being precisely what He wants it to be here and now, in the circumstances ordained for it by His Love and His infinite Art. (Merton, 1987, pp. 29-30)
I ran away from the desire to become a teacher for a long time. My stubbornness led me away, from what I long knew was my vocation, to a winding road that included law school and the public relations industry. But where my stubbornness led me, God met me with teaching experiences in the unlikeliest of places. Ultimately, prayer and reflection and God’s grace would lead me to trust the stirrings of my heart and pursue my vocation. During my discernment process, I recalled the title of a Parker Palmer (1999) book that I read for a vocation seminar course at Santa Clara University: Let Your Life Speak. The title is based on an Old Quaker saying that Palmer stumbled upon in his early thirties and that led him to pursue his own vocation. Four simple words were charged with meaning for Palmer and also brought me to a point in my life where I listened to the voice of vocation.
Spirituality is an integral part of the educator’s journey. It is a connectedness between the essence of one’s being to the sacer—the sacred. It is also the awareness that, having been created by God, we have a unique purpose and, our soul, an inherent desire to glorify God. To let our lives speak, as the Quaker saying encourages us, is to listen and to act. We listen to our life speak to us when we listen to God’s voice in the depths of our being and we allow our life to speak volumes when we live our vocation and move closer to becoming the persons we are meant to be.
In the past two years, I have listened and I have trusted and I have allowed my life to speak. It is this relationship with God—this understanding that I am called to teach—that drives me to be a reflective educator. Not only reflective in terms of what I teach and how I teach, but also in how I live out my joy of being in relationship with God from the moment I walk through the doors of the school to the moment I walk out. It is God’s grace that sustains me along this fulfilling and sometimes rough path of an educator. I live in the knowledge that, like the tree, my vocation as a teacher is to glorify God. It is my spirituality that grounds me. And, as I look at my students it is what reminds me that beyond grades, behaviors, and actions they are children of God and what a joy it is to have been put in one another’s lives.
Merton, T. (2007). New Seeds of Contemplation. New York, NY: New Directions.
Palmer, P. (1999). Let Your Life Speak: Listening to the Voice of Vocation. Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass.
This reflection was originally published at my other blog lightingafire.angelq.me, on July 10, 2012.
Happy Catholic Schools Week! In celebration, I will be posting a few of my reflections on the ministry of teaching and the spirituality of the educator. Some of these posts were written and published as part of a course on the spirituality of the educator. I hope it offers my readers a glimpse into the life of a teacher and something to think about.
First off, I want to thank my sister-friend and fellow blogger Emmy of Journey of a Catholic Nerd Writer for hosting What I Learned Wednesday. She started this last year (my goodness it’s a New Year!) and I was a bit late to the party, but I’m glad to be blogging again. These posts usually discuss what one learned during the past week. I’ve decided that this first post of the New Year will be about what I learned last year.
2012 was a year of many challenges and many surprises. As strong as my faith is, there are moments when I forget how amazing God is. It sounds silly to use “strong” and “forget” in the same sentence, but I guess it is all a part of being human. I learned or re-learned that somehow everything works out. I guess, in many ways, I need to write about the end of 2011 in order to tell you about 2012 and tell you what I’ve already learned in the first few days of 2013.
Two years ago, I officially left a public relations career to pursue a career in teaching. I had long been drawn to that vocation, but idiotically kept running away from it. But, I have since learned that answering the God’s persistent call can fill your heart and refresh your soul in so many ways. 2011 was the year where I began my student teaching journey–I was two semesters away from becoming a teacher. In October of that year, a serious bacterial respiratory infection sidelined me for quite a long time and put one of my lungs in serious risk. From October 2011-February 2012 I faced serious challenges. The very act of breathing and walking would fatigue me and my immune system was severely weekend. Despite missed classes and weeks of student teaching, however, I somehow recovered. The truth is that the school I attended should have kicked me out for missing so many classes, but thanks to my professors and friends I was given the opportunity to finish. My lung, which was operating at less than 50% capacity, should have remained seriously impaired. By the grace of God, my lung is back to near normal and the long-term effects are minimal. In May, I earned my credential.
The next challenge of 2012 was securing a job. By mid-June, I had pretty much resigned myself to being unemployed until at least January of 2013. I had exhausted all potential avenues. The public school system was not hiring in my subject area (English) and all the private Catholic schools were not hiring in both of my subject areas (English/Religious Studies). I have entered a career in which jobs are often scarce due to plunging budgets and consolidations. I remember praying that something would open up. In July, it did. A principal from a local Catholic high school called and mentioned that she had a Campus Ministry position open–was I interested? I was and I interviewed and didn’t hear from her for two weeks. Then she called and told me that I hadn’t been chosen for the Campus Ministry position but that a Religious Studies position opened up over the weekend (she called on a Monday)–would I be interested in that? I was. And, here I am.
I am four months into a job I love–teaching students that have captured my heart in a way I never expected would happen. What I feared about becoming a teacher is the very thing that keeps me going. I care…maybe too much sometimes, but I wouldn’t change that. As I sat in the gym during our first school liturgy, my heart was filled with a sense of gratitude that I have never felt before. It was the gratitude from a restless soul that has found where it is meant to be in this time and place.
God taught me, as He always does, that the most wondrous gifts are often the things we run away from. God taught me that his goodness endures and will never cease to astound me. I re-learned how beautiful it is to walk in the path He has called me to and I have learned to cease running and start resting–resting in the wonder and the mystery that gives life. 2013 has gotten off to a rough start, but I am reminded that God’s grace is beyond anything and everything.
One student, on the last day before break, taught me one of the best lessons of 2012 that I will carry with me into 2013. She reminded me that God teaches us through others and He knows exactly what we need when we need it or even before then. She gifted me with a jar of her favorite scriptural verses. It was a gift from her heart to my heart and spirit. In her Christmas card she quoted Matthew 5:8 and wrote “I see the Lord through you.” When I reached in the first time for a scriptural verse this was what I read: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” And so with those words of the prophet Isaiah, with those words that a student’s heart shared with me, I move on into this new year. I may be facing difficulties already, but I am learning, I will continue to learn, and what I have already learned I will put into practice. “There, but for the grace of God…”
Last year, I had the opportunity to review the first volume in the HitREcord Tiny Stories series. I was surprised at how a tiny book of stories (usually no more than 2 sentences) could be enthralling nonetheless. I commended the selection of stories and art and marveled at how collaboration could create an entertaining piece of artistry.
Volume 2 is another great little collaborative piece that packs more stories and more artwork into more pages. Whereas Volume 1 had me laughing at the hilarity of the stories, Volume 2 made me reflect on life. There is a darker element to some of the stories and artwork–a darker element that doesn’t subtract from the joy of reading this little book, but that displays a maturity of thought in some of the pieces.
According to the book’s site, “[this] second book in the series features 62 contributors from the 14,946 contributions to the Tiny Stories collaboration on hitRECord.org.” These contributors came from around the world and shared their talents in word and art. It is difficult to describe how great these little books are and how refreshing it is that Joseph Gordon-Levitt and HitREcord have provided an outlet for wordsmiths and artists to share a little of their talent with the world. I can’t wait for the 3rd volume to be released in June 2013.