Like all teachers — well at least like many teachers — I entered the classroom ready to change the world. Sure, I was a bit older than most when I took my first steps into the parochial middle school milieu; but certainly wisdom and an ability to laugh at life would be my allies. And to change the world I couldn’t have been given a more anointed set of classes to teach: English and Religion.
It just doesn’t get better than that.
My first couple of years went pretty much the way you’d expect: every day was an opportunity for me to grow as a person and teacher — apparently God wasn’t done with me yet! But more importantly, each and every day provided me with an opportunity to share my new found passion for the Catholic faith in ways unimagined.
You see, I had spent the better part of my young adult life learning about the faith that was so loved by my Polish Catholic grandparents but not practiced in my own home. Without placing blame, it might be said that my parents’ divorce, occurring while I was very young, simply put them at odds with the faith of their own parents. Easter was more about bonnets, baskets and patent leather shoes than it was about the Resurrection.
So when God opened the doors for me to teach English and Religion in a parochial middle school, I took it as a heavenly sign to ignite fires in a group of young people who may not have known how very fortunate they were to be in such an environment. It didn’t take long to confirm my suspicions. The daily rolling of eyes — as I jumped around the room exclaiming the Good News — made it clear that these young people really weren’t nearly as excited to be in the classroom as I was.
However, as the mother of three sons, I was used to kids rolling their eyes at me and so, much to the chagrin of my captive audience, this didn’t curb my enthusiasm for what I was doing. Oblivious to all the grumblings and head-shakes, I kept hammering away at how much fun it was to be Catholic and that through baptism these kids were initiated into the best thing since sliced bread.
They didn’t appear to be buying what I was selling and yet I wouldn’t surrender my convictions.
Literally day after day, week after week, year after year, I relished the chance to explore the teachings of the Catholic Church and to share those teachings — as well as the excitement of diving into the depths of the faith — with my charges. Moans and groans became the norm as I continually challenged my students with “Let’s see what the Catholic Church says.” But even amidst the disgruntled sighs and the rolling of eyes, there came a time when I knew that something I was doing was giving the Holy Spirit an “in” and was taking root.
The grades I taught were 6th and 7th and in our school 8th grade was the time of confirmation. Now my own sons are part of the Chaldean Catholic Rite and so were confirmed with their baptism, but knowing that what I was doing in my own classroom was in no small way laying the foundation for an upcoming Sacrament, I always felt blessed to be planting seeds — even if I wasn’t sure if they were being washed away or not.
Then the fruit began to appear.
I’m guessing that word spread through the little school of ours that I was never going to relent when it came to the faith and so students began seeing me less as a nut and more of a force to be reckoned with and soon realized that the reckoning was easy: dig being a Catholic and find joy in your faith! I was no longer the enemy who made kids learn Scripture, say prayers to release souls from Purgatory, and discover what the Catholic Church taught on just about anything you could imagine; but I became the lady who really thought it was cool to be Catholic!
Okay, maybe I was still a nut but I was a nut who had their attention.
Throughout my years as a teacher there were a number of times that I was approached by a former student and asked to fill the role of Conformation Sponsor — now that’s the fruit I’m talking about. Very often we don’t see the seeds we plant (whether as parents, grandparents, teachers, or even coaches) take root, let alone produce fruit, so I’ve often considered it a gift from God that those requests — which I humbly and with great honor fulfilled — were made. God blessed me with rewards beyond measure when a student who openly ignored me in the classroom came back to see if I would stand beside him, hand on his shoulder, while he received the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
God indeed is good. And He rewards those who work for His kingdom — whether in this life or in the next.
Recently I was asked to write a review for an online Protestant book seller that offered Christian books for kids and classrooms. It was suggested to me — by a Catholic — that this would be a nice resource for Catholics.
Recall that I taught English, along with Religion. Those same passions that I took to my Religion classroom also animated my English classroom. For me, it quickly became apparent that along with such classics as The Chronicles of Narnia and other notable standards, our Catholic kids need a steady supply of fiction that engages and entertains but also educates and upholds their faith.
Not an easy thing to find, I will admit.
However, just because something isn’t easy doesn’t mean we ought to give up on it as a goal. Think virtues. Think diligence. Think about running the race set before each of us.
So, on more than one occasion, I simply trashed the offerings of the classroom book clubs that arrived in my mailbox every week with all their enticing promotional goodies that could be had for my classroom. I wasn’t going to cave in to their lure of free posters and great deals because I was dismayed at their lack of truly Catholic offerings and frustrated with their almost palpable assault on the students’ moral barometers – which are often, at that age, barely functioning any way.
Why, I really wanted to know, is our Catholic money good enough for these secular book clubs to take but not worth respecting?
I quickly understood that what I would teach, plant, or in some way build up in one classroom (Religion) could easily be taken down by one popular, immoral book in another (English). And so I would have none of that. Being older does have its own rewards and does make one more able to stand up for one’s beliefs and values; I was all about being a mother lion protecting her cubs — even if they felt ready to protect themselves and didn’t want my shelter.
But what in my eyes became almost worse than the flat-out assaults on Catholic values — a visible enemy that could be combated — was supplying kids with fiction that was deemed “better than nothing.” Don’t get me wrong, for a while I bought into the whole something-is-better-than-nothing-at-all phenomenon sweeping through most Catholic circles. It is that same thinking that drives countless Catholic adults to purchase books by Joyce Meyer or Joel Osteen but then wonder why they still feel empty.
But isn’t something better than nothing?
No. In fact, it could be worse because it is completely lacking in regards to the real truth of Catholicism and gives an impression of a fullness that it does not have. In fact, I would love to see some statistics on how many Protestants purchase Catholic books. I would argue very few indeed because they see our teachings as possibly corrupting their teaching of salvation.
While I readily admit that we have much to learn from Protestants, I would also suggest that we have some things we can teach as well. But that door remains closed to us for the most part and maybe rightly so from their perspective. I’m not here to argue who has what to teach the other guy but to say that what we teach our kids is of utmost importance.
If that is the case, then shouldn’t we be keeping the door closed as well? At least until our children — and even our adult selves if necessary — are so fully steeped in understanding our Catholic faith that it does not lose its fullness in our hearts, minds, and practices when confronted with opposing or contrary views.
This exact phrase was said to me in the request to review and promote the Protestant kids’ book site to Catholics. I was told “Well, it is better than nothing, right?”
As you can guess by now — my reasoning having been acquired, nurtured, and fed by many years teaching parochial middle school — I simply couldn’t agree with that statement.
When our Catholic kids miss out on such things as learning about saints and why intercession is a valid and important part of being Catholic, they miss out the way the faithful on earth are bound to those in purgatory and in heaven.
When our Catholic kids are denied the reality of Mary’s Immaculate Conception and her role as Queen of Heaven and Earth they are unable to develop and nurture a relationship with both Mother and Son that will be inherently valuable to both their earthly journey and their heavenly goals.
When our Catholic kids do not see how priests are called in a special way to stand in for Christ, they will disregard the vocation in whole or in part — either way to the detriment of themselves and the Catholic Church.
When our Catholic kids do not understand that baptism is the Sacrament of Initiation upon which all others rest, then they do not ever fully grasp the ways Sacraments and Sacramentals are tools of grace to be used and embraced.
Our Catholic children are far too precious for us to allow a seemingly benign mindset of something-is-better-than-nothing to pervade their faith development.
It also goes without saying that a Catholic adult not steeped in the faith risks all the same dangers when opting for a something-is-better-than-nothing mentality in regard to his or her own faith walk.
So here’s to jumping up and down — even amidst rolling eyes — with an understanding that:
The apostles entrusted the “Sacred deposit” of the faith (the depositum fidei), contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to the whole of the Church. “By adhering to [this heritage] the entire holy people, united to its pastors, remains always faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. So, in maintaining, practicing and professing the faith that has been handed on, there should be a remarkable harmony between the bishops and the faithful” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #84).
Anything less just isn’t good enough.