When God asks, ‘Did you love my children?’
I’m writing this in late April, about six weeks before school lets out for the summer. The students, especially the seniors, are squirrelly. Focus and concentration by the students on the task at hand, school work, is rapidly slipping away. The history of the Church in the time of the French Revolution cannot compete with the bright sunshine, warm temps and green grass outside my classroom window.
Standing before a class, I mentioned, in an aside, the solemnity of Pentecost. Stopping in mid-sentence and mid-stride, I look out over the thirty students. “What and when is Pentecost?” I ask.
Grabbing a black marker I nearly sprint to the white board and began writing furiously in large letters the terms: Pentecost, Ascension, Triduum, Paschal Mystery, Incarnation. In a rapid fire manner I ask the students what those terms mean. Sensing my frustration, the students dribble out definitions.
I go over the terms with them, having them take notes. Then I proceed to say:
“Who in here plays a sport?” Hands shoot up. I choose a student. “What sport do you play?” I ask.
“Do you know what the term ‘scrimmage line’ means?” I ask. He tells me.
“Do you know what a ‘two-point conversion’ is?” He tells me.
“Do you know what a ‘field goal’ is?” He tells me.
“Do you know how many players are eligible to be out on the field during time of play?” He tells me.
“How many minutes of play are there per quarter in a high school football game?” He tells me.
Then I ask him, “Why do you know these things?”
He replies, “Because I play the game.”
I proceed to ask two other students what sports they play. I ask them terminology about their respective sports, and they successfully answer my questions without hesitation. When I ask each of them how it is they know those things, they give the same reply as the football player.
By the end of questioning the third student, the class understands the point I’m trying to make: they know the language of their respective sports, because they participate in the sport and are interested in it. Yet, a life time of Church yields befuddlement on basic things.
On my drive home that afternoon I replay the Pentecost incident over and over in my mind. “How can I get my students to want to know Church stuff to the same degree they want to play sports?”
Upon arriving home my wife Sara senses my frustration. I relate to her the Pentecost story. I only grow more frustrated; of course, the beer I quaff before dinner doesn’t help matters.
The very next day I receive in my e-mail the homework I had assigned my senior students. The assignment was on where they pray and why they like praying there. Writes one student: “I pray, but I sometimes think I’m just talking to myself.”
Upon reading this student’s e-mail, I immediately write this student back. Later that afternoon, the student approaches me. It’s the student’s birthday and earlier, we sang Happy Birthday to the student. I again wish the student a happy birthday, and the student hands me a candy bar (dark chocolate!).
“Thanks, Mr. Plaiss,” says the student. “What you wrote helped a lot.”
When I stand before God in judgment, I don’t believe God is going to ask me, “Did you teach my children the when and why of Pentecost?” Rather, I think God is going to ask me, “Did you love my children?”
I can honestly say that I did.
However, what is so frustrating to me, is that it took an 18-year old high school student to make me understand that.