A+ A A-

Suffering and Joy: Bringing a Joyful Spirit into the Classroom


What do I want to say to teachers? 

blossomI want to say, and hopefully show, that what teachers do daily in the classrooms, in the halls, in offices and while supervising Cafeterias, what they do daily has a holiness and a dignity that many of them are almost entirely unaware of. There is a holiness and a dignity to be discovered and so it is true to say that teachers and principals need a great deal of inspiration today because working in the schools is becoming a very difficult ordeal.

And I hope to awaken or perhaps confirm an understanding of the marvellous dignity — and I speak of a theological dignity — the dignity involved in working with Catholic youth as a teacher or administrator. There is a theological dignity there that is not always easy to see. In fact, it's very difficult to see.

Our clergy do not speak of this dignity — not downing our clergy — it is just that I personally have never heard mention of it. The media certainly don't see it. The public in general can't see it. And I believe that our notion of what it means to be perfect is often such that it is almost impossible to discover the tremendous dignity and the holiness that lies hidden in the "ordinary" day to day tasks of the average Catholic teacher.

And so I'm not here to criticize teachers. My experience is very limited, mind you, and some may call me naive. But I don't think I'm being naive. I have walked the halls of our schools, I have listened to Catholic teachers, befriended Catholic teachers and chaplains and countless students. We have fabulous teachers in our separate schools who are doing incalculable good. And many of them are doing incalculable good and yet they are not fully aware of it. We have science teachers who look at the Universe with the eyes of faith and are teaching young people to do the same. We have math teachers devoted to their faith, devoted to learning more about that faith and devoted to living it. We have fabulous English teachers who pray and whose vision is shaped by faith and charity. We have business and economic teachers who challenge students in their tendency towards radical individualism, that is, their tendency to separate morality from economics.

We have principals who love the Catholic faith and work hard to promote it in the schools. I have met devout vice-principals whose faith and courage have put me to shame on many occasions. And of course we have great and marvellous religion teachers.

I know this because I have something to do with our schools. I have something to do with these people. I talk to them. I see them. I hear them. I also hear students speak of them. And of course we have wonderful students of whom I will talk, shortly.

We certainly have some poisonous elements here and there in our schools, and this is very serious, but I think that overall the news is good. So what do I want to say to teachers? I want to say, and hopefully show, that what teachers do daily in the classrooms, in the halls, in offices and while supervising Cafeterias, what they do daily has a holiness and a dignity that many of them are almost entirely unaware of. There is a holiness and a dignity to be discovered. There have been many occasions while sitting in our chapel on a first Friday and with a staff full of teachers (stressed out, tired, used and abused) when I have wanted to stand up and somehow call their attention to the incalculable good that they do which many of them are unable to see. I have always wanted to call attention to the truth that there is profound theological meaning in their daily suffering, and most of all that Their difficulties, stresses and struggles are not a sign that something is profoundly wrong, but rather a sign that things are the way they should be. As Mother Teresa has said on many occasions, you can't do God's work without suffering. This last point is very important to remember. Catholics seem to have forgotten that irrefutable truth of the gospel. If your work is easy and not very taxing, it might be good work, but not God's work. It cannot be. If you are the slightest bit familiar with the gospel, you know that it cannot be. We redeem others, that is, buy them back from a life of sin, the very same way we were redeemed: through suffering. Like a candle, we can only bring light and warmth to another at the expense of ourselves. That is the law of the cross. And if we fail to understand this, I am convinced we will never make sense out of our teaching lives.

Originally I was asked to relate my talk to John Paul's Tertio Millennio. At the beginning of this Apostolic Letter, the Pope speaks of the Incarnation of the Son of God, quoting John chapter 1.

In the beginning was the Word...He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things came into being...What has come into being in him was life, life that was the light of the world, and light shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it. ...He was coming into the world, He was in the world that had come into being through him, and the world did not recognize him. The Word became flesh, he lived among us.

And so The Second Person of the Trinity entered into darkness. That's Christianity. That's Catholicism. Our religion is about a person, the Person of the Son. It is about a Person who has entered into human suffering. Into darkness. And darkness could not overpower that light.

I love the religion of Buddhism. In many ways it is my favourite of the World Religions to teach. I have learned a tremendous amount from the wisdom of the Buddhist Masters. But, Buddhism is a response to the mystery of suffering, and that response is not necessarily compatible with the gospel. I am convinced that it is a religion orientated towards the escaping of suffering. That is not Christ. Christ is the Second Person of the Trinity, and the Person of the Son entered into darkness, entered into human suffering. In willing to have something to do with sinful human persons, he willed to suffer.

Christianity is precisely about entering into the Person of Christ, and thus with him and in him entering into human suffering. And that's what teachers do whether they like it or not; at least those teachers that I deal with. Young people today come to school with tremendous suffering. I cannot for the life of me understand how some students manage to come to school at all, after listening to them for a few minutes. And I have spent months in a classroom teaching kids I had no idea were suffering so grievously. I know through my own experience how easy it is to assume that the students before me are doing OK and that they go home each day to a happy mother and father and a hot meal and a 486 computer. It's so easy not to ask them what's going on in their lives, and to simply assume they are spoiled and selfish. I have done it many times over the years. But thank God some students gradually began to tell me what goes on in their lives, in their homes. That's when things began to change in my life.

If you are the slightest bit familiar with the gospel, you know that it cannot be. We redeem others, that is, buy them back from a life of sin, the very same way we were redeemed: through suffering. Like a candle, we can only bring light and warmth to another at the expense of ourselves. That is the law of the cross. And if we fail to understand this, I am convinced we will never make sense out of our teaching lives.

As many of you well know, we have students who come to school hungry and undernourished. We have students who are sexually abused regularly and we don't know it. We have students without fathers. We have mothers of students who suffer from depression and can't get out of bed in the morning to wake them up, much less go to work. Some parents of our kids are mentally ill.

Many of our students have been tragically overlooked by the Children's Aid Society and have gone through their elementary years suffering from terrible physical abuse at the hands of their angry fathers. These students are now emotionally scarred and will remain so for the rest of their lives.

Many of our students are from the developing world and are here without their families or their parents. The parents of some of our students from the developing world have been killed. And we don't know this unless we ask them. So many come from homes broken by alcohol, and there are times when you can smell the alcohol on parents' night. We've had parents of students arrested for drug dealing and doing jail time. Now, I ask you: how can a student in that situation be expected to sit quietly in a classroom? How can a student like that be expected not to drink? If my mother began dating a biker and started to neglect me, and if there was never any food in the house other than the occasional box of pudding or tub of margarine, and I was a teenager, I think I'd drink.

If my father beat me with a belt until I bled and then would hand me my health card and tell me to go on off to the hospital to get stitched up, and I had to carry that around with me all the time in elementary school or high school, I am pretty sure I'd find glue sniffing an attractive alternative to going to class.

There is a tremendous reservoir of pain in our schools, and not just in our schools in the Jane and Finch area, but almost everywhere it seems. And these are the kids the Lord chooses to put in our classrooms. It isn't the Guidance office who puts them there, nor is it administration. The Lord God, the Almighty, the Person of the Son through Whom all things came to be and through Whom all things are sustained in their being, and to Whom all events are providentially subject, He put them there. Nothing happens outside of God's providential hand. What does God want me to do with these kids who end up in my classroom?

I am convinced we'll never make sense out of our teaching lives unless we begin asking that question. And many of us need to make some sense out of our teaching lives.

Why are they there?

Well, in the first place, they are there. And that is why teaching is rather difficult. But I submit, maybe the point is that it's supposed to be difficult. How can you enter into the lives of these kids that I have described above and not taste their suffering? How can you choose to love them without at the same time choosing to suffer? How can you enter into darkness and not experience darkness? You can't.


Maybe things are not meant to be easy. In recent years I've taken notice how many teachers define a good day and a bad day. A good day is a smooth day, a painless and hassle free day. A bad day is, conversely, one full of hassles, confrontations, and stress. I've caught myself speaking the same way many times. If someone asks me if I had a good day, I often refer back to myself — how I feel. Was it smooth? Was it stress free? And if so, it was a good day.

But that's bad theology. From the point of view of the gospel, that thinking is unsound and not very helpful. In fact, it's downright selfish. Just a few simple examples from the New Testament why such thinking is unsound.

Blessed are those who mourn
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for what is right, that is, the hunger of a first century Palestinian labourer and the thirst induced by the deserts of Palestine.
Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of what is right.

Maybe things are not meant to be easy. In recent years I've taken notice how many teachers define a good day and a bad day. A good day is a smooth day, a painless and hassle free day. A bad day is, conversely, one full of hassles, confrontations, and stress. I've caught myself speaking the same way many times. If someone asks me if I had a good day, I often refer back to myself — how I feel. Was it smooth? Was it stress free? And if so, it was a good day.

Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you falsely on my account...Rejoice and be glad — you had a good day.

And most importantly, "Anyone who wishes to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." Daily, there are crosses on a daily basis if one chooses to follow Jesus.
Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it, but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.

The Greek word "psyche" that's used here is equivalent to the Hebrew word "Nephesh", which includes person in its meaning. So we can re-translate:

"Anyone who wishes to save himself will lose himself, but anyone who loses himself, his entire person, for my sake, will find himself, discover himself." Such a one will not be lost. This involves a loss of self, an exit of self, a forgetting-of-self.

Or there is St. Paul: "It makes me happy to be suffering for you now, and in my own body to make up all the hardships that still have to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church, of which I was made a servant with the responsibility towards you that God gave to me, that of completing God's message, the message which was a mystery hidden for generations and centuries and has now been revealed to his holy people."

He goes on to say,"...this is the Christ we are proclaiming, admonishing and instructing everyone in all wisdom, to make everyone perfect in Christ. And it is for this reason that I labour (labour, he says) striving with his energy which works in me mightily."

And Peter writes in his letter, " so far as you share in the sufferings of Christ, be glad. If you are insulted for bearing Christ's name, blessed are you, for on you rests the Spirit of God." Or further,"...if any of you should suffer for belonging to Christ, then there must be no shame but thanksgiving to God for bearing this name...Those whom God allows to suffer should commit themselves to a Creator who is trustworthy and go on doing good."

Those are just a few examples. There are many more. There is a great deal of suffering in teaching because there is a great deal of suffering among our young people. So many of them have been hindered in the development of their personalities because of the way they have been brought up, or because of trauma suffered early on in their lives. It isn't easy dealing with a grade 12 student who is 18 years old but who has the maturity level of a ten- year old. It isn't easy having to teach someone who has probably damaged his brain somewhat from sniffing glue, and who did so to escape the horrible darkness and painful self-consciousness that comes from a deeply rooted conviction that "I am flawed", "I am a mistake", "I am a defect". An emotionally disturbed person is one whose intellectual energies have been blocked, stifled. They can't concentrate for long periods of time. They are not interested in things a normal and healthy personality finds interesting.

It must also be difficult having to teach a student who has never really suffered in life, but has been given everything, and who is proud, arrogant, and who drives to school in his own BMW that his parents bought for him. I have never had to deal with such kids and I am thankful for it. But I know some in other schools who have. And I don't envy them. How do you teach such students the importance of prayer, the gospel, poverty of spirit, the need for God, the importance of keeping the commandments? How do you teach them that it does not profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul? They wouldn't know what you are talking about.

Now, as we all know, Hedonism is the attitude that one's sole purpose in life is the attainment of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. And because Hedonism has been traditionally associated with Hugh Hefner, the father of Playboy, it's been relatively easy for the majority of people to disassociate themselves with it.

I am convinced that when our thinking is no longer under the direction of a theology of the cross, or a spirituality of the cross, we open ourselves to the subtle delusions and powerful influence of religious Epicureanism.

But there is a subtler form of Hedonism that is very ancient. It isn't the self-indulgent Hedonism of Hugh Hefner, but a subtle and well-disguised pagan morality formulated by the ancient philosopher Epicurus. Epicurus was a materialistic atomist, and he taught that physical pleasures, adjusted to what can be reasonably expected in a particular time and place, constitute man's greatest good and happiness. One must calculate the enjoyment and discomfort to be derived from a given activity, including interpersonal relations. Epicurus writes:

For the end of all we do is to be free from pain and fear, and when once we have attained this, all turmoil of mind is dispersed and the living creature does not have to wander as if in search of something missing, nor look for anything to complete the good of mind and body...regard pleasure as the beginning and end of a blessed life. For we recognize pleasure as the primary and natural desire, and we return to it in all our judgements of the good, taking the feeling of pleasure as our guide.

Epicurus is careful to distance himself from the self-indulgent hedonist. He writes

...when we say that pleasure is the objective, we do not mean the pleasures of the profligate or the pleasures of sensuality,...By 'pleasure' we mean absence of pain in the body and of turmoil in the mind. The pleasurable life is not continuous drinking, dancing and sex; nor the enjoyment of fish or other delicacies of an extravagant table. It is sober reasoning which searches out the motives for all choice and avoidance, and rejects those beliefs which lay open the mind to the greatest disturbance.

I am convinced that when our thinking is no longer under the direction of a theology of the cross, or a spirituality of the cross, we open ourselves to the subtle delusions and powerful influence of religious Epicureanism.

I would dare to say that Catholics have become, in large part, Epicureans. I speak of an epicureanism in Catholic garb. And I don't blame people for this. I do not point an accusing finger. It's bound to happen when preaching and instruction no longer center on the Incarnation and the Passion.

The purpose of our life is not primarily enjoyment or tranquility of mind. Our purpose is not to acquire for ourselves a "pain free body and a tranquil mind". Our purpose is the human person. Every human person sitting in our classrooms has been bought at a price. The price cannot be measured. Every person, the worst of them, the slimiest, the stupidest, has been bought and paid for with the blood of the Redeemer, the eternal Person of the Son who became flesh and blood. And so each one, even the most criminal, has a dignity that surpasses your and my ability to grasp, and will always do so. And without real faith I will never see that dignity in them. And so I will not see them as my end or purpose. I will begin to see them as a means to my end, which will be my own personal convenience and peace of mind. And because so many of them are emotionally disturbed, they will get in the way of my enjoyment and peace of mind. Soon I will acquire the "show 'em the door" mentality. I've heard people talk that way before: 'show em the door', 'happy trails'. And I understand the stress that lies at the root of such comments. I have made such comments myself on many occasions. I have struggled and continue to struggle with such temptations. But it is a temptation. It is a strong temptation to marginalize the poor, and they are truly poor. I'm sure you've all heard Mother Teresa say that there is a deeper and more difficult poverty here in our major cities than there is in Calcutta, India. A poverty of loneliness, a poverty of love. And she is right. I'd rather suffer the pangs of hunger than have to endure the things some of our young people have to endure daily.

The purpose of a Catholic teacher's life is not a tranquil mind and a pain free body, it is the person. This is exactly what Pope John Paul's Encyclical letter Redemptor Hominis (the Redeemer of Man) is all about. Section III is so good that I have to quote some of it: He says:

We are not dealing with abstract man, but real, "concrete," historical man. We are dealing with each man, for each one is included in the mystery of the Redemption and with each one Christ has united Himself for ever through this mystery. Every man comes into the world through being conceived in his mother's womb and being born of his mother, and precisely on account of the mystery of the Redemption is entrusted to the solicitude of the Church. Her solicitude is the whole human person and is focused on him in an altogether special manner. The object of her care is the human person in his unique unrepeatable human reality, which keeps intact the image and likeness of God Himself...This man is the way for the Church — a way that is the basis of all the other ways that the Church must walk — because each man, each person, without exception whatever — has been redeemed by Christ, and because with man — with each man without any exception whatever — Christ is in a way united, even when the person is unaware of it. (Pt III, sec 13, 14)

The way for the teacher is always before him or her. The student before me is my purpose. What do I do with that person? What does God want me to do?

When I began asking that question, I started thinking about my former teachers, both high school and elementary. And I went to a non-Catholic school. I never had a Catholic education. And what I gradually began to realize was that I don't remember what these teachers of mine taught me. In thinking about my high school years — and I have very good memories of high school — I realized that I don't remember the physics that my physics teacher taught me. I forgot it all. I don't remember the calculus I was taught. And I took French every year in high school in Montreal. And I forgot my French by the time I finished my Bachelor's degree. I wish I hadn't because I chose to do my graduate work at the University of Montreal. I had to re-learn it all again by immersion. So I didn't retain the French I was taught. I forgot the novels I read. I have forgotten Quebec law, and much of Canadian history. But I have never forgotten my teachers. I remember them from kindergarten. I have forgotten what they taught me. I have not forgotten who they were to me. And I don't imagine I ever will forget who they were to me. The day I realized that was the day I became a teacher — and I had been teaching a few years before I had truly become a teacher.

These students I see before me day in and day out will forget what I am teaching them, but they will never forget who I am to them.

One year I kept dreaming of a former high school teacher of mine. He was my French teacher. On three occasions that year I woke up feeling a tremendous peace. I felt strengthened and I felt happy. And all I dreamt about was that teacher. He was simply gazing at me, smiling as he used to do about 20 years ago. That's all there was to the dream. He wasn't a teacher who counselled me. I never sat down to chat with him. He never coached me. He was my grade 7 French teacher (grade 7 is first year high school in Quebec). And of course I never did learn French in high school.

But I remember him and I remember how he'd look at me. Twenty years later I'd have a dream and that's all I'd see — that teacher looking at me, smiling. And the dream occurred again a few months later, and once again I awoke feeling strengthened. And it happened a third time a few months after that. Then I began to wonder what it all meant. What does this mean? Is God trying to tell me something through this dream? I knew the dream had a meaning because I just could not forget it. I believe I finally discovered its meaning one day while reflecting on it in a chapel at a Monastery. I realized that I relate to my students and gaze at them in much the same way as he related to me. And how did he relate to me? I realized upon reflection that he was one of the first adults to look at me with an expression that spoke of unconditional acceptance. He looked at me as if I was a human person, equal in dignity to him. As a twelve-year-old kid I saw my goodness in his gaze. I discovered myself in his gaze and I did not even realize it until a good twenty years later. His gaze has lived in me ever since. It has always been alive within me and I behold my students in much the same way. He did more for me psychologically than I am capable of formulating. And I think I remember just two words of the French he taught me.

It was at that time that I understood what Mother Teresa meant when she wrote:

We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do. We speak of our God, good, clement and understanding; but are we the living proof of it? Those who suffer, can they see this goodness, this forgiving God, this real understanding in us? Never let anyone come to you without coming away better and happier. Everyone should see goodness in your face, in your eyes, in your smile.

Profound words. She says in another work:

When a poor person comes to you, receive him or her with a smile. This is the greatest gift God has given you: having the strength to accept anything He might give you and being willing to give back to Him anything He might ask of you.

Or in another work she writes:

To the poor, to all who suffer and are lonely, give always a happy smile.

There it is. We shall never know all the good a simple smile can do. That's what my dream was all about. What do I do for this kid or that kid who couldn't pass my course if they were to take it every year for the next ten years? Be there! That's all. My mother is an addiction counsellor for Street Haven at the Crossroads. She's been working with addicts and prostitutes for years. The success rate is very low for recovering addicts. And you can ask her: "What can you do for these people? What do you do for these people?" And she will say: "Be there". That's all you can do is "Be there". Teach them, of course. But what about the kid who couldn't pass my course if he was forced to repeat it? Just be there. Allow them to see their goodness in your gaze. Allow them to discover themselves in your gaze. Allow them to know that they are loveable in and through your countenance. Difficult to do. Not easy. And what I say is not poetry. It's difficult for all of us because we are so pleasure bent, or to put it bluntly, selfish. It is difficult because it involves a great deal of self-transcendence. It requires guts, courage, mortification. It isn't easy having to transcend our own moods and caprices. But what I have to teach them they will eventually forget. They will forget the details. They will remember one or two things, and those things will be important. But what is it that will give them strength in the future, the strength to go on? What will bring them a deep rooted sense of peace, a deep rooted, perhaps unconscious knowledge of their goodness? The same thing that strengthened me and continues to give me strength: people. My teachers. Not their words, not their curriculum, although that was important. There was something more important than their curriculum. They were and I was. I was more important, and they knew that — some of them, at least.

And I do believe that what I have to teach my kids is important.

But there is something more important. They are. Who I am to them, how I relate to them is far more important. All the knowledge we give them is useless and possibly even dangerous if they receive it without knowing that they are good and loved by God. What ultimate good can knowledge possibly be if it does not serve their salvation? That's where joy comes in.

If you truly see the goodness in the worst of your students, you will smile; you will meet them with a joyful countenance. Mother Teresa tells her sisters to stay in bed if they can't smile. The poor suffer enough. They don't need to see your miserable gaze, she tells them. And she'd say the same to Catholic teachers. Especially to Catholic teachers, because we serve the truly poor of this world, at least according to Mother Teresa. Stay in bed if you can't bring a piece of heaven into the classroom with you every morning. Young people suffer enough. They don't need more misery than they already have.

To look upon them with a sincerely joyful countenance it is necessary to understand that: "a human person is always more than what he determines himself to be by his choices." Especially a young person. A young person is always more than what he determines himself to be by his choices.

I believe Sartre was wrong. Existence does not precede essence. The person does not entirely determine his essence by the free exercise of his choices. He is always more than that. We know that's true theologically because the worst kid in my class or your classroom has been bought at a price — the blood of God's own Son. And if I can only experience disgust when looking at him or her, there's something terribly wrong with me. I am unable to see straight.

It's our task to awaken the kids in our classes to that truth, the truth that you, Johnny Thug, are more than what you make yourself to be by your choices. Your choices do shape your moral identity, but you are more than your sins. That's a truth that will set them free, and we awaken them to that truth by the way we gaze at them, by the way we relate to them. They can't get it any other way. The only word I can think of that best expresses this way of relating to the kids is reverence. We have to revere them, look at them with reverence. I ask any teacher: how can you really believe that they have been purchased at the cost of Christ's death and not look at them with reverence? Especially the worst of them? What does Christ see in them that I cannot see? Tim Crowley, who used to teach at Regina Pacis years ago, and who as you all know passed away in January, used to tell me that before entering a classroom, be sure to realize that you are about to tread upon holy ground. That's reverence. From reverence comes a spirit of gentleness, and gentleness is something Tim always used to exhort me to, even up to his death. Years ago, when I taught with him, I never quite knew what he meant, and I'd argue with him: "Love isn't always gentle and kind. Sometimes it's tough." Of course that is true, and he knew it, but he continued exhorting me nonetheless. Gentleness, kindness, patience. Especially when dealing with the young. I couldn't quite get it then. But when those students I mentioned above began to disclose to me what was really going on in their lives, I began to understand my old friend. Our kids need kindness, gentleness, patience. They need to be treated with the gentleness required to hold a baby chick or a new-born kitten, especially the big and tough ones (they only wear the tough paraphernalia because they are wounded and vulnerable children that have no use for further injury). In order to be gentle, you have to taste the darkness and suffering of these people. If we didn't know their darkness, we couldn't become aware of the need to be gentle. Tim knew all about gentleness, kindness, and patience because he suffered terribly, growing up as he did in a home broken by alcohol. He knew emotional pain, and so he could see it all too readily in his students.

I discovered myself in his gaze and I did not even realize it until a good twenty years later. His gaze has lived in me ever since. It has always been alive within me and I behold my students in much the same way. He did more for me psychologically than I am capable of formulating. And I think I remember just two words of the French he taught me.

It is difficult to be a teacher of youth today. There is suffering. But as the history of Israel makes very clear (not to mention the history of the 20th Century), human beings are at their worst when they prosper, that is, when they are not suffering. Prosperity seems to breed the worst in us. It is only through suffering that we find the Lord. Tim knew this, especially in his final battle with cancer. He always maintained that his most joyful year, the most fruitful year of his life, was his final year, the year he went to battle against cancer of his liver. He lost the battle against cancer, but he won the battle against himself. The Lord dwells in the midst of our own personal suffering. Suffering can make us angry and arrogant if we reject it, or we can allow it to purify us of all vestiges of self-love. Then and there, in the midst of suffering, if we choose to look, we will find the crucified but risen Lord. And only then, through suffering joined to the crucified, do we really accomplish anything that has lasting and eternal value. We are always more than our diseases. Our students are always more than their wounds. If we were redeemed by Christ's Incarnation and Passion, it should not surprise us that he calls us to redeem others in the same way — through patience, through humility, long-suffering. I am personally convinced that the more we taste their darkness, the more they will taste our joy (if we have it, that is). Mind you, if we don't have that joy, we will refuse to taste their darkness.

It's a question here of joining their darkness to our light. This is an important truth, and I tend to forget it at times. And when we forget it, we may fall into despair. If you no longer live, but Christ lives in you, and if you are there for the kids, and they see how happy you are, you do more for those kids than you are capable of measuring. They find relief from their suffering in your classroom.

To make an analogy, think of a lonely old somebody in a nursing home, sitting all day just waiting for their next meal. Alone, joyless. Were you to pay them a visit for ten or fifteen minutes with genuine enthusiasm, you will probably go away feeling as if you had done nothing at all. But if there was a way to get inside the old lady or old man and experience what she knows or he knows and feels, you would realize that your visit was like a trip to the zoo. You brought her more relief and brought more light into her darkness than you felt leaving the premises. If you are a carrier of God's love and light and the warmth of that love exudes from your person, that is what happens in your classroom and you may not know it. I can see that with regard to some other teachers. I personally feel good walking into their classrooms. How much more the students? So the more you experience their darkness, the more they experience your light, your joy. It's as if you have taken on their suffering for a time and have given them a rest.

But this conviction can only be sustained by faith, and of course faith can only be kept alive by prayer and Eucharist. Without these despair begins to replace faith. Despair is the Devil's weapon. And there is a lot of despair around. There always has been and always will be. But we must not despair.

One day in the dead of winter I went up to Marylake Monastery and walked through the snow up towards the wooden chapel on the hill. It was dark outside and of course completely dark within the chapel. I had only a few matches in my pocket, so I grabbed one small votive candle, not the large $2.00 kind, but one of the small ones. I lit one match, but it went out. Another, and it too went out. I had one left. I hovered around and lit it very carefully. I put the candle below the statue of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. When I was about to leave I was surprized that one small candle was enough for me to see everything and for me to make my way around the chapel.

Even if there is only one of you in your school — and I'm sure there are more — but even if one day it turns out that only one of you among the entire staff is willing to enter your classroom with faith and a willingness to suffer and with a sense of authentic joy, the situation in the school will not be entirely hopeless. The kids will be able to make their way through the darkness of their lives and this world by virtue of your faith. Amen.



mcmanaman Douglas McManaman. "Suffering and Joy: On the Importance of Bringing a Joyful Spirit into the Classroom." (October 28, 1996).

Reprinted with permission of Douglas McManaman.

Originally, this was a talk given on October 28th, 1996, by Douglas McManaman, at Holy Rosary Church in Toronto, sponsored by Dr. Thomas Langan, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto.

The Author

mcmanamanwbasmMcManamanaDoug McManaman is a Deacon and a Religion and Philosophy teacher at Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy in Markham, Ontario, Canada. He is the past president of the Canadian Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. Deacon Douglas studied Philosophy at St. Jerome's College in Waterloo, and Theology at the University of Montreal. He is the author of Christ Lives!, The Logic of AngerWhy Be Afraid?, Basic Catholicism, Introduction to Philosophy for Young People, and A Treatise on the Four Cardinal Virtues. Deacon McManaman is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center. Visit his website here

Copyright © 1996 Douglas McManaman
back to top