Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ministers, not Messiahs

Editor's Note: This reflection is based on the gospel reading for the day. It was my last prayer service with Montgomery Catholic's high school faculty on May 29, 2008

"As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd,
Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus,
sat by the roadside begging.
On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth,
he began to cry out and say,
“Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”
And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.
But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called the blind man, saying to him,
“Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”
He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?”
The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.”
Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”
Immediately he received his sight
and followed him on the way." Mk 10:46-52

With the graduation of our students on Monday, the end of the school year yesterday and those of us leaving for other places, this is the time of year for both introspection and retrospection--looking in and looking behind us, a time to take stock.

There are, for sure, many signs of progress here. Earlier this week, I did something I wasn't sure I'd ever do. This entire building project we began in 1995 was premised on a 600 student campus, 100 in each grade, for grades 7-12. On Monday of this week, I wait-listed our 101st applicant to the ninth grade. Extraordinary. In the last six years, we've built together new athletic fields, a fieldhouse, a concession stand, a middle school, renovated the gym, enlarged the chapel and are a little over two months away completing the Dolly Barranco Student Activity Center and re-modeling the old cafeteria into 4 additional classrooms. This, too, is extraordinary.

These are good signs, but they do not measure our success. They are a means to an end, and the end, of course, is whether we are truly building STUDENTS, not new structures. Our mission statement says it succinctly: we aim to create people of faith, virtue and wisdom. Are we doing that?

That question still keeps me up at night, and it ought to give all of us pause. It is the only question that really matters in our ministry to students.

That being said, I take great comfort in the gospel about blind Bartimaeus. He calls out to the Lord "Have pity on me! Heal me!" Bartimaeus could just as easily be one of our students. A freshman girl, saying through her poor academic performance, "I am unhappy. I have no confidence in myself, heal me!" A junior boy without a father in his life, acting out, "Heal my hurt". A sophomore girl with an eating disorder, all but shouting "I don't like myself, have pity on me".

And the gospel says that many people rebuked Bartimaeus, telling him to be quiet.

But here's what makes the story interesting. Jesus hears Bartimaeus, but doesn't go directly to him. He tells some people in the crowd to go get him. "Call him", he says. So they call him and say "Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you".

Take courage, get up, Jesus is calling you.

Our jobs, as teachers in a Catholic school, is not to heal. We are not miracle workers, and there is comfort in knowing that. Rather, we are the people that say to our students, "Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you". It is our job to bring our students to the Lord. The Lord heals. "We are", as Archbishop Romero once prayed, "the workers, not the master builders, ministers, and not messiahs." May all of us continue in this noble work.

As our school looks to its future and as some of us now move onto other venues, I am reminded powerfully of a prayer from Dag Hammarskjold, a Swedish diplomat and once Secretary General of the United Nations,

"For all that has been...thanks. For all that will be.....yes!"

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