Life is the only teacher for lessons high school seniors have yet to learn
By George Valadie
Like many Catholics throughout the country, Nancy and I, until recently, have been attending Sunday Mass virtually.
We’ve celebrated liturgies from Chattanooga to Boston and points in between.
Some churches were empty, some were coming back from the dead. Being there is better, but getting to see the architecture of so many churches and listen to clergy from across the country has been nice, different, often enlightening, and, dare I say, enjoyable.
I’ve never written a homily, never had to give one, so I can’t imagine how difficult it must be. Adding to the challenge must surely be the fact that the congregation to whom the priests preach is composed of so many different people — young and old, conservative and liberal, gay and straight, rich and poor, suffering and celebrating, saints in the making and sinners from way back, the devout and the every-so-often.
Not to mention colors of many hues.
I imagine these priests’ goal must be to not only talk to all of them but to reach inside and touch a piece of as many as they can. A goal made that much more difficult when the only real things they seem to have in common are their baptisms and the Man on the cross to whom they pray.
A couple of weeks ago, we were watching a livestreamed Mass when the pastor began his homily with, “Any questions?”
As is true most every time a priest asks a question, no hands went up. Not a one. Or should I say mine never does.
So he continued with what surely seemed like the strangest homily I had ever heard, “Does anyone have any questions? Now’s the time to ask.”
Once again, no volunteers, no hands, no curiosity.
And then — as if he had never asked — he changed course and jumped into what seemed to be his real message of the day. It was a curious approach. I never did know where he was going with it, as he never circled back to his beginning, but it did start me thinking.
Oftentimes at our school, it’s the seniors who sit right up front in our makeshift theater-turned-church for the day.
I tried to picture them hearing his sermon, “Any questions?”
They’ve attended Mass there weekly for four years now. And according to their countdown calendar, it’s but a matter of days before they’ll be our next class of proud graduates.
It started me thinking: Do they have any questions?
Before they leave, before all of this is nothing more than a memory, do they have any questions about where they’ve been or what lies ahead? Here and now, just hours before they graduate, my guess is there are quite a few. At least more questions than answers.
They’d never raise their hands either, that’s not their style. But you can identify with them, can’t you? Didn’t you have questions when you were a senior? I’m guessing they have many of the same ones as well as some we never considered.
I never did understand those geometry theorems; I wonder if I’m gonna need those?
I hear we get a lot of cash presents. I wonder how much?
Will graduating make me happy or sad? Will I miss any of these people? Will they miss me? Will I ever see them again?
What will my roommate be like? I wonder if we’ll get along. Do you think I’ll be homesick? Is college as hard as the teachers say it is? Or as easy as last year’s seniors have been saying?
I understand high school credits, but I haven’t figured out college hours yet. Will somebody be there to explain that?
Just picking a college has been hell. And now they’re already asking me what I plan to study. I’m not even sure I know what a ‘major’ is.
All kinds of people have fun and pass their classes, too, don’t they? Will I? Can I? I hear there’s a lot of free time. I wonder what’s the best way to handle it? How will I handle it?
Dad says I can’t mess up and lose this scholarship. Does that ever happen? Really?
Truthfully, I don’t even know if I want to go to college. Am I going because they said I should? Because my friends are going? Am I going for me? Or them?
Am I going to learn? Or to get a job? How can you ask a question if you have 200 other kids in a class? Will anyone care if I have a question?
Where will I land someday? Will I ever come back home? Or will my job take me elsewhere? Will I move time and time again? What sort of job will I have? Will I get a job? Will I ever get to be the boss? Will I ever get fired?
Will I ever come back for a reunion? Ten years go by fast. I wonder who else will come? What will they look like then? What will I look like? Will I be excited to see them? I wonder if my favorite teacher will still be here?
I think I want to keep going to church. I wonder if I will?
I’ve been looking forward to this, but Mom’s always done the laundry. What was I thinking?
Do you think I’ll meet my future spouse in college? I wonder if I’ve already met them? And what about kids? Oh Lord, I might have kids?
Questions and more questions — and all of them real. All of them good ones. And with the exception of the one about geometry theorems, I don’t think we teachers can help with even one. Not the kind they’re probably asking.
As is always the case, their answers will come in due time. Some will render the happiest days of their lives, but some of those answers will bring what feels like an unending and unbearable pain.
We wish we could help. We wish we could ease the painful parts. We wish we could help with the answers. But we can’t.
The best we have to offer are the days we’ve spent with them, our prayers, and a little encouragement to spend some time with the Man on the cross.
Thankfully, He’s going with them.
Dear God — They know not where they go. Nor does anyone else. Please help them get there safely. Amen.