Friday, February 1, 2008

Waxing Brilliant

I would like the angels of Heaven to be among us. I would like an abundance of peace. I would like full vessels of charity. I would like rich treasures of mercy. I would like cheerfulness to preside over all.
– St. Brigid of Ireland

When I went to Catholic elementary school, I was taught by nuns from Ireland. Most had a thick brogue, watered down a bit from living in the States. And they told us how different life for them was in Ireland. The nuns experienced culture shock living in an American suburb and seeing how their students' lives differed so much from their own childhoods. Once in a while, one of the nuns would ask us questions such as "Do you really watch TV while you do your homework? How do you expect to concentrate?" and then add sternly "Turn that box off! It won't get you into college." Yes, we were all going to college, girls included.

Because, you see, each student was precious to the nuns. Each one of us had potential. They believed in us. And whenever we managed to write our best, figure out the thorny math problem or give a good speech, the nuns had us thinking we were waxing brilliant.

"See? You are smarter than you believe," the nuns would say quietly. There was no handing out of saints medals or scapulars, no award that was tangible, but the accolades bestowed upon the prized student of the day was far more of a treasure than that. They gave us the gift of confidence in our ability to learn, a lifelong prize.

Of course a classroom of geniuses just doesn't happen so I can't ascribe all of this to the talents of their students. What I do ascribe it to are the words of St. Brigid above, that I heard often during my childhood and saw online this morning. Teaching that includes charity, mercy, peace and cheerfulness can only serve to enhance and build up, not tear down, a student's confidence. How often when I hear parents of children with disabilities tell me of some of their children's struggles that I wish I could bring back one of my teachers! And how I wish that children all over the world, even in the poorest places where they struggle to eat, could receive the gift of education. [ A Jesuit talks about his time in Kenya. (For a video at Monastic Musings, click here.)]

{Food for the Poor Inc. is a Christian organization that is rated here.]