I’ve taught some 700 boys in this place. I’ve had good days and bad, like any other in any other profession. There are moments in which you think things cannot get more confused, more convoluted and disintegrated than at the present moment, when frustration is at the peak and the sight of what we are about seems utterly lost.
And then you have these random encounters with people: former students, old parents and their ilk. And you can’t imagine how it is they come to you, visit with you and want to reconnect, how they express from some hidden depth how much you – and your institution – meant and continues to mean to their son(s). You sit there in bewildered wonderment, remembering those times in the classroom when you lost your temper or your plans weren’t right or the whole piece was lost to hell because of some scheduling conflict. So you sit there in suspicion that anyone can look at what you see everyday and find a great deal of grace and redemption in a confused and conflated piece of teaching.
And yet they do find grace, they find some great meaning in what we are about. We look around at each other knowing we are full of all sort of sin and shortcoming. A teacher tells me everyday he wants to strangle me by the scarf I wear and I, in turn, utter some comment of contempt against him. It all goes on in seeming sinful carousel. And yet, and yet. Elie Wiesel – the famous survivor of the Holocaust – says those are his most meaningful words: and yet.
Our place was started by men who felt inspired by a man – all of whom they never met – who struggled mightily in France during the revolution that sought among many things, to destroy in every capacity any sign of the Incarnation. It sought to bring reason to the fore and to guillotine any other thing that stood in its way. This man – a simple priest – stood at a corner in beggars clothes and gave absolution to those in carts on their way to execution.
And it is this man we have inherited. This must be at the fore: we have inherited the courage, the doubt, the fear and humanity this man – William Joseph Chaminade – dragged through the streets of his torrential world. When we begin to abstract his life we begin to lose focus; when we extract his words and message, we lose sight of the heroic and saintly virtue his life of sacrifice has to teach us.
A few parents came to me this evening, quite unexpectedly, and we conversed about their sons and the impact of Chaminade. And I couldn’t help but think, in that dingy place in a gloomy St. Louis, that a man who has been dead long enough, that we are speaking his name and bringing it back to the Word who brought all things to himself. We complicate things, we teachers and parents and students. There are few who see through to the simplicity of grace and long to live there and teach the rest what it means.
I didn’t know I’d come to a place where a man from a foreign time and place would hold such precedence among my own goings on. And I find myself, modern as I am, inspired by this figure who gave himself utterly to the love of God through the Mother without any thought of his own future. Stresses and turmoil abounded throughout his life and in the fledgling order, as they do now in our own day with our own lay faculty. His commitment remains ever true, ever clear: the love of Christ floods away any difficulty, any interior anguish, any superficial construct.
Blessed Chaminade teaches us to fall into the love of Jesus. Anything less, anything beside, is utterly irrelevant. I saw this today in the people I met.