By Fran Lavelle
I often say that we stand on the shoulders of jerks and giants. From the jerks we learn important lessons of who we do not want to become. Without naming names, I had several bosses in my adolescence and post-college years who fit into this category. They were less than gracious when it came out to dealing with conflict and non-existent when it came to offering praise. These bosses gave me insight as to who I did not want to be.
Thankfully we also stand on the shoulders of giants. These are the people who, by their example, teach us how to treat others with respect, care for those in need, and provide a loving environment for those around them. I imagine you can quickly identify in your own life one or two jerks as well as several giants that have helped shape and form you for the better. My list of giants is quite large. My dad certainly tops the list. I still reflect on the lessons he taught me and find myself reaching for the phone even though he has been gone for many years.
So too in the Church we have examples of both. The stories of those who violate the trust of the faithful go back to the beginning of Church. Unfortunately, those stories have impacted far too many people over time. Thankfully the Church in her wisdom preserves the canon of Saints as a litany of giants to inspire us to live holy lives.
I was recently thumbing through book of saints and stumbled upon a saint whose feast we will celebrate at the end of January. Happily, for me, I rediscovered St. John Bosco! He is the patron saint of magicians, but more importantly he is known as the patron of school children.
John Bosco was two when his father died. He had limited opportunities for education. Eventually he did receive and education and made it a priority to educate others who had challenging backgrounds. My rediscovery of John Bosco reminded me of his role in founding a religious community dedicated to educating young people. In 1859, Bosco formed the “Society of St. Francis de Sales.” This was the beginning of the Salesians, the religious order that to this day continues his work.
John Bosco and the Salesians developed a pedagogy for educating children known as the Preventative System. The basis for the system is three-fold: Reason, Religion and Loving-Kindness. The practice of this system is based on the words of St. Paul, who says: Love is patient, love is kind it bears all things … hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:4.7) This was paradigm-shifting as the norm at the time included intensive corporal punishment, little reasoning and no notion of love or kindness. We stand on the shoulders of giants.
I look around the Church today and see so many areas where we need a paradigm shift. For one, we need serious catechesis on the Role of the Assembly but that’s a topic for another time. Apathy is a comfortable response. We can become overwhelmed in our thinking that the jerks are winning and simply give up. The thing is, they are not. There are so many people who work tirelessly to educate, form and empower the faithful. They are from all vocations, backgrounds and cultures. We have all heard that if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. The giants in our lives remind us that being part of the solution is not always easy, but it is worthwhile.
As our focus turns to Catholic Schools Week, may we celebrate the saints that went before who established Catholic schools and for those who carry on the legacy of Catholic education today. Catholic schools make a difference. Ask an administrator, faculty member, staff, parent, grandparent, student, or clergy why they support Catholic education. It’s because they recognize that we stand on the shoulders of giants. They recognize the importance of the mission. They gladly make great sacrifices to pass on the light of faith, the gift of knowledge, and an opportunity to plant seeds for generations to come.
Thanks to all the unnamed people in our schools and parishes who are the St. John Bosco’s of our time. He saw a system of education that used fear and punishment to motivate young learners. He saw a way to captivate their hearts and minds and create a positive learning environment. Every bit of formational ministry is important. Thank you all for making a difference in every day in big and little ways. You have the shoulders of giants.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)