Stern ol' teacher Sister Ruth, 4th through 6th grade. A throwback. Came of age during the Depression and worked in Communist China teaching the heathens. Them and later us.
I remember a few incidents like they were yesterday but only these few, probably because I spent so much of the time dreaming outside the present moment:
- the shock and awe of one female student crying and screaming “I hate you!” to Sister. The response seemed measured and calm, although I remember the eruption more than the response. I couldn't believe you could say that in class.
- How she loved all hymns because they expressed holy sentiments. Lyrics uber alles.
- How she didn't mind dull sermons because she knew someone needed to hear what was being preached. I recall being shocked by that notion; I thought only in terms of me, of course, and couldn't imagine “liking” a homily for the sake of another.
- Her comparing sin and forgiveness to the opening of a feather pillow from a height and watching helplessly as the feathers fell, seemingly irretrievable, except by God.
- And, of course, the time she called me “a dreamer”. I assume derogatorily, although I doubt I took it that way then. I think I thought it meant I was special.
Three years and that's all I recall. It's amazing how sometimes small things can be disproportionate in memory.
Ultimately (perhaps unfortunately) self-knowledge offered from the perspective of others is highly memorable, especially when it has never occurred to you before. When the mother at a party of fellow seven-year olds told me my name was “so common” her comment stung (did it at the time? Or did “common” only later seem a negative? the tricks of memory….) and has resounded in my head for over forty years though the children I was with at the party have been long forgotten. Words are often more memorable than people, which is an very odd thing if you think about it given how little they mean compared to people.
I think of Sister Ruth with affection now and a bit of awe at the self-giving emblematic of all those nuns. Like Nixon, we don't have them to kick around anymore and we're feeling their loss severely (i.e. in Catholic school closings and sky-high tuition). At the time Sister and I felt on “different teams”, that unbridgeable gulf between teacher and student, ruler and ruled. Now I feel like we're on the same team, oriented to the same goal of salvation, even though of course she was infinitely closer to her goal then (and presumably has reached it) than I am now.
I think also of likely the most devout Catholic (and counter-culture warrior) at high school was Mr. Mulchaey, a teacher concerning whom, at the time, I was mostly indifferent. He was a man's man but with a sense of wonder, wonder in the sense that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. I recall how airy and unreal that felt at the time. He was teaching theology-of-the-body-type concepts in the late '70s, or at least deep respect for the material God gave us and of the holiness of sex. Doesn't get more counter-cultural than that.
We had saints in our midst and we were blind – it's funny how we see clearly only in retrospect, of how those who sow seeds of faith do so with almost no immediate gratification. The long view is the Faith view, and given human nature I'm not sure there's any getting around that. We are all lagging indicators, usually only seeing the preciousness of people and the gift of Catholicism belatedly. Maybe not till Heaven.
Speaking of the afterlife, Blogger Bill at “The Gospel Truth” writes:
In the [preface] Father Robert Barron quotes a vision of St. Catherine of Siena where she suffered in her soul to even think that one of God’s creatures would be damned for all eternity. She said she did not know how to reconcile even one of your creatures made in his image and likeness should be lost and slip from your hands.
The Catholic Church is not one of just laws and judgments. It is the Church of love and mercy. But it is one pregnant with paradoxes and deep esoteric truths that most cannot fathom. God’s infinite mercy is irreconcilable with His absolute justice. It is the ultimate squared circle. We can’t understand it because it contradicts our human logic.
I also read a story about a priest who quipped while I am alive, I am all for God’s Justice but when I die, I am all for His mercy! A resounding Rush Limbaughesque Dittos to him!!*
Read interesting article about a guy who collected John Updike's trash for years. In the article Updike was quoted as saying that in his work he was interested in the tension between following one's desires and the consequences, how we may listen to our inner (often sexual) urges only to find the “social fabric collapses murderously” but of self-sacrifice and duty it “results in man's private agony and dwindling.” Sounds like the classic dilemma, of whether trying to save one's life, or to save one's soul. But a false dichotomy? – the last three pontiffs, Popes John Paul II, Benedict, and Francis hardly seem in agony or “dwindled” by their heroic adherence to Christianity.