By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series
This past week, I began my new assignment teaching at Detroit Catholic Central High School. Therefore, I have been reflecting recently on “all things new” — new city, new house, new confreres, new job, new friends and new students. Though I feel I should be used to the “newness” brought about by moving from one assignment to the other, I think the only aspect which I have mastered is how to pack.
Of all the things listed above, it is the students that have impacted my thoughts the most for I see in them what I myself feel. In their eyes, I see the fear of the unknown; in their nervous habits, my anxiety; and in their attentiveness, my commitment to excel. And, I imagine just about any parent or teacher feels the same thing.
The difference between my students and myself lies in the past. Quite simply, the more past we have, the more we try to hold on to, and the harder it is to live in the present moment. In the new rigor of a high school classroom, I am all too aware of the independence I once knew as a university chaplain. I miss my old friends, familiar food and the quiet habits that made up my days. I miss the expected and the benefit of the doubt that only comes when you have established yourself.
While I recognize that my students do not the miss things, people and places I do, I believe we are both longing for the same thing: to be comfortable. We long for a routine and the fulfillment of expectations. We long for the bank of good friends and good will that comes with establishment. However, the priest in me knows that comfort and the Gospel do not have a lot in common.
If God makes “all things new,” then one could argue that God makes all things uncomfortable. It is the kind of position that I believe many people hold, and the kind that keeps many on the fringe edges of religion. However if I am honest, my discomfort comes from the difficulty I find letting go of what has been. Just I have told all my new students this week, “learning is not meant to be comfortable,” so I believe God is asking me to be comfortable in the newness and to live always in the present moment. Thus, herein lies my prayer for the first few weeks of school: May all of us — teacher, student and parent alike — find comfort in the newness and excitement in the routines that are soon to follow.
As always, I welcome your thoughts, comments and perhaps your own addition to a prayer for students and teachers beginning a new school year.
Father Chris Valka, CSB, was ordained a priest for the Congregation of St. Basil in May.