This week we graduated our kindergartners, and this weekend, our eighth graders. The two occasions share wardrobe and sentiment, and despite their many differences, the same delight.
I was marveling with one of the kindergarten teachers at how much those children change. When they arrived last fall, their attitudes ranged all the way from anxious to fully terrified. Now their confidence and capability is astonishing. How much they grow and change!
The eighth graders are somewhat less obvious about it, but they change too. In fact, in raw height, they may grow even more than the little ones do! Similarly, to see how much confidence and charisma they have developed over just the past year makes me proud that they will represent Saint Bernadette at all their high schools this fall.
You see, we priests have gone to school quite a lot – as Father Nick claims, he is in 29th grade. I only made it to 22nd. Once you get past a certain point, you stop noticing much change, except for credits and degrees. The rewards of higher education are a little more abstract, and eventual.
Not here; no sir. Here, hardly a month goes by that you don’t see the kids becoming more articulate, more engaged, more interested and interesting. And taller. It is exciting and encouraging to teach them. With kids, if you find something they are not very good at, you can predict with confidence that they will soon be better, and possibly very good. That’s not so true with adults.
Of course, I teach grownups as well, and I confess that sometimes I wonder if any of it is having any impact. There’s so little perceptible change, you see! Maybe I am just feeling it because last week was Trinity Sunday and we really had to try to preach doctrine, an effort whose fruits are always hard to gauge.
But just like back when we were in seminary, and not getting any taller, still, there is growth – growth in grace. God’s patience is directed toward our salvation, as Saint Peter reminds us in one of my favorite lines from his letters. Every day we are exposed to that grace, which gives gifts and growth to all who do not resist or reject it.
So while we may not get a degree, or even very much credit, you and I who are adults continue to grow where it counts most. It’s easier to see in the kids, sure, but that helps us to remember how our Father-God sees us. As we often see in children development to which they themselves are oblivious, we are likely not nearly so aware as our doting Father is of the changes in us.
So, congratulations to our students who step off this week and step up to the next level of challenge. Congratulations, too, to the teachers and parents who are bringing them along. And may all of us, teachers and learners alike, continue to open our hearts to the enlightenment of God’s grace, in which we grow to full stature as heirs of God’s perfect glory.