Teaching teenagers is FUN. By fun I mean Frustrating, Unbelievably taxing, and No where I'd rather be. After all, it's the front lines. It's mission territory! And the grace and privilege of playing a part in forming young hearts in Christ is a treasure beyond words. Even when the treasures are diamonds in the rough.
Back to the frustrating and taxing part. A high school teacher gets to empathize with the ancient prophets quite often. We feel like Jeremiah for instance, who was largely ignored in his instructions to the People. We say the same thing a thousand times. We "invite" the students to read the directions we so lovingly place at the top of the test, but alas, they often fail to see it. We'd love to give them more freedom, but too often it gets abused and we're forced to "take them by the hand" as God did in this Sunday's reading from Jeremiah. When the young "break the covenant" in the classroom we have to show ourselves the master, as in this first reading. Trust me, I'd rather have them drawn to the beauty of truth, and carried on the sweet aroma of Christ, than drag them along by the threat of "yes, this is on the test."
But such is the human condition; we are out of sync. We're off key. Original Sin has caused the strings of our souls to go flat or sharp, and we need them to be tuned. That means we've got to be stretched (or loosened). We need music lessons again, because we've forgotten the original notes. It may take hours and hours of pounding those keys and getting our fingers calloused by playing the chords of the virtues over and over until they come as second nature to us. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews sees even Jesus, who was clearly without sin, as undergoing this stretching in order to teach us: "Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered."
Maybe that's why St. Augustine called this life a "gymnasium of desire." It's a real workout! I learn in every lesson I teach how I am called to be purified as well. One of the best lessons ever taught was by the outdoor classroom teacher, John the Baptist: "He must increase, I must decrease."
The Gospel this past Sunday from John 12 echoes this theme of self-sacrifice and self-discipline. It's the lesson of Lent, essentially; "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat." Wow, so that's it then, and no escaping it? "Is THAT gonna be on the test?" Oh yes, friends, it's the final exam. But don't look at it that way; like it's just work. It's the art of virtue. Imagine the magic that can happen when we learn our lessons well and listen to the Master. Sweet music! Music that swells up from within, inspired thoughts, incredible symphonies of virtue and holiness! Jeremiah foretold this day! "No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the LORD. All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD..."