That Moment When an Elementary Student Taught Me More Theology than My Master’s Program


Last fall I started volunteering as a mentor to an elementary student at a local Catholic school. I was nervous at first because this was the first time I served as a mentor to a young student. On that first day, the school counselor thought it would be nice for the student to give me a tour of the school. On this tour, I was making small-talk and the topic eventually led to saints [Icons of saints are present at every classroom door].

I posed this simple question to the student, “Who is your favorite saint?” The reason I received from him was simple but also tightly packed with theology! The student quickly responded with a sheepish grin, “Fr. John is my favorite saint!” Though I was half-tempted to qualify his statement by saying, “Well, I meant technically a canonized saint…”  I stopped myself. Since that day I have pondered this revelatory statement at least once a week.

The more I reflected on my mentor student’s statement the more and more theology I realized was packed into it. Here are a few truths I gleaned from his statement:

  1. Holiness can start now: Sanctity is not reserved for after our death or even later in our earthly lives. To reference my recent post on purgatory, I used to believe purgatory was a “period” similar to an extra period in a sports game. Yet, my student’s reply is simple and true, our priest is like a saint to him because he knows holiness when he sees it.
  2. Priest, like saints, reflect God’s light:  The moon, which reflects the sun’s light, is a common image the early Church Fathers used to describe Mary, who reflects the son’s light. Similarly, we are called to be that same reflection. Christ even goes further when he calls his followers in Matthew 5:14-16 to be the “light of the world”. Perhaps the best truth that came forth from my student’s statement is summed up best when placing it next to St. Athanasius’ famous quote from On the Incarnation. He says, “God became man that man might become God”. I truly believe our parish priest is on that same path.
  3. My parish is doing something right: I should qualify this by saying our parish is doing something right by allowing God’s grace to work in the people I have encountered there. My student’s proclamation, “Fr. John is my favorite saint!” is certainly a testament to our priest’s strong faith and reverence for the sacrament of Holy Orders. But I am sure he will agree with me in saying there is another source at work besides himself. It is the work of the Trinity. Not only at work in my student’s heart, but God is working through the dedicated teachers, administrative staff, and parishioners alike.

Many people tell me I am having a positive impact on that elementary student’s life each week I meet with him over lunch. What I do know for certain is that I get more graces than I give in mentoring. This “living theology” is something I never experienced during my graduate studies.  I thank God every day for the joy He gives me each week in serving Him.

Thank you for sharing!

My Occasional Dark Night

For several years of my life, the final words of Jesus before his death on the Cross puzzled me. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34).  The word forsaken according to a thesaurus has many synonyms but the two that stand out to me are quit and desert.  Let’s insert these words into the previous quote and read it again. On the Cross Jesus cries out, “My God, my God why have you quit on me and deserted me?” I think that everyone relate to Christ’s words. Within my own life I feel God has quit on me too many times remember. Because of this, I may be currently experiencing a period of abandonment and loneliness. 

Why am I telling you this? Is my accusation of God’s commitment to me a grave danger to my Catholic faith? Is my feeling of abandonment caused by outside factors such as my work, stress, the winter weather or something else? Perhaps. However, I felt compelled to journal about my inner struggles as a Catholic man as a type of prayer to God Himself. 

Let me back up and explain how I have grown to realize that feeling abandoned by God is not necessarily a bad thing. A few years ago, I was taking graduate theology courses and there was a particular class where I was required to read St. John of the Cross’s A Dark Night of the Soul– a spiritual grace that flowed from his period of spiritual loneliness. During this time of my life, I starting reading the Diary of St. Maria Faustina and she expressed similar sentiment. The Polish saint writes, “O Jesus, today my soul is as though darkened by suffering. Not a single ray of light” (Diary 195), Her words express my exact thoughts today. 

When I read Faustina’s words I felt provoked to learn more about the words of the dying Christ, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It turns out that the Gospels writers were making an allusion to Psalm 22- a prayer the psalmist wrote as a lament to God. I believe that the Holy Spirit was teaching me by fusing my theological background of the Scriptures with my current life experiences. 

Maybe God is allowing me to suffer spiritual loneliness because He knows that this will direct me on the path of prayer again. Lately, I have not been the best Catholic. I have been impatient at work and home. I allow doubt to creep into my life. Perhaps this spiritual abandonment is the greatest gift God can grant to me now. Perhaps God is doing the same thing in your life now. Let’s embrace this loneliness together and continue to hope in God’s Providence. Amen. 

Thank you for sharing!

Armadillos or Peccadillos

I recently watched a nature themed kids’ television show with my son. The animal talked about during this episode was the armadillo. I personally find this creature fascinating—armor for defense and ability to roll up in a ball—how cool is that! My line of thought is somewhat interesting so please let me explain the connection an armored placental mammal has with the title of today’s post.

The dictionary defines the word peccadillo as “a minor sin or offense”.  In fact, the word derives from the Latin word “peccare” which meant “to sin”. Why I am I bringing this up? Well, I am not sure about the rest of humanity, but from my perspective I struggle constantly with the little sins adding up. I justify my lack of concern but thinking, “Matt these are only minor offenses, really I am a good guy and an overall good husband”. I had a revelation during my weekly men’s faith group at my Church—being a “good guy or good husband” is not GOOD ENOUGH.

I have mentioned this New Testament story in a past post, but I think it is appropriate for me to reflect upon Mark 10:17-27 again especially during this Lenten season. Here Jesus encounters a rich young man who asks our Lord a simply and profound question, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus then asks if the man keeps the commandments and he responds quickly, “Teacher, I have kept these things from my youth up!” But the next sentence uttered from Christ sends the man home in sadness—he is challenged to give up his attachment to earthly things.

I truly relate to the rich young man as I am quick to say “Teacher, I have kept these things [commandments] from my youth up.” In other words, I have lived most of my life free from mortal sin and only stumble by way of peccadillos. Yet this is not the mindset of a Christian who fully loves the Creator. I need to make a better pledge to utilize the sacrament of Confession and allow my holy helpmate (my wife) in the sacrament of Matrimony to cleanse me of my minor sins. What is more, it is through all the sacraments but specifically these two sacraments will allow me to adopt an armadillos’ defense against sin. To quote St. Paul in Ephesians 6:11, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.”

That is my challenge for you all today, became a “holy armadillo” to protect yourself from the devil’s plot and avoid committing peccadillos.

Thank you for sharing!