Saturday, June 8, 2013

Some Thoughts From My High School Challenges

In eighth grade, my family was still living in Chesapeake, Virginia. I applied to the International Baccalaureate program at one of the schools in the district, and was accepted into the Pre-IB program to prepare for the full Diploma Program that comprises the junior and senior years. It was awesome. I made a lot of good friends, and had superb teachers. Then, my dad retired from the U.S. Navy, and we moved to Louisville, Kentucky.

It was an incredibly rough transition. First, I didn't want to leave. I wanted to grow further with my friends and peers. But the will of Our Father be done, not mine. Second, Atherton can be quite the 'liberal' school. Progressive politics are shared by most of the students, and at first I was not one to back down from a fight. We had a 'discussion day' on every Friday during my sophomore English class, where we discussed whatever topic we chose out of the box. Sophomores in high school almost always gun for the controversial one. Looking back, that caused a lot of problems, especially as I realize that I never wanted to talk about abortion, same-sex marriage, or pornography once I knew how much of a ruckus it caused. Catholics barely know and understand what and why the Church teaches what she does. How can I expect others to grasp it?  (An openly homosexual teacher compounded things...). I am talkative, but very shy at the same time. It is incredibly hard sometimes to make friends. And I also found the school to have quite an unbearable academic environment. Bad teachers, stupid policies. low motivation.

I was in a class for social studies with all-freshmen. That was awful. I did well in my freshmen history class, and couldn't bear being with kids learning the ropes still. But, guess what? We have to be patient so much more than we want to. It took a semester, but my teacher got me into independent study, and we were both very satisfied. And, she served as my IB Extended Essay mentor this year! I was forced to learn from her, and she learned from me, I think.

So, junior year rolls around. I could finally begin the IB Diploma Program. I was excited, and I met new people in my IB classes. I wrestled. But my dad got deployed at the end of sophomore year, and didn't get back until Holy Week of 2012. Quickly, the academic excitement faded when I realized people were not highly motivated, and did not take IB seriously. I had personal troubles at the end of the year, and the work swamped me throughout the year...

BUT, I learned not to quit through wrestling. I was forced for once to fully rely on God as I recovered from my ACL/MCL tears. I met people who I sorely missed in my senior classes, and I looked for good qualities in people, instead of broadly dismissing them for being liberals, or whatever. As Pope Francis, we have to meet people where they are at in life. Never neglect Truth, but bring it in pint-size packages. Evangelization is just as much of a brick-by-brick process as rebuilding the Church.

Senior year...I was excited! Everyone wants to be a senior, as you are almost an adult. Alas, it was not a joy ride. That extended essay...yeah. It barely got off the ground for a while. My mother had to pray the Rosary as I went to sleep for me to figure out that my original topic was what I wanted to research. My teaches really cranked up the work load in November, and it didn't slow until we finished exams. I think I was graced in this by enrolling in the Angelic Warfare Confraternity under the patronage of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Off-and-on I have pondered just unfriending my peers from school on Facebook, and cutting ties on Twitter.
My senior English teacher can attest to the outright war that went on in class, and indeed outside class. It was awful. I am truly sorry for everything I said and did. Really. The undercutting of everybody else is terrible. It is sad that I can't have a civil conversation with some people. Not only does it wound my pride, I think we both lose out. I can't learn from what someone else has to offer in thought and from their situation, and he or she can't learn from me. And, neither of us can be friends.  Papa Frankie has spoke two or three times of gossip and calumny, and it is particularly keen insight from a seventy-six year old on our online-centered society.

I also have struggled with how people don't say things to me. Mostly I have learned about peoples' woes from overhearing their conversations. There are people who have the (in my view) very cruel experience of having divorced parents. Other times, their parents don't make enough to make ends meet, or to pay for college. There is at least one person who struggles with the opposite issue: being blessed with material wealth. Of what I do know, most of the Catholics at school have not kept close to the Church (for which I place the blame on their parents and their grandparents). Some have turned to sex, alcohol, smoking, and/or illegal drugs, firstly as an act of rebellion, and secondly to numb the pain.

We are simply afraid. Afraid to be human, in all our weaknesses. We are afraid of judgment. Of course we are. We do not want to be condemned to Hell, even if we can't articulate it. Here though we are afraid from the reaction of our peers.

We are afraid to cry out from the depths to Our Lord, as the Psalmist did (Psalm 129, the "De Profundis"). About 40% of the Psalms focus on suffering. And Pope Francis reminded that our conversations with God about our sufferings are a form of prayer! We must embrace suffering on the road to sanctity. And we must do it together! No one can become a saint on their own. First it is by the grace of God, and second, even the Desert Fathers needed a companion to help them every now and then. Or to heckle them and confirm them in faith...

 We are looking for something, but are afraid of it: total, sacrificial love. We are afraid of God, and afraid to imitate Him.

I say we. I am every bit of guilty and then some of these things. I have my own tendencies in sin of which I am deeply ashamed, and will not post online, will not talk about, etc. I probably should, but a spiritual work-in-progress am I (I need to be at Franciscan with good Catholic friends around me 24/7 as well as a spiritual director for it). I have learned a lot, of patience, and kindness. It's been hard, and I hope I have done well. Of course, I know I haven't done as well as I should have...

Blessed John Paul II repeatedly exhorted us, as in this selection from his inaugural homily: "Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power."

I wrote my post yesterday with these thoughts in mind. The Angelic Doctor also says, "There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship." I hope I have left high school with true friends. We will not get along on issues of faith and morals. Yet. But we can still have a jolly good time, and show charity towards each other in our best times, and especially in our darkest hours. I just want what's good for you, that of which is in accord with nature. To love is to will the good of the other, remember.

Oh, and I think the most crucial piece of this is humility. At the top of the blog is St. Josemaria Escriva's list for living the virtue of humility. "Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to Thy Word."

Good luck, if there is any such thing (if you read The Hobbit, you realize that luck is God's grace...), and so I pray that the blessings of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, descend upon each and every one of my classmates, and remain with them always. And I pray that one day each of you will be reconciled to the visible Body of Christ on earth, and die confirmed in the fullness of charity having been baptized and having eaten and drank His Body and Blood. God love you.

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