Since I became a priest, I have taught Physics and Religion in high school. There are thousands of reasons that make this profession a wonderful job, reasons that correspond to my vocation as a priest. One particular thing is that, by teaching in Catholic schools, I have been able to meet kids and families that I would never have been able to meet otherwise. In America, it isn’t easy to meet others. The ideal of the society in which I live is to create a perfect “bubble” in which you don’t need anyone, except for those you want to allow in. And because of Covid, these dynamics have become even stronger. Without the school, I would never have met the kids that I have met in these years. High school, in fact, is a place where people who are incredibly different meet and butt heads. My students have two fundamental questions: to whom do I belong? And who am I? None of them has ever read a line of theology, many of them are far from the faith, but these questions burn in their hearts. Gender ideology, for example, is very attractive to the kids precisely for the fact that it responds to these questions, even if it offers the wrong answers.
Recently, I was struck by a conversation that I had with an ex-student, Kiera, who is now working in politics. She revealed to me that she had returned to the faith after high school thanks to the events we had gone to together, mainly the retreats and the outings with GS. She said to me: “Looking back, I am ashamed at how materialistic I was, to the point that arriving at school in a Toyota Corolla was like Mount Calvary to me. It made me feel excluded from the group of rich kids.” Kiera had even strained the relationship with her family because they didn’t let her have the car at the status level that she wanted. Her identity was delineated by that which she possessed.
I love teaching, but I understand that the answer that these kids desire is only found in a life lived together.
I am becoming aware that Our Lord has sent me to these kids to witness to the fact that Christ is the only person capable of revealing to them their own identity, the only one who knows it truthfully. From the outside, I can understand some of the things that move their souls, but it is only Christ who understands and loves them entirely.
It amazes me how a word spoken into the life of these kids by Christ, maybe during an event together or a joke at dinner, can be the seed planted in their heart that, in time, changes it.
An essential aspect of my proposal is to live GS together with them: you cannot communicate Christ simply with words or winning a few discussions, also because the, in America, debates on certain themes are strictly prohibited. The response that Christ gives is only understandable if you see it at work in a companionship that is present. Living a belonging more gratuitous and enthralling than that which the world offers, you can begin to take seriously that which Christ proposes. I love teaching, but I understand that the answer that these kids desire is only found in a life lived together.
For example, with the GS kids, we participate in a charitable work with the homeless in Boston, which Fr. Michael, a priest of the diocese who has become a profound friend, calls Christ in the City. We seek to meet people who live on the street, calling them by name, listening to their stories. The first time that we participated, James, a kid with a complicated and painful history, met a homeless man named Larry. He was shirtless, so we gave him a shirt and he started to recount his life story. From that day on, James would look for Larry every time that he came to charitable work. This is how James has started to understand that his life is profoundly loved, in a way that is unique and personal, precisely in the fact that he experiences the possibility to love in this way. I am amazed at Christ’s method: He asks the kids to gratuitously love a stranger to teach them that they are made of an infinite mystery and enveloped in an immense love.