Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Because of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#357)

Guest Post by Allison Salerno
For two years now, I’ve been teaching writing Wednesday mornings at a community college in suburbia. Most of the time, I teach classes in what is called developmental writing. These remedial writing classes are for students who are not quite ready for college-level work. Most of the students in my classroom arrive bearing a track record of academic failure. Sometimes, they arrive with their lives broken in other places.

While some students are taking the class merely because they struggled in high school, others carry bigger burdens. My students have included a recovering heroin addict, veterans haunted by their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a boy who spent his teenaged years in tough-love detox centers. Once, I taught a pair of brothers who both wrote—each from his own perspective—about how they shot a rival in the leg and then managed to elude police.

“How can you teach these students? I would hate that job,” one friend told me. And yet, because I am Catholic, I love my work.

357 Being in the image of God the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons. And he is called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead.

There’s nothing particularly “Catholic-looking” about me. I don’t wear a crucifix or a rosary bracelet, and I’ve never spoken about my faith beliefs in the community-college classroom.  My focus is preparing my students for college-level work and in helping each one find his or her writer’s voice.

My students don’t know it, but my faith helps me guide them.

My favorite part of Mass comes after I have received Communion, which is Christ himself—body, blood, soul, and divinity. As I kneel, I usually don’t bow my head in prayer; I look up and watch the other worshippers receive the Eucharist. As each one receives, I say to myself: Here is a child of God.

This unconventional prayer helps me to realize the lesson the Catholic Church teaches, that every one of us is beloved by God. This prayer of mine seeps even more powerfully into my being because nearly all the hundreds of Catholic Masses I have attended have included worshippers from across the spectrum of age and culture.

The worshippers at my own parish are no exception. Every Sunday, I watch widowers, young mothers carrying babies, graduate students from Korea, parishioners with walkers, women who are mentally disabled, day workers from Mexico, a visiting Filipina nun—and on and on—step up to receive the body and blood of Christ.

I am Catholic because the Church calls us to be disciples of Christ. Every day is an opportunity to illuminate the values our Church holds dear—love of God, love of neighbor.

And when I am teaching, my faith gives me the strength to believe, no matter how damaged my students’ paths have been. All students deserve an opportunity to succeed. My privilege and my duty are to believe in them all.