Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014
Twenty-ninth Sunday in
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
Psalm 96:1, 3-5, 7-10
1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b
I've always admired educators, especially those skilled in teaching children. So I enjoy hearing Ellen, a middle school librarian, talk about her vocation.
Highly respected by school administrators and her peers, Ellen is particularly committed to inspiring a love for reading and literature in her young learners. She's been at it for more than 20 years.
She especially loves her current school, a public middle school in a low-income neighborhood. Many of her students come from dysfunctional families or homes struggling with poverty or other difficult circumstances. The city's largest family shelter is in her school's attendance zone.
She told me that being there gives her an opportunity to be available in a more personal way to individual young teens and preteens who have serious social and emotional needs. She listens to their troubles and tries to provide comfort as a friend. She's a mentor for some whose parents aren't capable of helping them negotiate a teenager's challenges of learning responsibility and making choices.
Ellen also has enlisted friends in her church community to help provide clothing and toiletries for individual youngsters at her school who otherwise would have to do without. Although she works for a state-supported school, she feels no conflict in responding to a more important call of her Christian faith by serving those children in need.
In this weekend's Gospel, the Pharisees try to get Jesus to incriminate himself by choosing between loyalty to God or Caesar. He confounds their plot by saying that although these are two distinct loyalties, a person should be responsible to each without forsaking the other: "Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God."
In this way, my friend Ellen balances two different vocations at once.
She is a consummate professional who gives her school district everything she has as an educator: engaging instruction, discipline, strong organizational skills, and careful student evaluation.
But her greater role of supporting, encouraging, and caring for certain children in her school community is defined by her relationship with Christ.
"I know," she said with conviction, "that this is exactly where God wants me to be. Being there for these kids is something I'm meant to do."
This column is offered in cooperation with The North Texas Catholic of Fort Worth, Texas.