Springtime workers31 Jan 2023
Every one of our actions sows seeds for the future of our society.
In 1980 St Ignatius’ College, Riverview (Riverview), in Sydney, our largest Jesuit boarding school in Australia, celebrated its centenary. To mark the occasion, the headmaster of the time, Father Peter Quin SJ, invited eminent Irish Jesuit educator, Father Paul Andrews, to be a key speaker in all our Jesuit schools.
I can remember that one of the images he used to describe teachers was that of the springtime worker. Teachers, and parents as our precious first teachers, are planters and growers. To align with the theme of this edition of Madonna, teachers and parents are harvesters.
WHERE SEEDS FALL
I recall reading several years ago that some reporters, while interviewing Boris Yeltsin, asked him what gave him the courage to stand firm during the fall of communism in the former USSR. Interestingly, he credited the electrician from Poland, Lech Walesa, who started the downfall of communism there.
When Walesa was interviewed and asked what inspired him he said it was the civil rights movement in the US led by Martin Luther King Jr. When Martin Luther King Jr was interviewed and asked what inspired him, he said it was the courage of one woman, Rosa Parks, who refused in 1955 to move to the back seat of the bus to make room for white people. By that one simple act she changed the course of civil rights history in the US.
Is it too much of a stretch of the imagination to say that a brave little seamstress in the South of the US brought about the downfall of communism? Seeds are like that. We often fail to realise how valuable are the little things we do for people, the people we influence.
Indeed, we need frequently to ask ourselves: What seeds are we planting in our children, our loved ones, our friends, our colleagues?
THE VALUE OF VALUING PEOPLE
I can remember receiving a lovely letter when I finished my time as Riverview headmaster. It came from a parent who wrote to me; ‘I can’t remember much of what you said or what you did [this did not really flatter my ego], but I do remember how you made me feel – valued.’ It was a wonderful compliment and I treasure it to this day. It is the meaning of that Gospel passage where Mark says Jesus made a deep impression on the people, because he taught them with authority.
That fine scripture scholar and retreat giver, Father Michael Fallon MSC, once pointed out to a conference of Catholic educators that the word ‘authority’ comes from the Latin verb augere meaning to add, to grow, to nurture and cultivate. In other words, to harvest.
Teachers, and we all belong to that category whether we are in the classroom or not, are those people who, when teaching with authority, nurture and grow life in others.
INFLUENCE OF TEACHERS
In one of his presentations on BBC Radio in June 1999, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Chaplain for the Commonwealth, had this to offer about the important role of teachers:
‘Long ago the Jewish people came to the conclusion that to defend a country you need an army. But to defend a civilisation you need schools. The single most important social institution is the place where we hand on our values to the next generation – where we tell our children where we’ve come from, what ideals we fought for, and what we learned on the way. Schools are where we make children our partners in the long and open-ended task of making a more gracious world . . . Teachers open our eyes to the world. They give us curiosity and confidence. They teach us to ask questions. They connect us to our past and future. They’re the guardians of our social heritage. We have lots of heroes today – sportsmen, supermodels, media personalities. They come, they have their 15 minutes of fame, and they go. But the influence of good teachers stays with us. They are the people who really shape our life.’
It is worth asking ourselves who were the teachers who seeded us, planted value, meaning, and grace in our lives? Who have been our significant harvesters?
Whom will weseed in 2023? What kind of crop will it produce? Only you will know the answer to these questions.
Cardinal Basil Hume once said that teaching is ‘iceberg work’. So much of substance in a teacher’s work goes on beneath the surface in the deep recesses of a student’s heart and mind. As planters and seeders, springtime workers, harvesters, the fruits of a teacher’s work often takes a long time to see the light of day.
Teaching is always an act of great faith, but if we keep an eye on the teaching authority of Jesus, a great harvest will be there for the gathering.
Wings for the Soul
Fr Chris Gleeson’s latest book Wings for the Soul: Madonna stories to celebrate its 125 years is available from wilkinsonpublishing.com.au and wherever good books are sold. Click here for the book review.
This article first appeared in the autumn 2023 edition of Madonna.