A reflection by Sr Michelle, fcJ, first appeared in the Religious and Moral Education Council Newsjournal and in the the Weaving One Heart: Contemporary FCJ Voices blog. Michelle has been teaching in a middle school in Edmonton, Canada
Warm, sunny days, flowers blooming, greening grass. Summer has arrived!
Another sure sign of the season is being experienced in Edmonton’s schools as I write: students vibrating with excess energy and pushing back against every rule on their way to two months free from classrooms and books. The end of the school year is nearly here and social media abounds with memes comparing the vibrancy of educators in September to their exhausted, hollow shells in June. As the natural world springs to life around us, educators are limping to the end of another trying year during the Covid pandemic.
An important part of this time of the year involves saying many goodbyes, especially to the oldest students at our sites. For the first time in three years, we were able to celebrate a Grade 9 Farewell in person at our junior high school. The evening included a Mass for educational staff, students and their families.
It is a powerful experience to celebrate the Eucharist in a gymnasium with the school community. Looking around the room, I could identify students whom I’ve known for years and ones that I’d never had the opportunity to work with. There were family members from a huge diversity of cultures and backgrounds. Our population included Christians and people of no religious background alike.
As the priest consecrated the Communion bread and murmured the familiar words of the Mass, it was moving to be reminded that I was seeing the Body of Christ in all its diversity and beauty in that plain space. As a group, we were flawed and ordinary and sacred.
During the Consecration, we hear the priest repeat “Do this in memory of me,” Jesus’ words from the meal he shared with his disciples before his death. In this phrase and the mystery of the Eucharist there are many deeply theological layers of meaning, but I wonder if there isn’t also a sense of personal longing. After his three years of ministry, after all of the hours spent building relationships and healing the sick, after the endless days of travel around the region, did Jesus reflect upon what he had hoped to accomplish through his obedience to God? Did he wonder if his friends would pass on the stories he had shared with them, or if he had really made a difference at all?
As we say our goodbyes to those moving on from our schools, what will we will remember of them? Are there moments of hilarity that have left a lasting memory? Maybe eye-catching masterpieces gifted to us by aspiring artists? Have there been episodes of tragedy this year that will spark bittersweet thoughts within us in the years to come? Whatever the case, these are the “pieces” of people that we’ve loved, pieces that they will leave behind, consciously or not, that will enable them to remain a part of our lives. These are the eucharistic ways that students and colleagues have given of themselves: the stories that will continue to influence our behaviour, the material items that will stir our awareness each time our eyes settle on them or our hands touch them.
I am one of those members of the school community who is being farewelled this month, as I, too, will move on to new opportunities in September. As I pack up my classroom, watching the shelves and walls become more and more bare, I wonder about whether or not God has been able to use me, flawed, ordinary and sacred, to make any meaningful difference here. Will students remember me and repeat my stories? What will colleagues do and say in memory of me? What pieces of myself do I leave behind?
May we continue to deepen in our understanding and experience of the beauty and wisdom that the Eucharist offers in the ordinary moments of our lives.
Subscribe to Sr Michelle’s YouTube channel to see the videos she has prepared for her students during COVID-19 lockdown. Read Michelle’s vocation story or some of her contributions in the FCJ website. Follow the FCJ Sisters in the Americas on facebook