This Sunday’s Gospel and readings speak of persistence—in prayer, in effort, and ultimately, in faith.
Thirty-five years ago, the first class I taught in 4th year high school sponsored students from the public elementary school in Marikina who qualified for a private school scholarship.
There was one female student who did not qualify to take the entrance exam, since her performance and grades were not outstanding. But on her own she still took the exam and passed in one of the schools. She then turned to our class for support.
Four years later, she took the entrance exams to La Salle and passed. She again turned to our class for assistance. Although there were no readily available funds, we decided to support her, impressed with what she had achieved the past four years.
After college, she returned a third time to ask us for support for her MA. She got the help, and graduated with an MA in Psychology. With the same determination, she and her husband were able to put up her own training company, which now has major corporations among its clients.
Strength and identity
Thirty years ago, I worked with a newly formed organization of religious, seminarians and priests. It was a big group with members who belonged to the center of the political spectrum. They saw this as their strength and identity.
In one crucial political exercise in the early years of the country’s then newly won democracy, we were pressured to take a more radical stand after the group discerned to stay true to its founding inspiration, to stay in the center, where we believed we could positively influence a broader sector.
Not giving in to the pressure, the group was sent a very terse message: Do not expect any funding, which the group graciously accepted without any rancor.
Months into the political exercise, the group’s stand gained the most traction among all the other programs of the Church. Then the funding came, and the group’s work became some sort of showcase of the Church’s involvement in sociopolitical affairs.
While a number of church groups have since been inactive, this group remained busy for the past three decades and continues to contribute to the Church’s sociopolitical involvement.
These are two stories of persistence: that of a young girl, to lift herself and her family out of poverty; and of a community’s effort to remain faithful to its founding inspiration or charism.
I offer these stories to you and most especially to the public school teachers I have been working with for the past years, a few of them for the past decade. Every October we celebrate Teacher’s Month, with the 5th as World Teachers’ Day. I salute these men and women who are exemplars of persistence.
In 1995, the association of Jesuit high schools in the United States celebrated its 25th anniversary. I wish to share the conclusion of the speech of one of its alumni, Joseph Califano, a former Secretary of Education of the US, who spoke to high school educators in one of the main celebrations for the 25th. May this inspire teachers and parents to teach the youth about persistence.
“I think you are doing the most important work of our society. The adolescent years are the most formative in our culture, and today’s high school students face monumental challenges… If you can make it with adolescents, you are making it in the toughest human turf… For your commitment, I salute you. Stick with it. You are indeed the best hope of the next generation, and they need all the energy, commitment and devotion you can muster in them.
“The task is tough, and likely to get tougher, but I am convinced that the youth of our nation have the potential to be the most compassionate and caring generation we have produced— and the miracles of science and technology are going to give them the tools to be just that. So they’re worth your hard work and exhausting frustrations.
“Too many of us, including many in government, the media, the teaching professions and intellectual circles, have given up trying because the tasks seem too difficult, sometimes, impossible. Of course those who govern or teach, or write, or do battle in the arena of public or religious life, will make mistakes, plenty of them. But we must not fear failure. What we should fear above all is the judgment of God and history… free to act as we wish and choose what we wish, choose not to govern justly, not to distribute our riches fairly and not to help the most vulnerable among us—or worse, if we choose not even to try.
“My plea to you is this: Teach your students to try, and encourage them all to experience the exhilaration and exhaustion of spending themselves in a worthy cause. If you do that, then whatever their careers, they will be happier and the world will be a better place for what you’ve taught them.” —CONTRIBUTED