Advice from the Top

A blessed Feast of the Cross to all, especially my brothers and sisters from Holy Cross.

Last night, after roughly 3 hours of church and roughly half an hour of celebrating, I saw our beloved bishop sitting alone for a moment.  I am ashamed to admit that it has taken many years for me to be able to appreciate his annual visits.  He is a wonderful, godly man, with a sense of humor to boot, but from a church musician's perspective, the presence of a hierarch means an almost-certain upsetting of the delicate balance and routine on which we thrive.  We think of a bishop's visit as a sort of ascetic discipline.  You know, the way no one ever looks forward to Lent, but by its end they are glad for having struggled?  Like that.

Somehow I must have matured a little, because this year, I was pleased to find I was looking forward to his coming.  And I was able to field every pop fly he hit in my direction (a Jersey native, I think he would probably appreciate the baseball analogy.)  Greek?  Arabic?  Slow chanting?  Fast chanting?  Tone 1?  Tone 5?  Psh!

So, when I saw him sitting alone last night, I summoned my courage and approached, asking his blessing and seeking his insight.  I knew he had been a classroom teacher before entering the ministry, and I wondered if he could give me some advice about the profession that seems to have chosen me.

"Teach with love," he said first.  "That's all you can do.  If your kids know you love them and you love your subject, if they can see you're passionate about what you do, that's everything."

He shook his head.  "Teaching is hard, though."  Then he went on to tell me something amazing.  You remember that movie, Lean on Me?  Morgan Freeman plays "Crazy Joe" Clark, a tough principal who takes on an even tougher crowd of misfits and delinquents.  He gets them to succeed academically and vocationally, and he wins their respect with a combination of steely determination and self-sacrificing love.

The movie was based on a true story: Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey.  Yep.  My bishop was a teacher there.  Actually, he taught there before Joe Clark came and turned the school around -- when it was frighteningly underfunded and out of control.

"I'll tell you what: teaching is hard," he said again.  "The hardest thing I've ever done.  Harder than being a priest or a bishop.  Harder than working in a factory or owning your own business.  It's exhausting and it's thankless.  But you have to stay excited about it.  You have to know how important it is."

Thank you, Sayedna, for reminding me again of the magnitude of the task before me.  May I somehow find the strength to do it justice.