Here I am, Lord

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One instant the two boys were debating the next step in the AP Chemistry problem. The next, one had shoved the other. The principal entered demanding to know what was happening. One teen-age boy blurted out, “We all failed the test today. Dr. Flavin said that if we stayed after school today and mastered the material, we would pass the test without having to retake the test tomorrow. I am here today so that I do not have to retake that test. I would fail it again.” He broke into a boyish grin.

Can you imagine that moment for an educator? At the very least, everyone failing a test invites discussion along the lines of what exactly are you doing (instead of teaching) in class? Even worse was the adolescent’s perspective of avoiding responsibility. There was an idea behind my “educational madness.” Was it good enough? Perhaps that question would not even matter since I could not state my intentions in front of the students. 

The principal was alternating his glance from the boys to me. My response? I smiled and gently shrugged my shoulders. I knew that his decision, not my intentions or actions, was going to be the final answer. That can seem a lonely and scary place to be. The wait, while really a few seconds, seemed an eternity. The principal finally said, “Gentlemen, if that is the case, you should get back to work. Carry on Dr. Flavin.” He exited the room. 

When I read the Gospel where, after the Resurrection, Jesus revealed Himself to the Disciples (Jn 21: 1-19), I often remember what it felt like that afternoon there with those students. I awaited judgement from an earthly power, but Peter awaited God’s judgement. Each of us had to trust in the one making the decision.

Jesus had asked Peter three times if Peter loved Him. Peter realized he had betrayed his friend by denying knowing Christ. Peter regretted what he did. He must also have had a sense that Jesus knew he was sorry. Yet, Peter’s first two answers “Lord, You know that I love You” apparently weren’t good enough. 

Peter stood ready to accept what was his due. The third time he said, “Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You” (Jn 21: 17). Peter is expecting God’s justice. Instead, he receives God’s mercy. Jesus instructs Peter to feed His sheep. Peter grew to leadership of the early Christians.

God’s way doesn’t include a person burying or ignoring the past. There has to be acknowledgement of what happened along with a tacit, if not explicit, expression of apology. Why? Simply because without that fertile ground, God’s seed of mercy cannot sprout. 

The principal never questioned me on my educational methods. What happened with the seed of mercy I received? I learned a valuable lesson that made me a better educator. Watching the students that afternoon had confirmed my suspicions. So far as I could tell, the boys were trying their best. Though the material was part of the curriculum, they simply were not academically ready for it. Next day, I moved the entire class onto the following topic. 

As wonderful as it can feel, being on the receiving end of mercy is only half of what it means to live in God’s love. We are also called to love one another by granting mercy to others. When God called, Ananias answered, “Here I am, Lord (Acts 9: 10).” Before granting God’s mercy to Saul, Ananias’ unspoken question is “What can you possibly see in Saul?” God answers, “This man is a chosen instrument of Mine to carry My name before the Gentiles and children of Israel” (Acts 9: 15). I imagine Ananias still wondered what God saw in this persecutor Saul.

Part of the fruits of this seed of mercy included Paul’s many letters to the early churches. Paul wrote, “Love is patient. Love is kind ... it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing. It bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known ... faith, hope, love remain, these three, but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13: 4 -13). Can you imagine Ananias’ reaction hearing that from the man he once knew as Saul?

Peter, Paul, and Ananias remind us that God’s wish is for each of us to be able to receive and to share His mercy. That is what it means to live fully in God’s unconditional love. Ananias also reminds us there are times we are called to sow that seed of mercy looking past current inadequacies simply trusting, even if we do not see it, there is something special awaiting to blossom within the other. As Ananias did, can we answer God’s call and act fully trusting in God’s plan? 

Anchor columnist Dr. Helen J. Flavin is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer.


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