There’s always poignancy to these endings—something I’ve found impossible to shake off no matter how many of them I’ve gone through over the years.
On the one hand, there’s a tremendous sense of joy and fulfillment that comes with knowing that one has once again contributed a small share to the furtherance of knowledge and the gradual formation of minds and hearts in the appreciation and search for truth.
On the other hand, there is also a sense of sadness that the joy of such communal endeavor has come to an end. This morning as I stood in front of yet another group of students whom I taught for the last few months, some of whom will never again sit in any of my classes, I could not help but say a brief and silent prayer—for all of us.
For these young men—that their path may always be lit, difficult and challenging though it may sometimes be, and that no matter where life takes them, that the One who first whispered that silent invitation in the innermost recesses of their souls will never let them feel alone. I prayed too that the many persons whose paths they shall cross in their lives, and whose lives they will touch, may find in them a reason to consider the encounter—brief or otherwise, a blessing that shall long be remembered.
For myself—there is only the hope that no matter where the Lord of life takes me, and no matter to whom I am sent, that I may speak only His words, and in this alone be remembered by those whose path my own may cross.
The calling of a teacher, like that of a priest, is simply to be a bridge, a path, a pointer that ends never in itself, but to something that lies beyond and which paradoxically enough, forever recedes in the distance—always approaching, never quite reaching; forever arriving, never attaining. For that which we ultimately seek, allures but eludes, invites but hides, attracts but forever escapes our possession.
The priesthood itself is a life filled with a never-ending series of ‘hellos’ and ‘farewells', for those whose lives we are privileged to touch and be part of are never ours to keep. The students who sit in our class today are not the ones to be there tomorrow; the people we are sent to minister to today will not be the ones we shall be serving tomorrow. They come and go; but so do we, teachers and priests. And yet we give to each of them—to every single one of those we meet along the way—everything we are able to give, our only recompense, the hope that our encounter has been to them a blessing, leading them one step closer to truth, to happiness, and to fullness of life.
Perhaps it is true that the reward of work is more work; yet one is happy still—in the knowledge that he has contributed one verse in that everlasting poem God’s hand ceaselessly writes. And one is glad, one is content, even as he sets his tools down for a brief moment of rest, to take stock and find peace in what has been accomplished, say a prayer that it may one day, in the still-hidden future, bear fruit in the lives of those who have passed through his hands. There is joy in it, there is contentment, there is grace—calm, silent, yet powerful grace. And in that grace one finds renewal, replenishment, and rebirth, as he picks up once more the tools of his trade and responds to the Master who once again knocks, calling him to follow, for there is work yet to be done. And he is happy to respond, happy to follow, keeping his sight fixed on that rest promised to those who endure.