Tonight Fr. Allen led the second through fourth graders in the Stations of the Cross upstairs in the church.
It started off typically enough — me gathering my class to head upstairs and realizing that the most ADD of the bunch (and that’s saying something) was still in the bathroom. I’d sent him there to get a drink after he kept complaining about how thirsty he was.
I went to the men’s bathroom. Knocked loudly on the door.
“Ryan!” I said, mustering up a sense of urgency. “We’re leaving now!”
“Come out or we’ll go to the church without you!”
I heard him fumbling around the sink.
“Nooo!” he wailed. “I want to see God!”
I stood half-stunned for a second, thinking of the hidden profundity of his rather odd plea for me to wait, but at the same time, knowing he was probably saying this with his head in the sink, mouthing the running faucet.
He eventually came out, surprisingly dry.
“Okay!” he said cheerfully.
So off we went. Upstairs, with the second graders, walking as fast as they could without technically running, and squealing excitedly.
When we got to the vestibule, I tried to rein them in for one more quick lecture on “no being wild” in church, but then Ryan the Thirsty Child did the unthinkable and started drinking out of the holy water font. It is placed, I now realize, right at the mouth-level of a four-foot tall person.
Ladies and gentlemen, I teach third graders, not four-year-olds. I also feel that I am beginning to master the art of the Death Glare, along with making little ones realize that it is aimed at them.
I just want to make that clear.
Sometimes, however, the Death Glare supercedes all other reactions from me, and while my whole self was horrified — and hoping none of the other teachers had seen him yet — the only sound I think I made before managing to hiss his name was the type I’d make if the cat were eating my food (“GXXHGHS!” or something like that. But he got the point.)
Fr. Allen finally came (after I showed the kids the confessional, they all poured in and one of them jumped in the priest’s side before I pulled him out by the t-shirt.)
Our pastor began asking the kids questions, a scheme I’m half-convinced was meant to see what they’re failing to learn in his parish’s catechetics program.
“What about the Crucifixion?” he asked them. And to the teachers: “Do they know about that yet?”
Oh please, oh please don’t tell him who’s your teacher, I pleaded silently as they started trying to tell him the Three Persons of the Trinity.
“St. Patrick?” one second grader guessed as the First Person.
Fr. Allen swatted him with a piece of paper.
The actual Stations went pretty well, all things considered. They were quiet, they dutifully marched station to station, most of them managed to focus on the particular scene of Christ’s Way of the Cross and a good portion of them read along with the prayers.
“I hate it when people die,” Ryan whispered to me at the end, after we saw how Jesus was laid in the tomb.
“Yeah. Do you know why Jesus died for us?” I whispered back.
“Because then we would live,” he said.
“Yeah. Because He loves you so much.”
But Fr. Allen wasn’t done.
“Who else was Jesus crucified with?” he asked the kids.
We definitely have not covered this yet. Thank you, Ignatius Press.
“St. Mary?” a little voice perked up.
The tall, thin friar straightened up. “No.”
The second grader who earlier posited St. Patrick as part of the Godhead was evidently still thinking of the Trinity.
“The Holy and the Spirit,” he told Fr. Allen confidently.
Another soft whack.
Later, the second grade teacher and I shared our war stories. It’s become a weekly ritual.
I asked her if she noticed the fourth grade girl who knelt reverently at every station, without anyone bidding her to do so, even as our students were meandering aimlessly around her while Fr. Allen read the meditation.
“I want her,” the other teacher said, nodding.
“But did you notice Jessica started kneeling with her, too?” I asked.
Jessica is one of my students, who at the beginning of the year was not quite sure who Jesus was and, from the impression I’ve gotten, does not regularly go to Mass with her family. But she loves class and is eager, in the way only a kid in all her wide-eyed earnestness can be, to learn about God.
It was a moment of grace, this witness of one girl in the midst of silent near-chaos, that somehow touched my student and led her to innocently copy the prayer of someone she didn’t even know.
“Yeah,” the other teacher said. “The only way I’m teaching next year is if I can get a homeschooled kid.”
Looking at each other, we nodded in solidarity and headed out.