Saturday, September 05, 2009

Everything is grace.

If you have ever read Georges Bernanos' classic novel The Diary of a Country Priest, you almost certainly remember the dying words of the priest-protagonist: Tout est grâce. The English translation of the novel renders these words inexactly as "Grace is everywhere," but they could be most directly translated as "everything is grace." Bernanos borrowed these words from the Last Conversations of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, a transcription of the various utterances that the young Carmelite made as she lay dying. The idea that "everything is grace" may have an intuitive appeal to Jesuits, given that our spirituality encourages us to find God in all things and to consciously reflect on the ways in which God has been present to us in all the areas of our life. For me, remembering that everything is grace has been a source of great consolation not merely in times of joy - times when "it's easy to say 'thanks,'" as a Jesuit friend once put it - but also in times of considerable difficulty and struggle.

The last week has been a fairly stressful one for me, but it has also been a time of great grace. On Monday, I stepped into the university classroom for the first time as a teacher. As some readers know well from their own experience, the work that goes into teaching college courses is considerable, especially when one is teaching for the first time and has to prepare syllabi, lecture notes and other materials from scratch. For each hour that I teach, I spend several hours preparing for the next class. Though I've found myself exhausted at the end of each day and frustrated by the way in which my life seems to be fully consumed by work, I've also found tremendous consolation and happiness in simply being in the classroom as a teacher. This is a wonderful ministry, one that I feel very blessed to be a part of. Despite all the time I spend on course prep and all the assorted administrative tasks that occupy my working days, I have found abundant grace in my first days teaching at Saint Joseph's University.

Though I have found joy in my first week of teaching, I have also found sorrow these last few days following the loss of my grandmother, Victoria Davis. After several months of ill health, Gramma died early Wednesday at the age of 85. I feel fortunate that I was able to travel to Massachusetts for a couple of days last week to pay her a final visit. Though this is a time of great sadness for my family, I am grateful that my grandmother ended her earthly pilgrimage in her own home, peacefully and without suffering, as she would have wished. I am also grateful for the many expressions of support and sympathy that I have received in the past couple of days from Jesuits in my own community and elsewhere; I hope that my family can take comfort in knowing that many in the Society of Jesus have been praying for them.

For reasons that I can scarcely claim to understand, I have often felt most aware of God's loving care and presence in moments of great difficulty. I have found abundant evidence of God's presence during the past week, both in my first days of teaching and in the days following my grandmother's death. The ability to find God in difficult circumstances is a grace that I am grateful to have received. As I pray for the repose of the soul of my grandmother and for the consolation of my family, I pray also in renewed gratitude for the gift of God's presence. I pray, too, that we may all become more aware of the gifts that God bestows upon us and that we may realize more fully that everything is grace. AMDG.


At 9/06/2009 4:35 AM, Blogger Laura Brown said...

I'm so sorry to hear of the loss of your grandmother. I will keep her, and you, in my prayers.

At 9/06/2009 11:51 AM, Blogger Karen said...

My condolences.

I hope you enjoy the semester though. Read the Ratio Studiorum at least once. You don't have to follow it to the letter but it will give you very helpful insights.

At 9/06/2009 1:11 PM, Blogger Ryan Rallanka, SJ said...

Hi Joe,

I'm sure you are well aware, but we have been keeping you and your family very much in our prayers here at Ciszek. May God be close to you at this time and bring you comfort, and may your grandmother rest in peace.

All the best as you wade through the business of regency

At 9/06/2009 2:25 PM, Blogger Sal said...

Even though you messed up in class, the majority of the material you presented was very helpful. I'm sure as the course progresses it will be easier to have more of a dialogue in class instead of just numbers. NOT THAT THERE'S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT THOUGH!! *trying to save my ass from flunking*

I'm really sorry to hear about your grandmother. If there's anything you need as far as class goes you can let my room mate Tom Power or me know...though I guess there won't be since we don't have class tomorrow.


P.S. you know there's a comic book called "Jesuit Joe", right? I can't pretend to have known that before googling your blog. But after reading the wikipedia description you can probably apply some of Jesuit Joe's AND YOUR OWN merits in class--

"The concerns of famed Italian cartoonist Hugo Pratt included responsibility, humanity, and social justice. Skepticism of European ideals in colonial settings is a common theme in his stories and forms the main thrust of Jesuit Joe."

At 9/07/2009 12:11 AM, Blogger Joe said...

All: Thank you for the prayers and condolences, which are much appreciated.

Karen: Reading the Ratio is a good idea - when I was a novice I made a point of reading the Constitutions straight through before vows (we all read selections, but weren't required to read the whole thing) so I would could more truthfully say that "I understand all these things according to the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus." Now might be the time for a similar reading of the Ratio.

Sal: Yes, I'm sorry to unload so many statistics at once - I don't plan on doing anything similar in the future. Student feedback is very helpful to me as a new prof, so thank you for your comments.

As a longtime fan of European comics, I know all about Hugo Pratt's Jesuit Joe - props for noting the reference, which was somewhat deliberate on my part when I started this blog but which no other reader has commented on before.

At 9/07/2009 3:32 PM, Blogger Gannet Girl said...

Thanks for visiting my place. And my deep condolences and prayers for you and your family.

At 9/15/2009 7:19 AM, Blogger Michelle said...

My condolences - and my prayers for the start of the semester and for your family.


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