This weekend many of our local high schools will be hosting commencement exercises, if they have not done so already. On Friday evening, I will offer the Baccalaureate Mass for Seton Catholic Central in Binghamton and also participate in the graduation ceremony.
I am sure that many of our young people and their teachers, along with families and school administrators, are happy to see the 2020-21 school year fade into history. It has certainly been one for the record books in many ways and a challenge to various stakeholders in the education enterprise. Just the variety of educational models in use — in person, remote, and hybrid — and the schedules they entailed required heroic dedication to creativity and flexibility, along with a huge amount of patience, on the parts of all involved.
I would be most remiss if I didn’t acknowledge publicly how proud I am of the Catholic schools of the Diocese of Syracuse in keeping their doors open this year while also providing a safe and sanitary learning environment. To all who gave their time, talent, and treasure to keep our schools operating, you have my deepest gratitude and appreciation!
A special note of gratitude is extended to Bill Crist, our diocesan Superintendent of Schools, and our diocesan Catholic Schools Office for going the extra mile to assist principals and pastors as they strived to serve the communities in which our diocesan Catholic schools are located. I am aware that a lot of extra time, paperwork, and personal attention went into making this endeavor so smooth in its execution and success. Please know I want to enthusiastically applaud a job well done!
As I have been contemplating the end of this one-of-a-kind school year, I am sure there are many lessons we can take from it. Nonetheless, in the midst of tumult we turn most often to the tried and true that have seen previous generations make it through tough times. After what I believe to be such a year, I would like to share with you a story that contains some basic lessons as we give our computers, iPads, and Chromebooks a rest.
A boy was watching his grandmother write a letter. At one point he asked, “Are you writing a story about what we’ve done? Is it a story about me?” His grandmother stopped writing her letter and said to her grandson, “I am writing about you, actually, but more important than the words is the pencil I’m using. I hope you will be like this pencil when you grow up.” Intrigued, the boy looked at the pencil. It didn’t seem very special. “But it’s just like any other pencil I’ve ever seen!” he said to his grandmother. “That depends on how you look at things,” his grandmother said. “It has five qualities which, if you manage to hang on to them, will make you a person who is always at peace with the world.
“First quality: You are capable of great things, but you must never forget that there is a hand guiding your steps. We call that hand God, and He always guides us according to His will.
“Second quality: Now and then, I have to stop writing and use a sharpener. That makes the pencil suffer a little, but afterwards, he’s much sharper. So you, too, must learn to bear certain pains and sorrows, because they will make you a better person.
“Third quality: The pencil always allows us to use an eraser to rub out any mistakes. This means that correcting something we did is not necessarily a bad thing; it helps to keep us on the road to justice.
“Fourth quality: What really matters in a pencil is not its wooden exterior, but the graphite inside. So always pay attention to what is happening inside you.
“Finally, the pencil’s fifth quality: It always leaves a mark. In just the same way, you should know that everything you do in life will leave a mark, so try to be conscious of that in your every action.”
As we enter into the summer hiatus, I pray it will be a special time when we can rest in the Lord and from our labors and enjoy time alone and with family and friends. Of course, a special place for us to do so is at Sunday Mass each week, where we gather as a family of faith to support one another on the journey.
Let me leave you with a summer prayer to take with you:
Long warm days …
The pace of life slows …
A time for picnics and
rest in the shade …
Lord, help me to rest awhile
in the cooling shade of your presence.
Slow down my restless heart and
fill me with
gentle compassion for all your people.
A happy and blessed summer, everyone!