Saturday, August 2, 2014


On Monday July 28 St. Benedict's Prep started our new school year. This meant that the freshman all arrived Sunday night to begin their week of being introduced to the school and its unique culture and traditions.

The freshmen are divided into groups of about eight, and go through all manner of team-building and other exercises. The week also includes plenty of physical exercise. On Wednesday evening I was watching one group go through some strenuous pushups. After a few sets a couple of the kids were really struggling to lift their bodies off the ground. The person leading the exercises said "Come on guys, encourage each other, you have to help your brother get through this." There was dead silence as each individual kept gritting his teeth and pushing himself to finish -- not a single kid had a word of encouragement for the guy next to him.

I confess I was saddened at this display of egeocentrism. It crossed my mind that some of this might be an attitude that the slave masters had long ago tried to ingrain in their Black slaves: "You're on your own, you are just an individual, not a member of a group, you are not to care or feel responsible for anyone else." I don't know, maybe I was reading too much into the incident.

But then I was encouraged by the realization that after they've been around here a while these kids will start to understand that part of being a successful and happy person is encouraging your brothers and sisters to succeed. They are taught to shout one of our mottoes: "Whatever hurts my brother hurts me, whatever helps my brother helps me." It's indoctrination, of course. It's intended to counter the constant indoctrination they've received  for the first thirteen years of their lives from our egocentric, individualistic, hedonistic, materialistic culture and its slogans.

Maybe because of that little incident of the pushups I became very much aware this week of my own ways of encouraging those around me, whether students or grown-ups.

There are some students in my class who are still scrambling to learn English, so they need extra help and encouragement. So I sometimes spend time with them after school. Yesterday I got the brightest student in the class to take one of the three and and go over the material for the test with him ahead of time; I only realized later that the bright student learned a more important lesson than the brother he was tutoring.

The freshmen spend the week here, sleeping in the big gym, and having very little "down time." I always make it a point to stop by the freshmen whenever I can, to be of some encouragement, especially to kids who look scared or tired or more miserable than their brothers.

People pray to God for help, strength and perseverance.  But the way God answers those prayers is through ordinary folks like you and me. From each page of the New Testament God's voice calls to every Christian, like the voice of that gym teacher calling to the freshmen: "Come on guys, encourage each other, you have to help your brother get through this." Will I just concentrate on my own personal pushups, or will I try to help someone else get through theirs?

I pray for our new freshmen who have now gone home after this difficult week, that they can begin to understand and live out the gospel message, "Whatever hurts my brother hurts me, and whatever helps my brother helps me."



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