Column: Can this old dog learn new tricks?

Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. he has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.
Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. he has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.

by Father Mark Goldasich

I know I must have been dreaming — because it’s still mid-August — but I could have sworn that the local news reported that school had started already for many kids. Incredible!

It brought to mind this letter, written by a loving parent, on his son’s first day of school:

“World, take my child by the hand — he starts school today! It is all going to be strange and new to him for a while, and I wish you would sort of treat him gently. You see, up to now, he has been king of the roost. He had been the boss of the backyard. I have always been around to nurse his wounds, and I have always been handy to soothe his feelings.

“But now things are going to be different. . . . To live in this world will require faith and love and courage. So, World, I wish you would sort of take him by his young hand and teach him the things he will have to know. Teach him — but gently, if you can.

“He will have to learn, I know, that all people are not just — that all men and women are not true. Teach him that for every scoundrel there is a hero; that for every enemy there is a friend.

“Teach him the wonder of books. Give him quiet time to ponder the eternal mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun and flowers on a green hill.

“Teach him that it is far more honorable to fail than to cheat. Try to give my son the strength not to follow the crowd when everyone else is getting on the bandwagon. Teach him to listen to others, but to filter all he hears on a screen of truth and to take only the good that comes through.

“Teach him never to put a price tag on his heart and soul. Teach him to close his ears on the howling mob — and to stand and fight if he thinks he is right. Teach him gently, World, but do not coddle him, because only the test of fire makes fine steel.

“This is a big order, World, but see what you can do. He is such a nice son.”

Signed: Abraham Lincoln (This version comes from “Sower’s Seeds of Encouragement,” by Brian Cavanaugh, TOR.)

Substitute “God” for “World” and you’ve got a pretty wonderful prayer there, even for modern-day students. I particularly like that “gently” is repeated three times. I happen to believe that the best — and gentlest — teaching comes from example.

That’s why every year I head out to buy a few back- to-school supplies for my- self, to rekindle in my heart an enthusiasm for learning something new. By being lifelong learners, we adults can impart to the generations behind us a powerful example that never in life do you reach a point of knowing it all.

One of my “classes” this new school year is to learn more about the dynamic Pope Francis.

According to point No. 5 in his booklet “10 Things Pope Francis Wants You to Know” (Liguori Press, 2013; 48 pgs.; $3.95), John Allen Jr., says “we’re all Franciscans now.” Therefore, I’m brushing up on that man from Assisi by reading “The Gift of Saint Francis,” a colorful, illustrated, pocket-sized book by John Davis and

Don McMonigle (Ave Maria Press, 2003; 128 pgs.; $14.95).

My main “textbook,” though, will be “On Heaven and Earth” (Image,
2013; 236 pgs.; $22). In it, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) and Rabbi Abraham Skorka “share their thoughts on religion, reason and the challenges the world faces in the twenty-first century.” Scanning its contents, this book promises to be a great glimpse into the mind of our new pope.

Honestly, the older I get, the more I realize I don’t know. All I can do is pray that God, the pope and the world continue to teach me — but gently, if they can.

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