Warts and All

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Warts and All

Posted: Wed, 09 Sep 2020 15:12

Warts and All

In this week's article, Mike explores unconditional love, and how he applies Gospel teachings on love to his career as a teacher.

I have been married eighteen years. Eighteen happy years. Yet, I can guarantee, that upon meeting my her, my female colleagues will say to my wife "How do you put up with him?" I seem to have this effect on my female colleagues: I 'wind' them up! I don't mean to, I'm not really sure what I do, but I do something that gets to them. The long-suffering office staff at Savio Salesian College used to say, "Michael, we love you, but you do our heads in!" To which I used to respond, "You will be sorry when I'm gone!" Every time these hard working, skilful and committed ladies would say this I would be affirmed by their love. For they loved me 'warts and all' and 'exactly as I am'. This is a love that is rooted in the Gospel; which taught me a lot about my vocation as a minister of education.

To accept another human as they are, with all their imperfections; is to love perfectly. That may sound like a contradiction, and that is exactly what it is; yet life is full of contradictions and Jesus understood this. Almost eighteen years ago my wife, Clare, and I chose that sublime section from the Gospel of John:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

I was not fully aware of the implications of the challenge posed by this scripture when I sat and listened all those years ago, but through the kindness and compassion of the good ladies of Savio Salesian College I have come to not only understand these divine utterances, I have tried to live by this maxim as a teacher.

Young people love and embrace teachers who are 'real'. Those who walk the walk and talk the talk will always be held in high esteem by youngsters. A pupil can spot someone who does not care about them and their education a mile off. Those who have no real interest in the pupils they serve will get nowhere. Yet those who look at their pupils with love will achieve miracles. Why? How? Really?

Why?
Pope Paul VI said that pupils do not listen to teachers, but to witnesses; and if they do listen to teachers it is because they are witnesses. To be a witness is to love. To love as Jesus 'loves us', is to accept them in their entirety. That is how the Divine loves. How many times have we heard the phrase 'God is love'? What does it mean? Quite simply it means that at God's centre and circumference, there is love. The great Franciscan mystic St Bonaventure teaches that God's centre is everywhere, yet His circumference is nowhere. Quite simply God's love is a non-negotiable inclusive love, loving all his creation in all their imperfections. God is love as only God can love, and He loves His creation beyond what we may deserve. If we are to 'love one another' we must embrace and live by this agapeic maxim.

How?
Consider the baggage that each of us who works with youngsters takes into school each day. In spite of this, we expect to be loved and to be shown kindness, compassion and mercy. My friends in Savio Salesian College love me in spite of, and dare I say, because of my imperfections. They love me as the Lord loves me! Without exception. This is how we, the ones chosen by the One, should love our students. This is what it means to love by the Great Commandment. I am human and I can get angry, frustrated and basically driven to distraction by my pupils. And when I am about to 'blow', I try to pull back to this:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

John 13:34-35

If I can do this, I am being authentic. And my pupils will see that.

Really?
Yes! When Jesus gave us this 'new commandment', He meant it! The divine beauty of this commandment is that it is not easy, and it requires constant practice. It requires a consciousness that embraces the pedagogy of love. It's so inclusive it is, as St Bonaventure says, at the centre of everything with an infinite circumference. Love, to quote a lyric from the Troggs and a line from the movie Love Actually, is all around us. And I am convinced this is what St John Bosco meant when he told us that "It is not enough to love the young, they must know that they are loved." We can only love young people when we love them as Jesus loves us, and that means warts and all. If love is not inclusive it will never reach its truest dignity.
In the words of the Beatles, "all we need is love".

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