When we hear the word “spirituality”, we probably immediately think of the religion and theology classes for our students, whether they go to mass every Sunday, or whether they pray the rosary regularly. Education in the faith, prayer and sacramental life are surely very important. The apostles saw Jesus getting up early in the morning to pray and asked him, “Lord, teach us how to pray.” And Jesus taught us the beautiful “Our Father.” But we cannot equate spirituality with prayer. I define Christian spirituality as a way, a way of following Jesus. In the Acts of the Apostles, Christianity is often referred to as simply “The Way.” Jesuit and Ignatian spirituality is a way of following Jesus, in the spirit and following of St. Ignatius. What then is central in this Way, in the following of Jesus? Prayer. But if we take time to read the Gospels, most central to Christian spirituality is the Way of the Cross. “If anyone would come after me, let him take up his cross daily and follow me.” When James and John asked to be with Jesus, to sit one on his left and the other on his right, Jesus simply asked them if they were ready to suffer with him. What might this mean for us and for our community?
In talks I give every year to Grade School parents, I share with them reflections on Scott Peck’s “The Road Less Travelled.” If you remember the book, it opens with the line: ”Life is difficult.” In other words, you will meet crosses in the journey of life. Since my talk is for parents, I usually refer to the normal crosses our students bear: a low grade, a defeat in sports, criticism, a disciplinary case. Scott Peck goes on: “Life is a series of problems. Do we want to moan about them or solve them? Do we want to teach our children to solve them?” Do we teach them to face the consequences of an academic failure or a disciplinary problem or do we shield them from the responsibility and the pain? If Christian spirituality is about learning to accept the cross, the pain that comes our way, what might our theme of “Deepening Spirituality” mean? Scott Peck speaks of teaching our students to face the pain of problems constructively. He calls it discipline and gives four ways of discipline: delaying gratification, acceptance of responsibility, dedication to the truth and balancing. Let me dwell on the first two. The classic example of delaying gratification is the famous marshmallow test. You can find the story on the Internet. Years ago, a psychologist, Walter Mischel, gave a group of 4- year olds a marshmallow each. He told them, you can eat it immediately. But if you wait for a few minutes, I will give you a second marshmallow. Some immediately ate the marshmallow. Others distracted themselves, singing, walking around, and waited. Mischel tracked down the children fourteen years later. The youngsters who, at four, had waited to win the second marshmallow, did well on the skills that make for success -- in school, at work, in life. They had confidence, persistence, capacity to cope with frustration. On the other hand, the one-third who immediately ate the marshmallow had less confidence and persistence and were doing much less well in school and life.
A few years ago we did a study of the Best Practices of parents of successful boys in our high school. A couple of years later we did a similar study of Best Practices of parents of successful public high school students in Marikina and Bulacan. I was very struck by a remark from some of these parents. They said: “Kung nagkamali ang aming anak, dapat siya ang humarap.” He should accept responsibility and face the principal or the teacher. We could learn something from these parents. We often shield our children from facing responsibility. We even make false excuses to save them from consequences. We say that we want to save them from pain. But pain is a very important gift of God and nature. The pain of getting our hand burnt on a hot stove teaches us not to do it again. There are people who do not experience physical pain. We say, “Wow, that’s great!” No, it’s not great. They end up burning their hands, getting cuts, getting physically messed up. Protecting our children from pain may unfortunately prevent them from learning and they eventually become all messed up. Thus we may understand better what Jesus meant when he said that he who tries to save his life will lose it, while he who accepts to lose his life will save it. Contrary to our instincts, the cross and the acceptance of the pain that comes our way is the way to life. And the avoidance of the cross, the avoidance of pain leads to an impoverished life. Avoidance of pain, Scott Peck says, is ultimately more painful that the legitimate suffering it was designed to avoid. He quotes Jung: “Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.” J. K. Rowling, the famous author of the Harry Potter series, in a Harvard Commencement Address on “The Fringe Benefits of Failure” says,
Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.
Her experience shows that the cross is often the way to life.
We tend to be a nation whose default mode in the face of problems is to deflect pain and find someone else to blame. Accepting the challenge to deepen our spirituality in this second year of our Sesquicentennial countdown by accepting the way of the Cross, learning to accept responsibility for facing and solving our problems would be a wonderful preparation for our final
year theme of “Building the Nation.”
An excerpt from a homily of Fr. Bienvenido F. Nebres.