Posted by: fvbcdm | January 31, 2013

Feast of Saint John Bosco (31 Jan 2013)

It was Christmastime, and I was in 4th grade. That means it would have been in 1937. Apparently I had a pretty good memory in those days, because I was one of the first in my class to memorize the rather long poem that begins: “Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house…” So because I knew it by heart, I was chosen to go across the hall to the third-grade classroom and recite it to the third-graders. You can imagine how pleased I was and how proud to have been chosen. Probably pretty smug, too. But the good Lord had His own plans for the day. The teacher admitted me graciously and asked the class to stop what they were doing so as to listen to me. I got through the opening lines, I think I even got through the names of the eight reindeer: “Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen. . .” But then the unthinkable happened: I couldn’t remember the next line! I stood there, humiliated beyond words. I wished the earth would open up and swallow me up! I thought, and I thought, but nothing came. The kids began to snicker and then laugh out loud. Oh, the horror of it all! I was disgraced; my reputation was ruined; my life was not worth living!

The wise teacher said very gently, “Have you forgotten the rest? Well, go back to your classroom, and then tomorrow, when you’ve remembered the rest, you can come back to recite the rest of the poem for us.” Covered with shame and confusion, I mumbled my thanks and went back to my classroom, hoping desperately that no one would ask me, “How did it go?” After class I had to go and confide to my own teacher the catastrophe that had taken place across the hall. She probably patted my hand and said, “Well, go over it several more times tonight, and then you’ll go back tomorrow.” I did, and managed to get through it without further mishap.

In those days, I don’t think I knew what the sin of pride was, or the virtue of humility, or the value of humiliations. But BOY, did I learn in a very practical way the truth of the old adage, “Pride goes before the fall.” Years later, I read the books of the great Trappist author, Thomas Merton. In one of them, he describes a conversation he had with the Abbot General of the Trappist Order. The abbot said to him very simply, “Relish humiliations; they are good for the soul.” My thoughts went back to “The night before Christmas. . .” in fourth grade. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.


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