A group of students from the Galloway School in Atlanta were here at the monastery recently. It was s small group, chaperoned by Gordon Mathis and Jill Weinstein, two instructors and very capable guides for the students.
They have been here before and I always enjoy the time I spend with them. This visit was no exception. They are the friendliest group of kids. Listening to Gordon and Jill interact with them, I could not help but notice that the kids hold them in esteem and a deep affection. Somebody is doing something very right in the Galloway School.
We gathered in one of the conference rooms in the retreat house. Gordon encouraged them to ask questions and the kids then asked all kinds of questions about monks, monasticism, Catholicism, church ethics and policy. They were curious about me, where I came from, my likes and dislikes (especially as they relate to my musical tastes).
I responded to their questions as best I could, reminding them that there is always an official stance or policy that the church takes on human behavior and that there is always as well a pastoral approach to human life, human problems. We all fall short of the ideal. We all need help to get through life as best we can.
Gordon then asked me to share with the students any advice I could give them about life and a positive direction. I am not sure if those were his exact words, but the intent is, I think, clear. He wanted me to encourage them to look for the good in life and to follow it.
I told them to find their passion and follow it. Doing that would be good, but it would not always be easy. They seemed satisfied with that.
Later, after some thought, I wish I had told them one more thing.
They are young and just starting out in life. Their hopes are high, as are their ideals. They have the energy to handle whatever may come their way.
If and when they find that challenge into which they can pour their hearts, their passions, their very lives, I want them to remember that life is hard. There are no easy or ready answers.
In our culture, the media encourages the taking of the easiest and most pain free road. Success is weighed in terms of dollars made; maturity a toned and perfect body; love something you find and keep — or lose.
But if they move toward doing the good, life will take them on a very different road. Doing and being good will transform them all through their lives. It will free them to endure hardship, heartbreak, and loss.
For it will call them to a mystery within their hearts and yet greater than themselves, a mystery that lives and loves through all people of all times, a mystery that enables one to keep giving and giving without counting the cost.
The greatest among us teach that kind of a life by the way they live and love. Those people can be found everywhere, in places where we would never dream of finding them.
The search can begin anywhere. I look for it all the time here. And sometimes it comes knocking on our door, embodied in the smiling and hopeful faces of the Galloway students.
Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.