Problem Class

By Br. Christopher Start

Nearly three years ago, one of my students approached me and, looking me in the eye, stated,  “we are the problem class.” The sort of class that, at least, gives teachers gray hair, if they don’t drive them out of the classroom entirely.  A little taken aback, I pondered what this statement meant.  I decided it was a challenge.  

Challenge accepted.  However, the challenge wasn’t to solve the problem but to prove there wasn’t a problem in the first place.  The danger, as I saw it, of accepting this label of the problem class, was that it means, or risks meaning, “we’re not _____ enough”: (insert) good, smart, quiet, strong, attentive, obedient, responsible – you get the idea.

The danger of this label is that it risks obscuring the reality that each student carries a unique set of talents and aptitudes to achieve some end for which our Creator God called them into life.  That purpose isn’t only off in the future, but today; now.  The call to holiness isn’t someday but today.  The “best version of yourself” does not refer only to that day when I have ironed out all of my foibles, failings, and sins.  (That day will only happen, by grace, at that moment after death, when beyond human reason and even beyond hope, our God will look upon his creature and declare with love and awe, “Look how good she is!”) Even more so, the “best version of yourself” refers to this moment

Venerable Solanus Casey, a Capuchin friar, served his community in a simple way, for he was a simple man.  For 20 years he answered the door to his community’s monastery in Detroit.  While the visitors waited for the friar with whom they were to meet, Fr. Solanus would listen and speak with them.  Through his attentiveness to these guests, the Spirit worked many healings and gave him insight into their hearts.  Simply by opening the door, this simple friar became a powerful vessel of God’s mercy and grace.  The call to holiness, being the best version of yourself, is really that simple: grow where you are planted; do the good you can in the time and resources that are given to you.

But, back to where we started.  The “problem class” moniker confounded me.  I never saw a problem student.  How could I?  When I look my students I see athletes, historians, singers, artists, pianists, writers, and leaders,  comedians, scholars, mathematicians, actors, runners, programmers, and scouts.  I see builders, good samaritans, deep thinkers, and makers; scientists and musicians.   Most of all, I see a class of young men and women with big hearts, filled with joy, faith, hope, and charity.  Every student is a son or daughter of the Most High and co-heirs in Christ of the Father’s promise.  This dignity, this calling, and promise is not born out so much in the great moments of history.  Rather, it is in, as Saint Teresa of Calcutta taught us, “doing the small things with great love.”  

[And so, dear graduates, as we send you off to the next chapter of your lives, I leave you with one last homework assignment: Never believe the lies that you are a problem or not good enough.  

You are worthy.

You are loved.

And we will miss you.]

This talk was offered to the eighth-grade graduates of St. Benedict Catholic School in Atchison, Kansas, by Br. Christopher Start. It has been, very slightly, modified for the ease of the reader.