New Beginnings

Seeing things through, even amid our stubborn opposition

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Father Michael AckermanNew beginnings can be especially challenging, but they can also be great periods of renewal. As a school chaplain, I have often greeted students at the beginning of the year as they stepped off the bus, eager to begin learning … well, usually.

At the start of one particular year, a third grader was not the least bit excited to be back to school. He stood in front of the school with his arms crossed, stamping his feet. “I hate school!” I heard him say, “and I’m not going in!” His mother desperately tried to plead with him, as did his teacher and several of his peers, but he was having none of it. I actually began to imagine them wheeling him into the school like Dr. Hannibal Lecter from “Silence of the Lambs,” kicking and screaming the whole way.

Finally, a little incentive broke his will. There was an announcement made that an ice-cream truck was coming during the lunch periods for students. By the time that recess ended, he was the happiest child in the class and triumphantly declared that he was coming back tomorrow.

As amusing as this story is, times of change and transition can become contentious. I have a priest friend who told me that when he was named a new pastor, the outgoing pastor refused to leave. He was not happy with being transferred and did not move one single thing out of the rectory. Eventually, the vicar for clergy had to intervene and liberate the rectory.

It was a very difficult and divisive situation for my friend to be in, but he took everything in stride. “How’d you resolve this situation?” I asked him. “Prayer,” was his response, and “watching ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ imagining I was storming Normandy.” He went on to be very successful at that assignment despite the inauspicious start. His attitude, serenity and trust in God, no doubt, sustained him all the way.

Some years ago, I was given the book “Searching for and Maintaining Peace” (Alba House, $7.95) by Father Jacques Philippe, and I have often referred to it during difficult moments. In particular, I have often reflected upon the words of Venerable Francis Libermann, as quoted in the book: “Don’t ever allow yourself to become upset by your misfortunes. In face of your misery, should you find yourself in this situation by the will of God, remain humble and lowly before God and be at great peace.”

Now, I am fairly certain Libermann was not necessarily thinking of obstreperous third graders, belligerent pastors or endless parish and diocesan meetings when he wrote this, but it certainly does fit for so many occasions. God is teaching us many things in our new beginnings and our struggles, but he always sees things through, even in the midst of our stubborn opposition. 

FATHER MICHAEL ACKERMAN is the parochial vicar at the parish grouping of Holy Sepulcher in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, and St. Kilian in Butler, Pennsylvania.

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