Holy Spirit School Division begins every school year with Mass, as do many Catholic school divisions. Holy Spirit is the perfect size for such celebrations: there are about 500 of us all told, large enough to have fourteen great schools, diverse enough in our mix of city and rural, small enough that celebrations, grade level meetings and admin meetings provide ample opportunity to forge lasting friendships and strong professional connections. Because of that, when we gather for our opening Mass after our summer’s rest, it’s a noisy, joyous roar as we greet one another. There was a time that the Bishop was a little taken aback by the noise before Mass, in what would traditionally be silence, or at least loud whispers. Now he sees it for what it is – family coming back home to start a new school year walking together in faith.
This year’s Mass was held outside our historic St. Basil (School) Catholic Education Centre, as we marked the 100th birthday of the building and Catholic education in Lethbridge. As the Eagles say ‘this is where it all began.’ Under the leafy grandeur of two very old yet majestic trees, we came together to celebrate the Eucharist. The music was great, the weather superb, the atmosphere welcoming. Bishop Fred Henry proclaimed the Gospel, then proceeded to weave a story for us in his homily, and we sat immersed in his words. He spoke of the children who would need us most, who were difficult, had Attitude, pushed us away, or felt alone. He challenged us to consider the question, “Would the students in school say their classmates were kind, even if they were not friends?” It’s typical Bishop Henry style to punch us with a question such as this. Would the children, especially the young ones, be able to separate the meaning of ‘friend’ with the meaning of ‘kind’ given this context? As he spoke, I thought hard about this question, and what it subsequently led me to consider. If everyone – students, staff- parents – were kind, no one would feel like the ‘other’, the outsider, the lonely. How would there be bullying? Couldn’t happen. In that moment, on that glorious summer day, I was deep in the moment when behind us, down the street, there was some kind of clatter happening. At first, no one moved. I thought it must be the construction guys down the road getting a little antsy about putting off work for the morning while we were at Mass. The clatter happened again, sounded like empty cans and bottles hitting the pavement. A few people briefly glanced toward the noise, and turned back with a sort of uncomfortable expression. I turned and saw a man across the street, unsteady on his feet, trying to pick up cans that kept falling through the holes in the garbage bag he carried. Every time he picked up a few, others would spill out of the bag and although trying to hurry, the task was nearly hopeless. As the staff members reached him,one took out her wallet to give him some money as the other found a new bag for his treasure. Later I learned that the man was embarrassed, and kept muttering, ‘I’m sorry…so sorry.” He thanked our staff for helping him, then off he went down the street to trade in his cans at the local recycling centre. Then we really had something to think about. Here we were in our beautiful bubble, celebrating as a Holy Spirit family, praying together, praying for one another, and thinking about the words of the Bishop, when right there before us was the real story. The truth about kindness and compassion is that opportunities to stop talking and start doing can be times when things are not opportune at all. The times when kindness is most needed are times when we least want to be kind, when it’s bad timing, or uncomfortable, or even scary. Kindness is the man who had probably five bucks worth of cans in that bag, at the most, cashing them in to buy some food.Yet there he was, apologizing for disturbing us during our celebration. Instead, we should be thanking him for bringing us the face of Christ.