Always with God's grace
iTEACH - Jose Claro () - November 1, 2011 - 12:00am

I received the news of my nomination from the 33rd Catholic Mass Media Awards the night before the ceremonies  while I was staring into space and worrying about the pile of proposals we have to submit to obtain funding for our school, the stacks of notebooks and student outputs I still have to check, and the next set of lessons I have to teach before the semester ends. All the while I was thinking of how burdensome my life has become after volunteering to teach in a school for the poor. 

Our mission in ERDA is meaningful but not always fulfilling. Every day, we report for work in a 16-year-old unpainted, poorly lighted and ventilated building. Our students, while very respectful, are hard to motivate, as many don’t see the need to study hard and are merely content with a passing mark. No matter how hard we prepare our lessons, students listen only half-heartedly and will have to experience a certain amount of pressure before they put into practice what they have learned. It is clear that whatever impact we have on our students, they are continuously challenged and oftentimes negated by the environments they are exposed to outside of school. 

Most of the time though, the fruits of our labor are manifested to us in a much-delayed manner, surprising us during times when we least expect it. One night, while I was dreadfully working overtime to check test papers, I decided to buy dinner from one of the carinderia stalls outside. Suddenly, a former student of mine proudly cut my way and shared with me that he is now the Student Council president of their college. Another time, from out of the blue, I read a student’s message expressing how he was changed by the lessons he learned in ERDA so that he decided to study education instead of taking a course that will lead to a much-needed lucrative job. Finally, there is the story of a school bully whom I have almost given up on three years ago but was forced to continue counseling because of his appeal for a last chance to the school board. Without realizing it, this student of mine is about to graduate this March and it is only now that I am assured that this student has finally learned to keep his promise of behaving well in school. Somehow, during graduation, I am happiest for students like him when we teachers see them march down the graduation aisle knowing that the school has saved a child from roaming the streets.

It is only during times like these when we realize that in God’s plan, we are merely workers and not master builders. Archbishop Romero would insist in his prayer that all work and labor we do will always be incomplete, a beginning and only a step along the way. It takes faith to let go and resign oneself that the rest is left for God’s grace to enter into and produce effects beyond human capabilities.

Like these achievements we experience, it is truly overwhelming for the CMMA organizers to recognize this column as having promoted Christian values and the total human development of the Filipino. In truth, most of the topics and inspiration for the series of essays deal with the common and every day experiences of poverty and hope in a little-known school called ERDA. I believe this recognition is an affirmation that God is ever-present to reveal Himself even in the humblest of working environments. 

Just like our work in ERDA, I believe writing is also an act of God’s grace. A piece of writing is always a product of the right amount of stress, pressure, disappointment, anger, frustration, and inspiration brought about by the experiences of a particular day. If people would ask me to re-write from scratch a column I have already made, I would admit that the feat is almost impossible to do because I would never be able to recreate the actual situations and contexts I was in while I was writing a specific material for the column. Looking at these through the eyes of faith, St. Therese would say all that we are able to do is not ours to possess because everything is grace.

My sincerest gratitude once again to the CMMA for recognizing that God is manifestly present in the stories of how hope and love overwhelm the evils of poverty and suffering  not with human effort, but only and always with God’s grace.

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