O Captain! My Captain!

John Keating: Now in this class you can either call me Mr. Keating, or if you’re slightly more daring, O Captain! My Captain!

Dead Poets Society (1989)

One of my favorite parts of a church mass is the priest’s sermon. I get very let down if the priest giving the sermon is a bore or lacks oratory skills or tries to rumble through. I love it when a priest is articulate and stimulates the thinking or stirs the soul. Tip: If you want to be a good public speaker observe a priest during a sermon. In about 15 minutes, using only words, they have the difficult task of selling you morality. And most of the time they do a great job!

Sat 5, Sept 2015 (Teachers Day), On this occasion, attending a mass that was actually meant for children, something struck me that prompted me to write this blog entry. I normally avoid the children’s mass but today, I was sheepishly complying. The Gospel theme was forgiveness.

The whole sermon flowed much differently compared to the ones I am used to. The priest got off the altar and instead of preaching, he created a whole interactive session with the kids using Q&A. As an icebreaker, he starts off with the sport of football. However, he concludes with a lame point, that football can be a very cruel game where you will be forgiven only once (referring the yellow and red cards).  He then swiftly changes tracks to tell of the heroic tale of St. Maria Goretti. He tells it like a fable and but assures it’s all true. He then asks the children to apply the principle of forgiveness in their lives by giving them a scenario. The kids are hooked through the whole sermon. He only preaches once and that is when he addresses the parents and compels them to show mercy to their children for petty things.

This being teacher’s day I found myself looking at the priest through the eyes of a student. The subject was forgiveness and if I was one of those little children, I think, I would have taken some part of that message back home with me. I guess it would quickly be forgotten too.

Looking on as an adult, it was uplifting to see the priest draw the attention of the children with a sport, tell them the heroic story of St. Maria Goretti and then ask them to rationalize and apply the learned principle in their lives. Just as a teacher would do. As a parent I would consider a small part of my job done. This isn’t an easy job and I don’t really know how many parents take the time out to teach a child morality.

I reflect back to the many times when after a sermon I wanted to stand up and clap for a priest out of sheer adulation; right during the mass! Sometimes it was because their words healed my hurting soul, other times they provided answers to the madness of life or sometimes because of their courage to speak the truth. Sometimes I marveled at their ability to keep the gospel relevant to our times or their oratory skills or in the way they transferred their theological knowledge. Looking back I realize that, all those times provided me with my square meal of soul food and it was my uplifted soul that wanted to rejoice and return a gesture of thanks. I was touched at those many points in time. Since I will not risk looking like a fool in public, I hide my cowardice behind this blog and take the opportunity to stand up high and salute these priests: O Captain! my Captain!

Note: As explained in the movie, O Captain! My Captain! is a poem by Walt Whitman about the death of Abraham Lincoln.


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