Laudo, laudas, laudat, laudamus, laudatis, laudant. Conjugating Latin verbs struck fear in my heart. Every Monday Mister Kister, my first-year high school Latin teacher, would go methodically up and down the rows of desks in the classroom having us conjugate the verbs we had supposedly mastered over the weekend.
To add to our anxiety, he had us place our demerit cards on the upper right hand corner of our desks. Make a mistake on a verb tense when it came to our turn and he would lift our card. Five marks on that card meant a “jug,” or an after-school detention.
Many years on, Dr. Daniel Kister S.J. now holds the title of emeritus professor of comparative literature at Sogang University in Seoul, Korea. Did conjugating Latin verbs help him get there? What impact did that linguistic drilling have on me?
I would like to think that the pedagogical design of the courses half a century ago had at its core the same goal as a good education does now: to open the mind of the student and take us places we never had dreamed of going. Granted the ways of pushing, prodding and encouraging have changed, but the goal hopefully is the same. Latin verbs no longer challenge today’s Yukon students but French, Spanish, German and Tutchone ones do, as well as difficult English ones for our newly arrived immigrant students.
David Wells, the director of religious education for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Plymouth, England, mirrored this approach to education when he spoke to Catholic school teachers and the public last week here in Whitehorse. In a talk at Vanier Catholic Secondary last Saturday entitled Faith: Authenticity in Challenging Times, Wells noted the tendency in most of us to find our intellectual or theological comfort zone and stay right there. Our entrenchment could and often does create tension in our relationships and community.
David Wells urged us to keep the big picture, the long view first in our mind. He gently pushed his listeners to “never allow yourselves to become narrow.
“Good theology expands our horizons” he argued. By extension, a good philosophy of life should do so as well for those not motivated by a religious persuasion.
Wells quoted from John O’Donohue’s book Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom to reinforce this theme. Excuse my poor note taking, which has left a bit to be desired, but roughly in part the O’Donohue passage went “to a controlling eye, everything is a threat, to a cautious eye, everything is a risk, to a demanding eye, everything is a disappointment but to a grateful eye, everything is a blessing.”
How do we maintain that wider, grateful perspective on life in the face of the depressing array of challenges today?
Professor Kister, my old Latin teacher, among other things is now known for his translations of a Korean poet Chong Chi-yong, who wrote in the second quarter of the last century before being ‘disappeared’ into North Korea. Chong Chi-yong’s poems, Professor Kister writes, “express attitudes which Koreans have long treasured as their own: a loving closeness to nature and to other human beings; an appreciation of truths implicit in the heart’s unquenchable longing…”
What do we treasure? How do we show it?
THE SEA 3
by Chong Chi-yong
A lonely soul
All day long
Calls to the sea –
Over the sea
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.