According to legend, a young boy stood on the steps of the courthouse, waiting for his hero to come out. A fan of the Chicago White Sox, the boy had been shocked by allegations that one of baseball’s greatest heroes, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, had been implicated in a scheme to conspire with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series. As Jackson came out after testifying to a grand jury, he tried to ignore the throng of people watching for a reaction. Yet the young boy is said to have pushed his way through the crowd and grabbed Jackson by the sleeve. With an imploring look, he begged, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!” With tears in his eyes, Jackson could only respond, “I’m afraid it is, kid.”
Okay, so that scene may be a little melodramatic for today’s reflection. Still, I can imagine a bunch of kids scrunching down under the covers when their parents come in to wake them up. As Mom says, “It’s time to get up for school,” the kids respond, “Say it ain’t so!” They’re not ready to start school yet, for the summer vacation has flown by so quickly. Of course, if they do say “ain’t,” then we know that we need to get them to school and into an English class as quickly as possible. But that image of the child greeting Joe Jackson reminds me somewhat of my mixed feelings at the beginning of the year. I love being part of St. Malachy School and being with the great group of students and teachers that we have. On the other hand, that “Say it [isn’t] so” attitude reflects my feelings that it can’t be that time already. The calendar says it’s late August, but it feels like it should be July 1.
The obvious difference is that the little boy whose hero had failed him must have gone away totally disheartened. For us, once we adjust our schedules and get back into the routine, the new school year offers wonderful possibilities. Our eighth graders are looking forward to the Sacrament of Confirmation and to graduating and moving on to high school. In the meantime, they are looking forward to enjoying this year as the top class in our school. (I tell them to enjoy it while they can, for while they are the “big kids” now, there is nothing lower on any social ladder anywhere than being a high school freshman.) Our second graders are looking forward to First Penance and First Communion. And for all of our students, the following months will be filled with exciting new discoveries. There will be challenges, and there will be hard work. But our students will experience the thrill of accomplishment and the life-long satisfaction of learning something new. And there will be plenty of fun along the way.
Once I get over the shock, the first day of school is always a time of joy for me. God has blessed me in that I have never been in a parish that did not have a school. The school (as one of my former pastors often told me) brings such a great deal of life of a parish. To have the kids back with us every day is to fill an empty spot around the parish. The students are a constant reminder that God is sending us a new generation to carry on the life of the Church that has been handed down for 2,000 years. And while Shoeless Joe Jackson said it with tears, I say it with joy: It is so. Welcome back!