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Love’s creative power

St. Bernard’s School students look at an Acts of Mercy wall mural they made, now in display at St. Bernard’s Church throughout the Lenten season. (Provided photo — Sylvia Hough, St. Bernard’s School)

St. Bernard’s School patiently teaches that love means to emphasize the way of life wherein service to others, in all degrees of need, is how we act in love toward one another. It is not enough to simply be kind, because we must also be generous with our time, and willing to sacrifice some part of our own comfort to increase another person’s well-being.

Love is not an emotion so much as a decision to act charitably — it is kindness and consideration in action. Another word for love is charity, a concept which makes it easier to put love into action, to decide to love one another through compassionate acts. Love is explicitly and deeply described in 1 Corinthians 13:3: “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

A fundamental, underlying premise of Christianity is that we think in terms of “we,” in recognition that all humanity is one — remarkably clarifying when making decisions. St. Valentine’s Day supposedly denotes love when we use pink and red hearts galore to express love. Yet love can be demonstrated in many charitable ways: shoveling a neighbor’s walk, making a nice dinner for one’s family, helping stack wood for someone, offering a ride to someone with no means of getting groceries, or sharing a meal with a lonely elder who asks for little. In fulfilling the purpose of our lives, Christians must love in thought and deed.

St. Bernard’s School recently completed Catholic Schools Week. This is a week filled with more fun in school than anyone who is not experiencing it would anticipate. Tucked in throughout each day of the week are opportunities to work creatively and cooperatively within the classes and as a student body.

Examples include the “Souper Bowl,” a drive for canned soup to donate to local food pantries. This year the families collectively donated 450 cans, filling an SUV to deliver it at the end of the week.

The “penny wars” entailed every student of each class bringing in pennies to win the most donated, and silver coins to “sabotage” the pennies of other classes by “neutralizing” the number of pennies others classes were accruing while increasing the value. The fifth-grade students’ research project included writing persuasive essays, which they read to the other classes for the purpose of informing all the students of where the collected coins might be donated. Then each class held a vote, and the money was awarded accordingly. In the end, over $600 was donated to three charities: Tri-Lakes Humane Society, Back Pack program and Grace Pantry. The nature of these efforts generates not only enthusiasm but real contributions to meet real needs in our community.

Another whole-school focus was for the students to each paint a depiction of one work of compassionate service. Every student chose a work of mercy to depict, and the wide range of choices in each class generated interest and learning about the many ways we help each other in family and community. The nearly 30-foot banner collage hung in the school gym for a couple of weeks before it traveled to St. Bernard’s Church for the remainder of the weeks of Lent, the season where we are all encouraged to consider sacrifices of time for and attention to others.

Throughout the school year, St. Bernard’s School is committed to Differentiated Instruction, which encourages recognition of learning differences and offering lessons and activities that will meet each student’s instructional needs. When students ask about the individuals in her class being given different assignments at times, fifth-grade teacher Danielle Fitzgerald said, “The students know that not everyone learns the same way. They accept it implicitly. They have never asked why, because they understand why.” The spirit of acceptance and respect provides students with deepening appreciation of others. The children learn appreciation for the work others do, and are reminded to thank others for myriad reasons. Making thank-you cards and drawing pictures for someone who needs cheering up are common “free time” activities. The simple act by an individual of doing something for someone else contributes to the mental and emotional well-being of both the recipient and the giver. Helping children to develop this habit of caring in action at a young age is a way to honor human society and nurture its future.

Recently community member Tracy Darrah shared a journal entry she had made a few years ago during a difficult phase of her adulthood, included here with her permission.

“… But one thing I found that I am also thankful for is for the hardships that I have had throughout my live, because through those hardships I have learned two very important things. Charity is not only about giving to the poor, it is about forgiving those who have hurt us and opening up our hears to them once more and opening up our hearts to those most especially who are in pain. Unity is not about making others conform to our ways to fit in with what we want, but about finding the common ground between us all to form true bonds that heal instead of divide. So I have learned to keep both an open heart and an open mind.”

It is not easy to be grateful for difficulties. The insight shown in this passage is applicable to everyone, in myriad aspects of our personal and societal lives. Imagine the transformative power we possess by choosing to resolve conflicts with love and commitment to forming true bonds. St. Bernard’s School is committed to teaching children the way to contribute to this transformation rooted in love for one another. All children are welcome to learn at St. Bernard’s School, whether Catholic or otherwise, as we recognize that almost every family wants to promote in their children’s lives these values benefiting all of society.

Sylvia Hough is the family support coordinator for St. Bernard’s School in Saranac Lake.

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