Welcome to this great occasion!

On a dull day occupied with ordinary work and no great celebration in sight he would be studying the crossword with intense concentration. As you entered the room you would be greeted with, “Welcome to this great occasion!” You would search your mind for a moment to see what was great about it and soon remember that every moment of every day was “great” for this 90 year old man.

holy-bibleFrank Woda left us this week for a place where there would be many to welcome him to “this great occasion” of his passing from this world to the next. I only knew him as a wobbly old man who was inclined to fall asleep during a conversation or even at meals, but since his death a flood of reminisces have hit Facebook as his former students from Chicago to Hong Kong recall his teaching at Canisius College in the Southern Province of Zambia.

Frank, seemingly, was a meticulous science teacher: clear, demanding and up to date. It was his metier, his chosen craft, and he loved it. He taught his students to be disciplined and exact. He had a humour that could be acerbic and withering which even we, his Jesuit companions in his old age, could occasionally feel the lash of. But it was all in the service of his default stance of straining for accuracy and logical thinking. I suspect his students found him a tough teacher but the torrent of affection on the internet gives their final verdict.

Frank was a teacher. But he was also a priest and from the earliest days of the Jesuits, teaching has been one of their ways of reaching out to people. Like any good teacher, Frank not only sought good pass rates in exams: he was also interested in the whole development of his students – outside as well as inside the classroom. He encouraged their curiosity in broad scientific questions; astronomy, nature, constructing radios and later all the intricacies of computers. The anecdotes surrounding these activities cascade off Facebook.

This is the good news the angels announced. It was not general and vague and in the future. It was good news now, in the class room, in the stars at night and in the rough and tumble of every day. Christmas is about transformation. It took centuries for God to prepare his people for it. They were dull and slow and wont to turn aside to other things. So we can be patient with ourselves if it takes us time to realise what God is doing in our lives. We are called to contemplation: to sit quietly for a while and wonder at it all. God is at work. Can I be a scientist for a moment and observe it and rejoice? Welcome to this great occasion!

Christmas, 2016.

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