By Debbie Rennes
A reflection for Porta Fidei 2018.
I grew up in Bega and went to Catholic School K -10 and moved to a State School for Year 11 and 12. Dad said our prayers with us every night, I went to mass every Sunday and we all gathered for the Novena on Saturday evenings.
My Aunty was a nun who prayed for me to become a nun. Honestly, I was scared, I felt awkward and uncomfortable. I am a pleaser; I hate saying no to people when they ask me to do something. It worried me. At 14, I remember sitting in my bedroom, after I had finished my Homework and heard a distinct voice saying, “you won’t be a nun, you will get married but it won’t be easy.”
I walked out to the kitchen expecting someone to continue the conversation with me. But I couldn’t tell anyone…until now.
When I was in Year 2 I knew “when I grow up, I want to be a teacher”. Probably because being the eldest of 7, I had a lot of practice helping my brothers and sisters with whatever they needed doing. I use to love playing ‘schools’ with them. I had so much patience and even now the gift of patience comes through for me in my reactions as a teacher.
However, I didn’t get the mark I needed to get into Teachers College. So mum and I travelled to Canberra for an interview I had to be a Dental Nurse. When I came out of the interview Mum turned to me and said, “I’ve lined up another interview with the Catholic Education Office.” We just so happened to be parked across the road from the Office.
Prayers were answered! I was offered a scholarship to a Catholic Teacher’s College in Canberra. I was very excited to have the opportunity to accomplish my dream and so grateful that Mum had gone into the Office and sourced the interview. God was on my side and I felt this was meant to be.
I first taught at St’s Peter and Paul in Garran ACT, after 3 weeks on Year One, I was moved to Kinder. The reality, parents didn’t want the first year out who was engaged to be married teaching their child. My husband John was a teacher and he moved to Campbelltown to teach. After getting married in Grafton in Term 3, I moved to Campbelltown too.
The Kindergarten Teacher was going off to have twins and I thought to myself how lucky I was to have had the previous Term and a half on Kinder. God was looking out for me. Fancy getting this job! I went from 24 children in Canberra to 50 in Campbelltown!
I want to share sources of grace that I know have enabled me to live out more fully my Vocation as a Teacher.
- AT St John’s
Marie Fitzgibbons use to pray with 150 Kinders of a morning. She taught me how to pray without using formal prayers. I still am in awe of how she could talk to Jesus in front of so many people. I had always prayed formal prayers and I would just look forward to hearing her pray to God and make up the prayers as she went. She was witnessing her faith and inviting me in.
I did a Marriage Encounter Weekend, in 1981, which our friends strongly encouraged us to do. On the Sunday evening, I felt the top of my head was opened and I was filled with light and knowledge that I would never leave John we would always be together. It challenged me to love more deeply and be committed to the Sacrament of Marriage and try to be the best I could be, “God doesn’t make junk.” To love is a decision I wake up and make each day.
The following week we were asked to come along to a meal and sharing group for the Marriage Encounter Couples. I remember being asked to share what part of the Gospel was significant. I felt so embarrassed, annoyed and indignant that I was asked to share how I felt about the Bible passage. I had never done that before. Fancy asking me that question. I didn’t feel at all comfortable sharing my faith with these people.
But God had other plans for me…
We went on to have Pot Luck Dinners for the next 10 years where the sharing of Sunday’s Gospel occurred in between the main meal and dessert. It was so enormously satisfying in the growth of my own faith. I would walk away in awe that everyone was touched by a different phrase or sentence. These couples would inspire us to be the best we could be in the Sacrament.
The Vocation of Marriage has had a profound influence on me being able to share God’s love with the people I meet each day. To be loved unconditionally lifts me up reaffirms me and makes me feel happy. This love from God through John is grace from above. This grace nurtures me to love the children I teach with happiness and a desire for them to know how much they are truly loved by God.
- A NEW WAY OF SEEING
I had an In-service in about 1984, I can’t remember who presented but by the end of the day I realised how I need to see Jesus in every child we teach, my teaching took on another dimension after that. It was a challenge I was called to do. Seeing the face of God in each child changes the way I speak, care, act and teach. It makes my Vocation rich and significant. I want them growing in the knowledge they are loved for who they are. They are unique individuals loved by God. Full of gifts and talents.
- THE HARD TIMES
I moved to Port Macquarie and we had our 5th child, in 1992. Around 2001, John was teaching in Sydney 4 days a week, we had an American exchange student who was difficult, I was Sports Coordinator and teaching Year 1 and so off I went to Yamba for a Retreat for “tired” Teachers.
On the last day, we were in small groups and we each had a different scripture passage to ponder. Our group had the Emmaus Story (the one where the Disciples didn’t recognise Jesus). We had to prepare a reflection to present to the larger group and I remember this idea with so much intensity. I was to recognise John was Jesus walking with me. It was an idea that I didn’t share on the day, it was too deep to handle and I needed time to process this thought. I had never realised this. I needed to grow in an awareness of how much Jesus loved me through John’s witness of loving me. The awesome reality is, I still don’t understand this fully because it’s a mystery and God is still revealing how much He loves me. Jesus walks with me; in each person, I am with and I need to recognise it every day.
This affects the way I teach. I am challenged by the child who is incredibly demanding. The one who is not progressing in reading levels despite your best practice, the child who just annoys you for whatever reason, the one who is rude to others and likes to disrupt the “peace”. I need to ask God to help me love them no matter how I’m feeling each and every day.
In 2008, I went to World Youth Day in Sydney with my 3 girls (aged between 16 and 24). The most moving experience was the walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to Randwick Racecourse for Mass. There were so many young people! Their deep joy, dedication, faith, happiness and enthusiasm was overwhelming and I couldn’t believe how fortunate I was to be there for this celebration of Gods love for us. This affected my teaching because my faith was given another boost. I was empowered to share more fully my love for God with the way I teach. It challenged me to be bold enough to share how much God’s love can fill me with joy.
In 2011, I went to World Youth Day in Madrid, another faith fueled experience. To be surrounded by a quarter of a million youth is totally awesome! The faith these kids share with each other is miraculous! I was in awe of the testimonies, joy and kindness. We were challenged by the youth to go to Reconciliation before our group of 63 disbanded, and on the last night in Rome, I think the whole group went. It wasn’t easy to do! Afterwards, we all walked to a Trevi Fountain and bought ice cream. Never have I celebrated the Sacrament with so much fun.
It changed Reconciliation for me, the joy and healing I experienced. These wonderful memories encourage me when teaching, I need God’s Spirit when teaching about the Sacrament’s. I want them to know it’s an awesome opportunity for them to grow in understanding of the love God and the help we can call on when we need it.
We also visited Lourdes and Fatima. Some people from Australia came to speak to us about the healing they had experienced at Lourdes. They were miracles and when you are looking at people who have had miracles happen to them and the pain, joy and healing they experienced it just brings God’s love right in front of your face. It lets you know God’s healing love is there and you can go forward with this deep knowledge to be able to talk about miracles with a sense of conviction and faith.
- IGNATIUS SPIRITUALITY
Another time I felt moved was about 8 years ago in Port when I was fortunate enough to be part of an Ignatius Spirituality Retreat. I enjoyed the opportunity to grow in a prayerful awareness of my friendship with God. It made so much sense to me. I was fortunate enough to have the memories of WYD 2008 when we visited the home of St Ignatius. We celebrated Mass there, it was a goosebumpy place to be in!
Most mornings I try to read from the Sacred Space Prayer Book which is based on Ignatius Spirituality. It helped me to step out of my busy routine for a few minutes and concentrate on a short scripture passage and reflect on my relationship with God. It often gives me direction for my day and sustains me. It can feel like it’s an encounter with Jesus. It helps me to think about what I’m grateful or thankful for, what would I change or do differently.
I try to do this once a day with my kids in prayer before or after school. It only takes a few moments. We also live MJR out at school. MJR is Making Jesus Real. A wonderful program to help children realise how they can bring Jesus’ love to others.
- STAFF PRAYER
Every Friday morning for Staff Prayer we watch “Going Deeper” with Jonathan Doyle. When we share the Scripture questions in group discussion it can impact how you leave the meeting and enter the rest of the day. It helps me recognise how much children need to be nurtured, accepted and loved in our schools. It always helps me to see new ways of reaching out to our School Community by sharing scripture and prayer.
Children bring a great deal of joy to me every day. I am in awe of their faith in God, what they pray for and how they express their love for God and each other… Also how quickly they forgive.
Even in these situations, I wish I could be brave enough to express my friendship with God, but I feel afraid to and prefer to listen to others. God is endlessly patient and merciful to me! Even when I fail, or settle for less, even when I begin to doubt. God’s mercy calls me back.
He calls me to experience His passionate love and extravagant mercy. God calls me to live this reality within my Vocation of Teaching and to proclaim it to our students and to each other.
The Holy Spirit draws me here, to Porta Fidei, so I can answer the need for refreshment and have an experience of God’s love. Just to have this opportunity to come away for this retreat will help me to open the door a bit more to call on the Holy Spirit to love greater.
When in your life have you experienced the love of God?