On Monday, September 18, 1967, I began my college student career as a freshman enrolled in Duquesne University, a Catholic liberal arts college in Pittsburgh sponsored by the Spiritan Fathers. For anyone who has gone through the college experience, the first day of class is, to say the least, a daunting experience. I can well remember my anxieties of college: Would I be able to adjust? Could I match the academic challenge? Would I pass? Might I fail?
What made my first day of school even more memorable was my first class. ANCIENT GREEK! Not only did I find myself in a new environment, with new peers, surrounded by many new challenges—the first moments of the college classroom experience began with ANCIENT GREEK, for me a new language, with a different alphabet from a classic and far gone era.
To compound matters more, the professor began the class by informing us that she was a Rhodes Scholar (which I quickly learned meant that she was mighty bright)! She also let us know that she had never taught before (which I also quickly learned would make the year distinctly more so a challenge)!
For the next 36 weeks, Monday through Friday at 9:00 a.m., and many a late night study session, I met the rigors of memorizing, learning, writing, studying, translating a language I would never speak and quite honestly hoped I would never have to meet again once my freshman year was ended. Did my classmates and I wrestle with discouragement that academic year? You bet! But no less than Dr. O’Donnell, as I hoped she learned as much from us in her first year of teaching as we did from her. Those impressions of a “wet behind the ears” eighteen year old college freshman have given way to a far more realized wisdom.
Today, I can be genuinely grateful for all that I learned in my ANCIENT GREEK class. Not only did I learn a new language; more importantly I learned how to see the world differently. In learning to see the world differently, I also came to understand “communicating” differently—how important it is to see things from lots of different sides. For to do so helps growth in wisdom, which, in the Biblical sense, means to grow in the mind of God.
One of the new benefits I derived from my study of ANCIENT GREEK was an appreciation of the subtleties contained in that language as compared with pragmatic English.
In thinking back on my Greek vocabulary, one word that quickly comes to mind is Ευχαρίστειν, which means “to give thanks.” But far more than a perfunctory, quick, off-the-cuff “thank you” which you and I share and receive from each other countless times in our lives, the word “Ευχαρίστειν” means much more. It means putting one’s whole heart and soul in expressing thanks. No wonder that the Greek infinitive Ευχαρίστειν is not only descriptive of our faith-filled word “EUCHARIST”; it also became the expression of Jesus Himself on the night before He died when He celebrated the Last Supper, the First Mass, the gift of Eucharist with His Apostles and for us.
What Jesus did on that first Holy Thursday was to teach us how to say “thanks” to God—not in the casual and mindless way we sometimes say that word in our busy and oftentimes distracted lives as Americans—but rather by putting our whole heart and soul in that word, “thanks,” to God.
Today, we are anticipating Thanksgiving weekend. For many it involves a long weekend, hopefully some free time, the chance to be with family and friends, not to mention the turkey, stuffing, and all the other traditions of history and family that make it a time so special for us; not only as Americans but more particularly as followers of Jesus.
Jesus continues to teach us through the Eucharist what it means “to give thanks” and how to do so from the “bottom of our hearts and souls.”
As you read this reflection, Thanksgiving Day is less than a week away with the promise for each of us for a few extra pounds on the scale. My prayer for you and me is that “Thanksgiving” be more than the fourth Thursday of the month of November.
Following on the example of Jesus Himself and with the help of Jesus Himself in the Eucharist, perhaps when we say the word “thanks” we can stop and think of how Jesus said it—with His whole heart and soul—and try to do the same.
Little did I imagine on that first day of “ANCIENT GREEK” class what an important lesson I would learn—one that would carry me through life and beyond!