Saturday, January 15, 2011

Angel Gabriel's Lesson

Periodically the school principal would observe each teacher presenting a lesson in a given subject. I had been teaching at St. Vincent Ferrer School for a number of years, and I had been thinking about the lesson I would prepare for my formal evaluation. I was scheduled to be observed that year teaching Religion to my fifth grade class.  The date of my observation would be Wednesday, March 24, 1993.  

Sunday morning, prior to that date, I had it in my mind to prepare a lesson about St. Gabriel the Archangel, since March 24th was his traditional feast day. Then, I had second thoughts when I considered that his feast day had been transferred to September 29th and shared with Sts. Michael and Raphael the Archangels. I wondered whether or not I should go ahead with my plan anyway. 

I rarely would turn on the television on a Sunday morning, but that day I sat with a cup of coffee and the remote control and began to change the channels on the TV looking for something to watch for a few minutes before getting ready for Mass. At that time, we had only the local channels, 2, 4, 5, 7,9, 11 and 13.  No cable or satellite. I clicked on a news show, and my mind wandered to whether or not to do a lesson on St. Gabriel when I heard the host of the show ending the program and wishing viewers a great week.  Before signing off he said, "And remember that tomorrow is the Feast of St. Gabriel, the patron saint of television."  I could hardly believe what I heard!  This was not a religious broadcast, but a secular news program, reminding viewers of the Feast of St. Gabriel, and in the traditional calendar, no less!   

Regina, a first grade teacher, had been kind enough to pick me up in the morning so that we could drive together to school. As we rode in the car, I mentioned that I was being evaluated that day and that my lesson was about St. Gabriel. I went on to tell her about the amazing little coincidence I had taken as a sign to proceed with the lesson on St. Gabriel.  Regina was skeptical. "Well that's very nice," she said.  "If it helps you to think of that as a sign, that's fine."  Not the response I expected.  But, before classes were to start that day, Regina was to be surprised.

We had arrived early enough to sit a while in the teacher's room in the Primary building before the start of the school day.  I said that I wondered it there were a bible around.  Perhaps, if there were time, I could read an appropriate scripture passage to the class.  There happened to be a bible on the table, and Regina picked it up and was flipping through it to help me find a reference to St. Gabriel.  I had been looking over her shoulder, and when she came to a passage in the bible that mentioned Gabriel by name, she said, "Here it is!, Gabriel."  At that very moment, we heard a voice from the end of the hall calling "Gaaa-bree-el".  I'll never forget Regina's reaction.  "Mother of God!" she said.  The voice belonged to the secretary, Lillian. Gabriel was a  three-year old pre-schooler in the before-school program. He had been wandering down the hall, and the secretary was calling him to come back.

The lesson went very well, and in the weeks that followed, I took pleasure in noticing many unexpected references to the Angel Gabriel such as hearing Schubert's Ave Maria  in unusual places such as in restaurants and in a train station. (Ave Maria is Hail Mary in Latin, the greeting of the Angel Gabriel to Mary) But, the most uncanny coincidence was to take place a short time later when taking my class on class trip to a television studio in Manhattan.

It was to see the filming of a children's show, and the trip had been arranged by some of the other teachers. My class had been invited to come. The show consisted of various short supposedly comedic skits introduced by an emcee, but no one seemed to be laughing expect the people in the show.  I felt an uneasiness in the studio as if there were something unwholesome about the place.  Perhaps it was some dank aspect to the building, the slang language that was used, or the overly casual demeanor of the cast that made me uncomfortable, and I hoped there would be nothing to come that would be a bad example to the children.  As I sat in the darkened theatre, I felt the impulse to pray a Hail Mary. Suddenly, a small boy, about six years old, dressed in what looked like a white gown walked across the stage. As the spotlight followed him, he looked like a little angel in the light. He had been wearing what resembled a lab coat that reached the floor and which may have had some connection to a particular sketch.  I think it was to appear that he had wandered onto the stage, although his appearance was a planned part of the show. The emcee said, "I'd like to introduce you to my son. His name is Gabriel."  

With those words, I no longer was uneasy.  I felt that Angel Gabriel was letting me know that he was protecting us.

Joan Virzera

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