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From the Heart of the Shepherd

By Fr. David Hottinger, PES - Pastor

From the bulletin for the First Sunday of Advent (December 03, 2023)

The End of Her World (But She Feels Fine)

“You did what??” The way that Mr. Niption asked the question told Lucy that this conversation was not going to go as she hoped. It had been hard enough to work up the courage to say it the first time. She managed to, partly due to a hope that her biology teacher would be happy to see her doing the right thing. Now that her worst fears were confirmed, it was all the more difficult to repeat those six simple words.

“I cheated on the last test,” she finally responded, almost whispering, vainly wishing now that she had never come to the science room after the last bell of the day. That she had simply headed out to the parking lot and moved on with her day and her life as if nothing had happened.

Of course, that now-dashed hope of hers hadn’t been the only reason she had worked up the courage to confess. The other, more powerful motive, had been that gnawing feeling she had been experiencing ever since the exams were handed back in class the day before. Ever since she saw her grade, an 97, and knew that the number didn’t correspond to her mastery of the nomenclature of cell parts, but only her ability to copy their names out from a note card. The knowledge had eaten away her all last evening and late into the night. It ate at her during cross-country practice, and during dinner, and while she was trying to do her other homework. And of course while she was trying to fall asleep.

Lucy was aware that a good number of her classmates had done likewise on the exam. In fact, that was one of the reasons she had convinced herself that using a little “cheat-sheet” was permissible. That and her frustration at not being able to remember the difference between mitochondria and the golgi apparatus, or the particularly of the sodium-potassium pump. She thought it was justified--or at least that it really wasn’t that big a deal. What does it matter if I have these things memorized? She reasoned to herself the night before the text. I can always google them if I ever really need to know this stuff in real life, which I probably won’t. Everyone else does it. It can’t be that wrong. So she had told herself. But looking at that red 93 on the top of her exam, for whatever reason, she began to think otherwise. No: she knew otherwise. She had always been a good student. Had always taken pride in her grades, which reflected the hard work she had put into studying. Now she was a phony. Now her grade was an accusation. It was never about the grades, she now realized.

And so her conscience had troubled her all last night. She hadn’t slept. She had told her friends about it, but they only congratulated her on getting away with it. Later, in private, she confided with one of them that she still felt bad about cheating and was thinking of fessing up. “Are you nuts?” was the response. “Don’t do that, he’ll give you a zero! Then you’ll be lucky to get a C in the class. You’ll ruin your college applications. Probably get suspended. And of course your parents will hear about it and ground you. Just add it to your next confession and forget about it! Three Hail Mary’s and you’re in the clear!”

As much as Lucy had wanted to take the advice, as much as she feared the outcome her friend had forecasted, her conscience would not give her peace. In fact, the inward turmoil was becoming more unbearable than anything her parents or the school could throw at her. And so after the last period ended she found herself standing where she now stood, next to Mr. Niption’s desk in what she felt like was a pool of her own sweat.

“What do you mean you cheated?” her biology teacher asked, clearly unhappy with the news, “How did you cheat?” Lucy explained how she had stashed a note card inside her open backpack and looked at it several times during the exam. Mr. Niption thought pensively for a moment and then responded, “Well, you know that I will have to write you up for academic dishonesty now don’t you?” “I guess so,” said Lucy, somehow feeling that he was more upset about that than the fact that she had cheated. “And you know that I will have to give you a zero on the exam, right?” Here Lucy simply looked up from the exam she was still holding in both hands and uttered a breathless “Okay.” It was all happening just like her friend had foretold. And yet, as her professor droned on about the consequences of her actions, she found herself breathing a long sigh of relief. The inner tension had been resolved. Lucy was at peace.

Last Week's Column: Christ's Universal Kingship Is Cramping My Blues Career

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