Adding it all UP: Come to Jesus Moments

Fr Charlie McCoy, CSC teaching at University of Portland

Fr. Charlie McCoy, C.S.C., continues sharing with us the adventures of being a professor, pastoral resident, and priest at the University of Portland in this second post in his monthly series. Last time, Fr. Charlie told us about a 30-foot gorilla. This time, he shares about “Come to Jesus moments.”

The other day, I asked my precalculus class if they had ever heard of a “Come to Jesus moment.” Speaking as a priest, I wish I had been intending to use the expression in a truly spiritual sense, but I meant it in the colloquial (and I think non-blasphemous) sense: a wake-up call, a moment of decision, etc. The class as a whole performed poorly on the last quiz, and not more than two out of thirty students had been to my office hours during the week leading up to it.

This semester of precalc has been a real challenge so far, for them and for me. It’s not so much the content. The challenge is in the wide spectrum of student preparation: a few already have good skills and use this course as a refresher or brush-up; many in the middle have a decent foundation, but maybe it has been awhile since they studied math, or maybe their high school math experience wasn’t the best; a few, despite being very bright, struggle with the rules of arithmetic and algebra. How do I teach to such a diverse population? How will the ones who are so far behind get up to speed? All of them, by the end of the semester, are supposed to be prepared for calculus; that is this course’s whole point.

People often ask me how, as a priest and a math professor, I can work in such different fields. My short response is that the two kinds of work are not as different as one might expect. The people we encounter in ministry come from an enormous diversity of religious education, experience, preparation, prayer, etc. Even though I’m in my late 30s (ugh!), I’ve never known a Church where all Catholics could assume a common religious vocabulary and mindset. And even if such a Church once existed in the distant past, people’s experience of God in prayer and family has always been part of their individual mystery (thanks be to God). And yet, as religious priests, we are given the enormous task and honor of helping people from all of these diverse places come together and prepare for what is most important: our actual “Come to Jesus” moments.

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