A Time to Speak — The altar, the table and the desk

Deacon Cockson

Father David Cockson

Father David A. Cockson

I have fond memories of growing up as a child on a farm in Nebraska. One of the chores that my older brother and I inherited was milking our two Holstein cows in order to put milk, cream and butter on our family table, which was comprised of my grandmother, my parents, me and my seven siblings.

My dad began our milking lesson by challenging my brother and I to construct milking stools. I decided to build a two-legged stool because it was faster and easier. My brother, who was more methodical than I, but very steady, as far as his work ethic was concerned, decided to build a three-legged stool because he believed that it would stand the test of time.

The day of truth arrived when my brother and I trudged out to the barn, with milk buckets and our milk stools in hand, ready to milk the cows. I was no more than midway through the twice-daily milking chore when “Flossie” decided that it was time to test my two-legged stool. She furiously swished her tail in my direction; I panicked, not knowing what was coming next; shifted my weight on the stool and the milk bucket and its contents spilled all over the barn floor.

The only happy “campers” that morning were the kittens who licked up the milk with unabashed glee. My brother, on the other hand, finished milking “Bonnie” on his three-legged stool with no mishaps and proudly carried his stool and full milk bucket back to our house, to demonstrate to me and to my siblings why a three-legged stool was far superior to a two-legged one.

Since I was appointed chaplain at Bethlehem High School in Bardstown, Ky., by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, at the time of my priesthood ordination (May 31, 2014), I have reflected upon a metaphor that I could use which represented the Catholic education that I received back in Nebraska. The three-legged milk stool appeared to provide me with the appropriate metaphor.

The three legs of the stool represent the altar, table and  desk. The altar represents the influence that God and the church have had on my educational journey. The table represents the influence that my family and my home have had on this journey. The desk represents the pursuit of knowledge that has been an integral part of my own journey of faith.

But above all, the seat of this stool is best represented by the gift of wisdom which encourages us to learn to integrate and appropriate these important aspects of our lives into a metaphor for living a life well imbued and well formed with the gift of faith.

For one to minimize or deny any of these three main aspects of our shared journey of faith, could result in our not realizing our full potential in life as sons and daughters of God.

If one does not attend church regularly and practice their faith actively on a daily basis, the one leg of the stool — the altar — becomes weakened.
Further, if quality family time spent at home sharing a meal, prayer and conversation is almost non-existent, that leg of the stool — the table — also becomes weak.

The education that I received ­­— the third leg, the desk — was a classical education. Our educators taught us about the importance and integration of all three of these aspects within our daily lives in order to become wise and faithful stewards of God and of his creation. Our educators did not simply “teach to the test.” They taught us, as did our church and our families, important life skills that would serve us well both here in this life and in the life that is to come.

I am so very grateful for all of my educators — in life, in the faith and in the pursuit of wisdom. For me, the lesson that I learned in the barn that cold, blustery November day in Nebraska, please God, continues to still bear fruit here in Kentucky.

Every time that I see or think of a three-legged stool, I am reminded of the importance of the altar, table and the desk.

Knowledge alone may give us a job, wisdom, however, will give us a life worth living because, after all, life is pure gift. Thank you God! Thank you Archbishop
Kurtz! Thank you brother Daniel, may you rest in peace. Amen!

Father David A. Cockson is associate pastor of the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral in Bardstown, Ky., and St. Michael Church in Fairfield, Ky.

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