Friday, August 18, 2017

Teaching Peter

As the beginning of the school year gets underway, principals, students, teachers and parents are undoubtedly filled with the simultaneous and conflicting emotions of hope and dread, excitement and anxiety. The life of the new year wrestles with the pending death of summer vacation.

And, much like sports teams beginning their respective seasons undefeated, every school year begins afresh - ripe with the hope that this year will be the year. The year that every student succeeds, the year that my son reads at grade level, the year that my daughter makes lasting friends, the year that I stay out of trouble, get an A, make the team, earn highest honors, and become Student Council President.

For some, this newness will last well into the fall or even winter. No tardies. No missing homework assignments. No demerits or detentions or strikes or whatever punitive behavioral mark your school uses. No loss of patience. No less than stellar lessons. No "wing it" Wednesdays. No "I'm closing the door of my open door policy" Februarys.

For some it may even extend into the spring and all the way into the summer of 2018! These success stories, though, most often result with very little effort. These are the students who are successful in spite of their academic situations. Naturally intelligent and driven, these are the students that would succeed even if they were to teach themselves! These are the teachers whose favorite color is sunshine and who don't drink coffee - not because they don't like the taste but because "they don't need it"! These are the parents that seem to be able to work full time, run their own business, support a successful mommy-blog, volunteer at every event, coach sports that even their children don't play and always dress as if they just posed for GQ. These are the administrators - at Catholic schools at least - whose seats, budgets, endowments, test scores, student organizations and seemingly every other aspect of the school is full. They are early to every administrators' meeting and don't have to run back to their building upon the meetings' conclusion.

Seldom do these year-long success stories result from intense and sustained effort or after the inevitable failures, mix-ups, missteps and mistakes that usually spiral into habits of these negative outcomes. A winning streak is hard to maintain because it's fragile. A losing streak, though, is sticky because it's hopelessness it is so contagious and addictive. After a while, the mud doesn't seem so dirty or unpleasant. Wallowing is easier and somehow less painful than the effort involved in getting back up, brushing off the grime and trying again - especially because you may just end up falling back down.

As I reflect on the beginning of this school year (my first outside of a K-12 school in 16 years) and all of its promise of hope and fear of failure, I am struck by the example of Peter throughout the New Testament. In Peter we have the epitome of mess-ups. He continually finds himself putting his foot in his mouth, misinterpreting a sign or teaching, sinking into the water, and even worse: lying. In Peter, though, we also have the epitome of transformation. He was able to break through and overcome the stickiness of the losing streak and experience a remarkable turnaround. Simon to Peter. Betrayer to worthy of trust. Follower to leader. Ordinary to miracle-maker.

As I think of the Peters that we will encounter within our schools - the students who will make mistakes, the parents who will drop the ball, the teachers who will want to pitch tents to capitalize on the Transfiguration, the administrators who will act more like a sheep than a shepherd - I wonder what made the difference for him? I wonder how he was able to break out of the losing streak that had him pitted as a by-name-betrayer in the Creed. I wonder how, at the end of his time with his Teacher, he was able to stand successfully on the footsteps of the Church he helped to establish.

My response is simple: prayer and love.

Undoubtedly, Peter must have been the subject of at least one of Jesus's conversations with His Father. It brings me great comfort to imagine Jesus praying for one of His closest friends - praying and interceding on Peter's behalf. Jesus stated there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends - Jesus died for friends and foes alike - He most certainly would have prayed for His friends, too.

Jesus never stopped loving Peter. He never missed a chance to forgive him. He capitalized on the bright spots, reinforcing to Peter a job well done. Jesus continued to teach Peter, with love and about love, even after Peter's greatest fall. Jesus showed Peter his potential and then helped him reach it.

God is in the business of refurbishing broken things and making them new. He is versed at turning death into life, making last place feel like first, forging the greatest comeback of all time.

Educators must be in a similar business - taking broken things and making them new. Turning the death of ignorance into the life of knowledge. Changing the students who struggle the most into the greatest champions within our schools.

As we encounter Peter in our schools this year, let us approach him with the same love that Jesus approaches all of us - unconditional, intense, unwavering, relentless. Let us see the Peter in our midst with the same eyes that Jesus sees all of us - full of potential, made for greatness, built for holiness, destined for sainthood.

Let us pray for our Peters. Let us offer them 2nd, and 3rd and 49th chances. Let us offer to them the same transformational love that Jesus offers to us all.

Prayer + love = transformation. 

St. Peter, on the cusp of this new school year, pray for us - especially those of us most like you.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Hearts of Apostles

I believe that God speaks to us through the Mass.

In every Celebration of the Eucharist, there is some message being proclaimed to us. Might be in the Gospel. Might be in a song. Might be in a homily or Mass part or just a thought that comes to us in prayer. 

Of all of the Gospel readings that there could have been for your Graduation Mass, you had this one. For some reason God intended for you to hear it. But, I believe that God also intends for you to hear this message, too. 

Jesus tells of the trials we will face as His disciples:

"If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.
If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own;
but because you do not belong to the world,
and I have chosen you out of the world,
the world hates you.

Can somebody say, huh?

Some of you have just spent the past 10 years at a school whose mission says that it keeps with the tradition of inspiring "disciples of Christ".

Why? If we know that a result of following Christ is that we will have to bear our cross and travel up to our own Calvary, why on earth we would follow Him? 

In this, the liturgical season of Easter, we hear of the story of the first apostles. We hear of the miracles performed in Christ's name by Peter and Paul. We hear of miraculous escapes from prison. We hear about how thousands of people came into the faith as a result of the witness of the apostles. We hear about them being led by the Spirit to give their lives for their faith, in the same way that their Teacher, Jesus Christ, did.  

Those that witnessed the Resurrection lived lives so courageous, so on fire for this faith, that they would still be willing to call themselves Christians after seeing the end of the one called the Christ and knowing that it could be their end, too.   

As St. Julie Billiart states, 
There must be nothing little about us; we must have hearts of apostles.

Because even though Jesus warns us of the difficulty of a life devoted to Him, He also tells us that He came so that we may have joy and that this joy may be complete. He tells us that if we follow Him we can do the things that He did and even great things than those. 

And to me, that's the type of life I want to live. A life of passion, purpose and possibility. That's the type of life that's filled with adventure. 

It's the stuff of heroes

But, I know what you're thinking. You don't have the heart of an apostle. Those stories and that kind of faith is for someone else - not you. 

That you haven't been given the keys to the kingdom. 

Jesus hasn't blinded you by knocking you off of your horse. 

He hasn't changed your name. 

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI stated, 
The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.

ICS Class of 2017, you were not made to walk gingerly through this life, passive and afraid, on the safety of the shore. You were made to walk tall with purposeful steps and push out into the deep waters and leave a footprint on this world that will echo through eternity. 

You were made for greatness, holiness, sainthood. You are a diamond - strong and pure - that is meant to reflect God's glory for all to see. 

Let there be nothing little about you. You do not honor our God by playing small. 

You were created on purpose for excellence. 

Jesus has given you the keys to the Kingdom. You're here, graduating from a Catholic elementary school. You have been given the opportunity to learn about Him and His teachings. You've been invited to His table. You were created in the same fashion as Peter - on purpose and for excellence. Jesus's plan for your lives is no less heroic than Peter or any of the saints. 

He is building His Church upon you. You are a Rock - solid and firm. 

Jesus has knocked you off of your horse. In some cases you've fallen far and hard. In others, the fall has been softer, more subtle, but not any less impactful. Jesus is molding you into a beautiful home. And, He's not just an interior decorator. He's knocking down walls. He's building 2nd, 3rd, and 14th floors. He's making you into something majestic. He's re-constructing you into a palace. And, friends, He plans to live there. 

He's building you into His Church. You are a Cathedral - beautiful and inspiring. 

Jesus has changed your name. He has chosen you. For those of you that have been confirmed, He has given you a new name. He has given you a purpose. He has placed upon your heart a passion. He has given you the hope of possibility. He has spoken to you. In some cases it's been a whisper, in other's Jesus has used a conversational tone. For a few, He's shouted! He's stirring into flame the spark that you received at baptism. He is kindling the embers within your heart until it is on fire for Him!

He's building you. You are His - His beloved child. 

Royal blood courses through your veins and is pumped by your heart - the heart of an apostle. 

Let there be nothing little about you. You were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness. Greatness isn't mediocre and it doesn't come easily. But that's okay, because and you can and must do hard things. You are made from eternal stock. There is a depth and resolve to your Spirit. Grit your teeth, dig in your heels. Grab your hard hat and your lunch pail and get to work! Go! Run to do the work that God has set out before you and do it with everything that is within you. 

ICS Class of 2017, you were created on purpose for excellence. 

You have a part to play. 

He's called you by name. 

He's given you purpose. He's filled your heart with passion. He's given you the hope of possibility. 

And while Jesus tells us that the world will hate us because of our love for Him, He also tells us, "In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world."

You follow a God who has conquered sin and death. You believe in a Lord who offers unfailing life. You know that even though it may be Friday that Sunday's coming! 

ICS Class of 2017, follow in His footsteps so that, like the apostles and all of the holy men and women who have gone before you, you can leave your footprint on this world. Let there be nothing little about you. You were made for greatness. You have the hearts of apostles. 

*Graduation address to the ICS Class of 2017. Congratulations, Class of 2017!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


Let us remember that the reason that we had yesterday off from school and work was to honor the heroic work carried out by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other courageous men and women to bring about equality and justice in our country. 

As such, let us be inspired by the work and words of this great man. As Fr. Stephan Brown, SVD,  proclaimed during a homily on January 15, 2017: "Let us be drum majors for justice. Let us be drum majors for peace. Let us be drum majors for righteousness." 

There is still good work to be done. Let us be the people to do it.
The following "Found Poem" is inspired by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Seared by the flames
Withering injustice
Crippled by manacles
Restricted by chains
A lonely island of poverty
A dark and desolate valley
Quicksands, sweltering summers, storms, winds - whirlwinds
A mountain of despair. 
Let us not wallow there
Up let us rise
to the sunlight path, the majestic height,
the palace of invigoration
shaking the foundations
Until that day
The day we cash the check
Drink from the cup
And satisfy our thirst. 
This long night of captivity will end
Doors will be opened
The discord, transformed
And the symphony of churches, 
    pointing their lofty spires heavenward,
        will once again ring out...

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

That's Christmas to Me

In the words of Matthew Kelly, there is genius in Catholicism.

Catholicism recognizes that Christmas is such an incredible celebration that it throws an eight day party. The miracle and mystery of the Incarnation had been prophesied for generations. The Creator of heaven and earth left the first to inhabit the latter. Known as the Octave of Christmas, the period of time from Christmas through the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (January 1) is an extension of Christmas. Every day throughout the octave of Christmas "reflects back on the Nativity, not just the birth of Christ but the impact, the reality of the birth".

Our great Mother Church follows the Solemnity of Christmas with a series of feast days that move us out of the manger and into the journey of faith.

December 26 marks the Feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr. This reminds us about the cost of discipleship. We move out of the "serenity" of the manger scene and into the harsh reality of being a Christian.

December 27 was the Feast of St. John, Apostle and evangelist. St. John, the beloved apostle, wasn't beloved because of anything he did. Instead, he was beloved which allowed him to do the things he did - take Mary in as his own mother and compose one of the Gospels and the Book of Revelation.

Today, December 28, the feast of the Holy Innocents, once again reminds us that the "peace" of the stable was juxtaposed with danger and cruelty. Joseph and Mary, on the tail end of an exhausting journey to Bethlehem, flee to Egypt to escape Herod's wrath. While Jesus was spared in this instance, we know that many more innocent children lost their lives to the evil of the world.

December 29 is the feast of St. Thomas Becket, another martyr, another reminder of the cost of following Jesus.

We celebrate the feast of the Holy Family on December 30. Jesus came into the world as a baby. Joseph and Mary undoubtedly experienced the same challenges faced by all families. They serve as a model and example of the importance of family in the development of faith.

December 31 is the feast of Pope St. Sylvester I, the Pope who supported the Council of Nicea in 325 that proclaimed Jesus as both fully human and fully divine - giving the mystery of the Incarnation even that much more weight.

Finally, on the eighth day of Christmas, we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. On this high feast we are once again reminded of Mary's monumental "yes" that changed the world.

As we reach the half-way point of Christmas (4 days in), let us continue to find joy in the Incarnation. Let us continue to recognize that Christmas is more than a day. Let us continue to sing, dance, visit with family and friends and pray. Despite the challenges of discipleship, may Christmas remind us that the world, because of His entry into it, is forever changed.

For to me, Christmas isn't about a man dressed in red.

It's about a baby who's story is meant to be read.

It's not about the children all nestled in their beds.

It's about a family with no place to rest their heads.

To me, Christmas isn't about the presents under the tree.

It's about His presence and what He means to me.

It's about present-less Whos still singing with glee.

It's about praising God and time with family.

Silent night? No crying He makes?

Christmas is about the flesh on which our God takes.

It's a travel-worn family, giving birth in a stable.

It's about shepherds and wise men coming to Him, giving gifts as they're able.

The picture we have of this holy of days.

Is not quite the picture I think Christmas conveys.

The Greatest Story Ever Told and yet do you hear what I hear?

Our Savior was born, choirs of angels were there.

Joy came to the world, a new star shone bright.

We should seek after Him with all of our might.

The celebration's not over, the season of Christmas continues.

Fall on your knees. Hear the angel voices.


Choose to believe in Him who is true.

Believe in the One who can make hearts grow in love.

Believe that Jesus came down from above.

From Heaven, God's only Son. The Chosen One. Redeemer. Savior. Hero. Love. Light. Truth.


A real baby. A real birth.

A real postpartum trip to Egypt because of His worth.

He came into this world to give us His Word.

Mary said yes.

Joseph recognized his life, too, was blessed.

They embraced the real hardship, real struggle, real joy, and real love of being a family.

Shepherds flocked by night. A little boy played his drum for Him, for Him the boy played his best.

Angel choirs sang out, "Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace on the earth to those on whom His favor rests."

Jesus is born. Rejoice!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

It's About Time

Admittedly, I have time on my mind. 

There are so many countdowns happening: a countdown to Christmas, a countdown to the end of school, a countdown to the end of the year. 

The decreasing amount of daylight in winter always dampens my spirit. Even in sunny Florida darkness engulfs us. 

In two days my newborn son will be six weeks old, hardly a newborn anymore.  

Tomorrow will mark the four year anniversary of my father's passing into eternal life. Four years...

All of these thoughts about time have me trying to squeeze every moment out of every day. One more moment out of work, one more moment with my family, one more moment of sleep, of recharging, of playing, of writing, of praying.

One more moment. 

When you think about it, the present is really all that we have. The past is gone. The future has not yet come. All we have is now. And just like that, this now becomes a then.

But, by the grace of God, another now appears. And another. And another. An infinite series of moments, chances, opportunities, nows. 

Except that we know that this series - that all series - have endings. 

A class period is 45 minutes. A school week has 5 days. A particular grade level has a fixed amount of time in it, and most students only spend one year there. Years only ever have 365 days. Games have time limits. Projects have deadlines. Our breaths are numbered.

Even the world, well, Christ promised that He would come again.  

So, every moment counts. Every opportunity drips with potential, hope, expectation. It arises, hangs in anticipation, and then falls away gone forever. Our response to the present, to either seize or snooze it, determines our future. 

While God hopefully blesses us with more moments, more breaths, more laughs, cries, hugs, fights, successes, and failures we do not get do-overs. There's no retake policy when it comes to moments. 

Our moments are either Incarnational or they are wasted. They are either embraced or disgraced. Maximized or scandalized. 

In the words of St. Teresa of Kolkata:

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”
Let us begin living life as a gift. Blessings abound.

Make every moment count. Embrace now as if it was the last now that you will get. Consider that every interaction with someone else could be the moment that changes the world. Be nicer than you have to be. Call your mom and then put down the phone to be with the family in front of you. Hold doors and your tongue. Forgive. Heal. Love.

Make. Every. Moment. Count. 

Laugh, cry, dance, sing, read (to your kids!), learn, teach, cook, speak, draw, create, listen, inspire, lead, follow, serve, pray. 

Every moment is Incarnational, a chance to both be Christ to others and encounter Christ in others. 

It's about time to start living like it. 

Let us begin. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Find a Way

"The world offers you comfort. But, you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness" (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI). 

I love the grittiness of this quote. I love how it echoes the call of the apostles. I love how it draws us out of timidity and into adventure. I love believing that through hard work I can play a part - my part - in God's story. 

I love believing that I can go down in HIS-story.

Today's Gospel, the story of the healing of the paralytic (Luke 5:18-20), is one of my favorites. It is a story of friendship, ingenuity, determination and faith. 
And some men brought on a stretcher a man who was paralyzed;
they were trying to bring him in and set him in his presence.
But not finding a way to bring him in because of the crowd,
they went up on the roof
and lowered him on the stretcher through the tiles
into the middle in front of Jesus.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said,
“As for you, your sins are forgiven.” 
Some highlights:
  • a group of people worked together
  • they encountered what was most likely a very discouraging situation (seeing the house filled with and surrounded by people)
  • they did not give up
  • they creatively found a solution
  • they worked hard (imagine climbing on top of a house and lifting up someone who couldn't move / move well)
  • they believed that Jesus would honor their efforts and faith in His almighty power
Imagine if we approached life with a similar philosophy. 

Let us work together in intentional community. Allow the synergy between and among people to spur us to new levels of excellence. There is immense strength in being united in a common mission.

Let us work hard. Resilience is the ability to bounce back quickly from setbacks. Studies show that traits of resilient people include: they accept that life is difficult, they believe that life has meaning even in those moments when meaning is not apparent, and they choose to act even if the situation seems hopeless. Let us, like this group of friends, have unwavering faith and persistence. 

Let us creatively seek out solutions to seemingly impossible problems. When the doors are blocked try breaking through the roof. 

Let us believe that Jesus will honor our efforts to serve Him and each other. Let us lift one another up and bring each other to the feet of Jesus and let Him transform us and our lives into something AMAZING.

Let us find a way.

Let us find the Way.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Hope Will Rise and Hope Does Not Disappoint

Congratulations, ICS Class of 2016!

Recently I heard the story of a town that, after many years of not having a bell to fill their bell tower, had finally made the appropriate arrangements for one to be installed. The bell, large and heavy, was being transported from where it was created to the town via a river. Much to the dismay of the townspeople, the boat carrying their bell overturned and both the boat and the bell sunk to the bottom of the river.

The best engineers from the town went to work on trying to retrieve the bell from its muddy and murky resting place. Attempt after attempt continued to fail. Despair settled across the land. Perhaps the bell tower, like the hearts of the townsfolk, was to remain empty, hollow, silent. 

On the outskirts of the town, on top of a hill, however, a monastery stood. Watching the commotion from afar, one of the monks ventured into the town and offered an idea. Holding a bamboo stick in his hand, he shouted with conviction, "I have the solution to your problem with the bell right here in my hand."

The people attending to the problem scoffed at the preposterousness of the claim. The greatest minds in the land had constructed elaborate contraptions and the bell remained on the river's floor. The monk's idea seemed foolish at best. 

Sensing their disbelief, the monk shouted even louder and with even more conviction than before, "Of course, just one bamboo stick won't bring back your bell. But, with a stick from everyone in town, I believe we will reclaim it."

The buoyancy of the bamboo, the monk went on to explain, could bring the bell up to the surface provided that there was enough of the plant. Urging the crowd to collect as much bamboo as possible, the monk went to work on assembling rope that would tie to both the bamboo on one end, and the bell on the other. 

Swimmers dove into the water and one by one the pieces of bamboo were affixed to the bell. After a while, the bell began to jostle and bounce, dislodging itself from the muddy bottom. Swimmers continued to take more and more bamboo to the depths of the river. Word spread that the bell had started to move and excitement throughout the town mounted. Swimmers continued to take bamboo to the bell at a frantic pace - diving, tying, swimming toward the surface, again and again and again. 

Slowly, the bell began to rise, inching up, out of the mud. Higher and higher it began to float. Rising with a cloud of bamboo and rope leading its ascent, the bell finally emerged out of the surface of the water to an eruption of cheers from the crowd of people. The work to pull it to shore was sure and swift. Maneuvering the metal on land, while no small feat, was orchestrated much more easily than it had been aquatically.

When the bell finally made it into the tower and chimed for the first time, its notes sang out a song of triumph over despair. It echoed this tale of community, solidarity and the success that can be borne of a unified, collective effort. As the bell would continue to ring, its voice would continue to serve as a reminder of this message: when you work together, when you work hard, and when you work toward a mission beyond yourself hope will rise.

St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans a similar message of the power of hard work and hope:
Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance proven character, and proven character, hope and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 
Boast of your afflictions. The world will be rough and cruel. Embrace these hardships with the conviction that with Jesus Christ anything is possible. Jesus tells us, "In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world." Don't run to God to tell Him about how big your problems are, run to your problems and tell them how big your God is. Stand up to your giants and declare to them, "So what, now what?!"

Know that when you tackle these afflictions that it produce endurance, resilience, grit. The most consistent characteristic of successful people in any area of life is their capacity to recover quickly from difficulty, conflict or affliction. Allow your afflictions to galvanize your spirit. Allow your hardships to teach you that your spirit is something more powerful than your flesh and bones. The Spirit of the Lord is upon you. You can do hard things. 

As you do this, as you approach problems head on, as you willingly accept the challenges life will throw at you and as you continue to get knocked down and back up again, you develop a reputation, a character, a name - your name. You start to play that part that is only yours to play in this drama called life. You take your place in history, in HIStory. 

Embrace your afflictions. Develop endurance. Galvanize your character. Become who you were created to be And HOPE WILL RISE.

Incarnation Catholic School Class of 2016, go out and gather a piece of bamboo. Dive into the waters of life and join your efforts to a cause bigger than yourself. Work hard. Work with others and be an agent of hope to those in need. Go down into the depths and darkness of this world and bring back someone's bell. Bring back their reason to believe that there is good in this world and that it's worth fighting for. Bring back their hope. Rise up, ICS Class of 2016, for because of you - for what you have already done and for what God has in store for you to do, your life will ring out: