Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Full, Conscious, and Active Participation

My wife and I were driving to Jacksonville this past weekend to visit my brother, sister-in-law and their two children. On our way to I-75, we hit a pretty rough patch of storms and driving became a bit treacherous. Emily was behind the wheel at that point, and she turned the radio off, asked me to be quiet, gripped the steering wheel with both hands and leaned forward in her seat. For the next twenty minutes or so, she demonstrated full, conscious, and active participation in her driving. If in a similar situation, I hope that I, and many of you, would do the same.

As Catholics, we are called to a similar level of engagement every time we take part in the Celebration of the Eucharist. The Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, a body of the Second Vatican Council, advocated "full, conscious, and active participation" by the faithful "both inwardly and outwardly." This manifests itself in many and varied ways: we stand, we sit, we kneel, we process, we recite, we respond, we listen, we meditate, we sing, we offer sacrifices, we exchange signs of peace, we receive, we eat, we drink, we are transformed and sent to bring Jesus to others. And while our minds may wander and our focus shift, we are called to be truly present during the many different aspects of the Mass. God can do miraculous things with those who merely "show up", but He wants us to be on fire with love for Him. A simple example issues forth from this past Sunday's Gospel reading. Many of us could say the Lord's Prayer with little thought or concentration; our Lord wishes, however, for us to be fully aware of the words that we recite and to say them "with all of our hearts, with all of our beings, with all of our strength and with all our minds"-- instead of just with our lips (Luke 10:27). He wants us to be as engrossed in Him as we are with watching a Rays' game, listening to music, or driving through a rainstorm.

This idea of "full, conscious, and active participation" can also help us with our approach to Catholic Education.

As teachers, we are called to be truly present to our students. Classroom instruction must be more than lecturing and standing behind a podium and/or sitting behind a desk. Teachers must design dynamic lessons that activate prior knowledge, introduce new concepts, show relevancy to broader themes and ideas, and demonstrate that new knowledge was assimilated into the brain. Teachers must move around the classroom, subtly quieting a disruptive student, nonchalantly calling the distracted student back to task, and checking on student progress and work. Teachers must take supervisory duties seriously, circulating among students as opposed to conversing with colleagues. Teachers must differentiate instruction, being certain to appropriately challenge and engage students of all ability levels. A teacher's presence-- in the classroom, in the hallways, at recess, at lunch, and at dismissal-- is a teacher's present to his/her students.

Students can demonstrate full, conscious, and active participation in the classroom by coming prepared for school each and every day. From eating a hearty and healthy breakfast, to wearing the appropriate school uniform, to ensuring possession of all of the necessary supplies, a student must walk through the school's doors in a successful position to learn. Students must listen with both their ears and their eyes, giving the speaker their full and undivided attention. Students need to participate in class activities by answering questions, asking questions, working diligently on class assignments and helping others in need. Students need to focus on W.I.N.-ing every situation throughout their days. By focusing on "What's Important Now", students can recognize that appropriate behavior during lunch can be inappropriate during Mass. They can come to recognize that "there is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens" and in doing so understand how to fully, consciously and actively participate in all of the many events throughout a school day and year.

Finally, as parents, you can fully, actively, and consciously participate in the lives of your students in a multitude of ways. First, put the cell phone down during drop-off and pick-up. These are great times to not only be safe but also offer your child(ren) a goodbye, hello and/or I love you. Parents can ensure that students are prepared for the day, offering support and reminders but not enabling by rushing back to school with every forgotten lunch, project, and set of PE clothes. Oftentimes, enduring the consequence of being forgetful is a great way for students to rid themselves of this habit. Check grades on Sycamore. Assume that your child's teacher is correct and that your child is in need of formation (if they didn't need guidance, there would be no need for the educational system). Even the best, smartest, and holiest of kids make mistakes.

Parents can also become engaged in the life of the school: volunteer and fulfill your required service hours. Our operating budget depends on the good work of parent volunteers to sustain our school. Pay your tuition and other fees. Our faculty and staff depend on this financial commitment to make a living and implement our academic and extra-curricular programs. Participate in fundraising and development efforts giving your time, talents, and treasure. Tuition alone does not cover the cost of educating our children. Participate in community revealing activities: bring your students to Sunday Mass, come to Back to School Nights, join us for Mass on Wednesday mornings, reach out to new families, attend an ICS sporting event, and immerse yourself in the ICS family.

St. Irenaeus claimed, "The glory of God is the human person fully alive." I'm sure that he would agree that the glory of God is also the Catholic School who's members are fully, consciously, and actively involved.

I look forward to glorifying God with you, our teachers, and our students at Incarnation this upcoming school year and beyond.