Monday, February 28, 2011

A Crucifix in Every Classroom Does Not a Catholic School Make

Prior to getting a tattoo of a cross on his arm, my brother told me that he wanted one because he wanted to be marked as God's own. In the same way that currency belongs to the country whose image it bears, my brother wanted all to know that he belonged to God. A bit much for me and my pristine skin, but I appreciated the zeal with which my brother approached this evangelizing body art. To my brother's credit, marking his body with a symbol of his faith in Jesus Christ was much more than a decision made in haste; he is one of the most faith-filled and Christ-like people I know.

But not all people are as consistent on both the outside and inside. Take a wedding ring that means little more than a commitment made until bored with you I become, or a cross/crucifix around the neck of an actress whose body of work exposes more of her body than it does her work. In these cases, the outward representations of something sacred masks an underlying contradiction. The wedding ring doesn't make you married; a cross around your neck doesn't make you a Christian. A tattoo on your arm is only skin deep.

Images and symbols, though, can remind us of something beyond ourselves and inspire us to fulfill commitments and remain loyal to a person or belief. W.W.J.D. bracelets populated the arms of high school and college classmates of mine. A few years ago, Livestrong arm bands had to be removed by Bishop McLaughlin football players I coached prior to games. In either case, the message on the strip was supposed to remind its wearer of a commitment to Jesus (What would Jesus do?) or a healthy lifestyle/finding a cure for cancer.

The bracelet doesn't lead you from temptation; the arm band doesn't keep you from smoking.

In the same way, merely including the term Catholic along with the name of a school does not mean that a particular institution of learning espouses the teachings of the Catholic Church. Merely putting a crucifix in every classroom doesn't guarantee that teachers will take the time to pray before class, before lunch, before a test, after a rough day, or to include an intention for a sick family member.

Earlier in February (and yes, I am frantically trying to complete this blog so that I actually have more than one entry in February!), Catholic Schools across the country participated in "Catholic Schools Week" (CSW) a week long celebration of all that is good about Catholic Education in our country. Typically, however, many of the CSW activities included in many schools have little to do with Catholicity, education or Catholic Education. And while I completely appreciate the need to break away from our routine as educators and offer some "non-traditional" days to students, I do not feel that a week during which we are supposed to highlight all that is good about Catholic Education is a good time for the school community to stop doing those things that make us who we are-- offering a quality, academically rigorous education firmly rooted in the foundations of the Catholic Church.

By no means do I feel that ICS cornered the market on Catholic Schools Week activities. Likewise, I do not believe that ICS always lives up to its Catholic title. The faculty, staff, students and parents of Incarnation, though, truly celebrated the best parts of the home of the Irish: Catholic Identity, Academic Excellence, School Spirit, Service, and Community (ICS Catholic Schools Week). We didn't wear pajamas. 8th Graders didn't give candy to, er...I mean "teach" younger classes. Learning still occurred. We participated in the Celebration of the Eucharist and a school wide prayer service. Over 300 bagged lunches were made for local food banks (Student Giving Projects).

Basically, we did exactly what we do every week-- just better. We were more focused on our mission: inspiring life-long learners, challenging each individual to develop spiritually and striving to serve each other and the community. We were more intertwined and closer as a school family. We highlighted achievements. We honored our past. We were, quite simply, our best selves.

A Catholic School, in order to be Catholic, also needs to do more than have a subjectively successful Catholic Schools Week. But, if a crucifix on a wall, or around our necks, or even tattooed on our arms can help to remind us of a life that should be lived in accordance with the meaning behind that symbol, maybe a Catholic Schools Week that truly celebrates a school's Catholicity can help to inspire that school to become even more Catholic.

Maybe a Catholic school becoming even more Catholic can truly prepare its students for the future and teach them that faith must be lived, regardless of any fashion accessories, paintings or wall hangings.

Or even any blogs titled, "Catholic Education."