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.

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.

Real.

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:

HOPE WILL RISE!

HOPE WILL RISE!

HOPE WILL RISE!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

We Are Peter

We Are Peter
Every week I send out a list of resources (links, videos, etc.) to teachers as a way to sharpen their respective axes. One of the Teacher Resources I listed a few weeks back was a blog about the curse of knowledge (http://www.edutopia.org/blog/the-curse-of-knowledge-chris-reddy?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=socialflow). In it, the author mentioned a few of the components that we often overlook based on our current level of knowledge. Being experts in our fields and of our content, we can often forget what it is like not to have the knowledge or skills we teach to students. One strategy to combat this "curse" is known as spacing. The article says this about spacing: 
Blocked practice is ancient and is no longer considered best practice. An example of blocked practice is cramming. Though it feels like learning, blocked practice results in learning that is shallow, and the connections quickly fade. The preferred alternative is the opposite of blocked practice: spaced practice.
Exposing yourself to content and requiring your brain to recall previously learned concepts at spaced intervals (hours, days, weeks, or months) makes the content sticky and results in deeper retention with solid neural connections. As spaced practice is the way that you learned the content you teach, it makes sense to employ the same technique with your students. So thinking of your content as a cycle that is frequently revisited makes learning easier for your students while helping alleviate the curse.
While listening to the proclamation of the Gospel on Sunday morning, this particular concept bounced back into my mind. Peter needed frequent reminders of who he was being called to be. 


In Sunday's Gospel, Peter needs Christ to remind him, yet again, that Peter is the Rock upon which Christ will build the Church. Peter and the apostles, despite the power and hope of the Resurrection, have reverted back to being fishermen. They have gone back to their former way of life. The risen Christ challenges Peter in a fashion similar to the call of the first apostles, "Feed my lambs...Tend my sheep...Feed my sheep...Follow me." 

If Peter needed spaced reassurance of his dignity and worth, how much more do we need a similar level of affirmation? If we need this support, how much more must our students need it? From the repetition of concepts and skills, to reminders about expectations, to consistent positive reinforcement, let us be like Christ in offering these messages to our students as often as they need it to realize their God-given potential. 

Like Christ, let us be quick to show mercy. Let us willingly offer students our love. Let us see them for who they can become, not for what they are currently doing. Let us continue to place our hope in the fulfillment of who God created them to be and let us continue to demonstrate to them that Hope Will Rise! 

Peter, a liar, became the first Pope. 

Saul, a murderous soldier, became one of the greatest evangelists ever. 

Similarly, Jesus is doing something AMAZING inside of each and every one of us, including our students. Remember that we are loved by God and that God's love is enough to save the world. Therefore, we are enough and we can play a part in God's salvific plan! 

His Precious Blood is coursing through our veins. 

We are called to greatness. 

We are called to holiness. 

We are called to sainthood. 

"Feed my lambs...Tend my sheep...Feed my sheep...Follow me." 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Commit fully. Be creative. Orient the details.

I spent the  first half of Saturday scouring my house for the GFCI outlet that would allow me to reset the outlets in the master and guest bathrooms as well as the outlets outside of my house. Why these outlets would be wired together is beyond me. The bathrooms are on the opposite sides of the house. They are linked to all of the outlets on the outside of the house. And, the GFCI switch that would allow me to reset that circuit was not in any of those locations. 


For those who don't know, GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, and they are used on electrical outlets that are close to water - kitchens, bathrooms, garages, outside, etc. Many homes now have GFCI outlets on all fixtures. In my house there are two. 

The first was an easy find. It is in the kitchen and the black and red switches stand out clearly against the white outlet cover. It controls the outlets in the kitchen. 

The other, though, lay hidden for the better part of the day. I searched everywhere. I checked places twice. I looked in cabinets, closets, the attic, outside, everywhere. The geographical distance between and among the interconnected outlets clouded any logical answer.  

Finally, I decided to move my car out of the garage and give my search one last ditch effort. The old college try. Plugs that I knew of in the garage were working fine so despite my skepticism I started moving things so that I could see all of the walls exposed. Luckily, I wasn't into my search for long before I found it: a random GFCI switch outlet in the middle of the wall. 

I pressed the reset button. I went running into the house. I plugged a nightlight into an outlet in the master bathroom. Success. I cheered! I ran to the guest bathroom and did the same thing. Operational. Finally, I ran outside and turned on the fan on the lanai. Three for three. My daughters thought something really exciting was happening and wanted to see the switch I had found in the garage. Even their disappointment in seeing nothing more than an electrical outlet didn't dampen my happiness (although it did add to their belief that their daddy is crazy).

I share this story for four reasons:

1. I do not intend to quit my day job anytime soon. Even though I have two of them, I am not handy.

2. I found success only after I fully committed to the task. Moving my car so that I could actually relocate the boxes in the garage and not just step around them and half-heartedly tip and contort them allowed me to find this electrical needle in a haystack. There were multiple times that I was on the verge of quitting and just calling an electrician. But, I persevered. 

3. My perseverance paid off because I approached this challenge from multiple angles - looking online for tips, getting creative with where I would look, and increasing my level of intensity with each round of searches allowed me to find the switch. We can't just work harder; we must couple this intense effort with a constantly improving approach. 

4. I had to be meticulous in my efforts. I had to look into the minutiae of the circuitry of my house in order to get results. I had to get dirty to remove the junk that stood in my way. I had to search everywhere with precision. No stone could be left unturned. 

This quarter, let's get gritty in our approach to being the best versions of ourselves. Let's focus in on what we're doing with a laser-like scrutiny to find the reset buttons that we need to press in order to find even more success with our students. Let's creatively approach solutions to those obstacles that at first glance and even after three quarters have seemed beyond our grasp. 

Commit fully. Be creative. Orient the details. 

This quarter, let's be the best versions of ourselves and in turn pump out the best quarter ICS has ever seen. 

I'm ready.

Are you in? 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Shameless Audacity

Excellence in anything spurs excellence in everything. 

There's a beautiful moment in the movie Cars when the townsfolk of Radiator Springs focus on sprucing up their respective establishments as Lightning McQueen finally starts to fix the road he destroyed. They clean, paint, polish and refresh their tired town and restore it to a glimpse of its former glory.

Over the past few weeks, the following two posts merited a full read after appearing in my inbox and reminded me of the scene above from Cars

The first, a blog post from Dr. Christian Dallavis, zeroed in on the zeal needed to be an effective leader within Catholic education:


The second came from Jared Dees, the man behind The Religion Teacher, an on-line religious education resource. In it, Jared shares his vision for how teachers, catechists, youth ministers, and anyone involved in Catholic education can be effective:



In both cases, the pursuit of excellence was a common theme. To merit the term "Catholic" in the names of our organizations, our schools must intensely strive after excellence in education in the Catholic faith.  

Imagine a school that unabashedly puts Christ first. Imagine a school that focuses on excellence in Catholic education - ministry, faith development, service opportunities, retreats, catechesis, witness, evangelization - and how excellence in every other aspect would follow. 

Imagine a school that had the shameless audacity to truly inspire disciples of Christ. Imagine a school where the ministers of Catholic education had the reckless abandon to sing at Mass, attend prayer every morning, witness to one another about their "why", and rally around a common mission of being Incarnational to our students, families, each other and our community.

It's a school that would, very simply, change the world. 

Continue to become the best versions of yourselves. Continue to fight against the temptation to believe that you're not good enough, you're all alone, and that no one cares. 

Strive for excellence in all that you do, but especially your faith. 

Be blessed. 

Be unabashedly, shamelessly and recklessly bold for Him. Get fierce in your battle of prayer. 

Fight for joy.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Signs and Symbols

I hate this shirt.

Makes sense, right? It's hideous. 

I've had it for about 5 years. What's more is that I even actually wear it. Made of moisture-wicking material, I don it for workouts when I'm less than excited about working out. I hate the shirt more than I'll hate the workout, not matter what the workout will be. In fact, I get so upset about putting on the shirt that it typically inspires a great burn. 

As such, this shirt has taken on new meaning. I still despise it; however, it has become a symbol of the grit needed to remain disciplined to a program of exercise. What was once something despicable, this shirt has turned into something life-giving. When I'm in need of a pick-me-up to workout (or more appropriately a kick-in-the-butt) I opt for this shirt. 

It is a sign and symbol of something very different now than when I first received it. I wouldn't wear it out (I workout in my lanai), but I appreciate the lift that it provides to my time of exercise. 

This shirt has undergone a transformation similar to the extreme makeover received by the cross used for crucifixions. As Bishop Robert Barron states in the video below, the cross / crucifixion was "state sponsored terrorism" and was "meant to terrify people and it did terrify people in the ancient world." Crucifixion was used as a sign and symbol to discourage any type of behavior that crossed those who employed it as a punishment. 


Crucifixions were public affairs. The crucified were exposed as public deterrents to rebellion, or any behavior in opposition to the state. This is precisely why the disciples are seen running from the cross and hiding in obscurity immediately following his Passion. Crucifixion was the worst form of death; it was to be avoided at all costs. 

Enter the Resurrection. 

What was once a symbol of terror is now held up as one of hope.

What was once a sign of death is now proclaimed as the only path to life. 

St. Paul throughout his letters and teachings claims that he preaches one thing: Christ crucified. 

To the early Church, this message would have been hard to accept. How could this instrument of death be so boldly mocked?

In the words of St. John Chrysostom:

O Death, where is your sting? 
O Hell, where is your victory?
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown.
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen.
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice.
Christ is risen, and life reigns.
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. 
To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. 
Amen. 

How could people follow? How could people believe? How could we, 2000 years later, use the cross as the central symbol of our faith in Jesus Christ?

Quite simply, because it's true.

While the endorphin-making atmosphere that my shirt initiates will most likely fade away over time, the power of the cross to remind believers of hope, peace, joy and love has endured for over 2000 years. 

If it was a lie, if Christ didn't conquer sin and death by submitting to it, would the apostles have come out of the upper room? Would the early Church have actually spread if the Resurrection was nothing more than a clever conspiracy? Wouldn't a cult have just died with its zealously crazy core group? 

Peter, John and the apostles didn't just encounter an empty tomb; they encountered the risen Christ. They saw Him. They touched His wounds. They knew that He had risen and lived their lives in such a transformative way from that day on that they were able to establish His one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.

Let us lift high His holy Cross today and every day. 

Christ is risen! 

Hope Will Rise! 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Stones

Stones
On his way to defeat Goliath, David stopped by the river and collected five stones to use in battle. We have used this concept throughout Lent to focus on five spiritual practices aimed at helping us defeat the giants in our lives - sin, suffering, weakness, doubt, sadness, death. 

The Liturgy planning committee has done a phenomenal job in presenting Works of Mercy, Prayer and Scripture, the first three of our five stones. Reconciliation and Eucharist remain. 

Depending on which set of readings your particular Church decided to use for today, you heard either of the following two readings: 

Isaiah 43: 18 - 19
Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
see, I am doing something new!
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
In the desert I make a way,
in the wasteland, rivers.

John 11: 39 - 44
So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb.
It was a cave, and a stone lay across it.
Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”

Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him, 
“Lord, by now there will be a stench; 
he has been dead for four days.”
Jesus said to her,
“Did I not tell you that if you believe 
you will see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone.
And Jesus raised his eyes and said,
“Father, I thank you for hearing me.
I know that you always hear me; 
but because of the crowd here I have said this, 
that they may believe that you sent me.”
And when he had said this,
He cried out in a loud voice, 
“Lazarus, come out!”
The dead man came out,
tied hand and foot with burial bands, 
and his face was wrapped in a cloth.
So Jesus said to them,
“Untie him and let him go.”

We used the reading from Isaiah for prayer during our Faculty Meeting this past week. I had mentioned its selection stemmed from its reoccurrences in my life over the past few weeks. It sprung forth again - not only for me, but all of you as well! God is making something new. It is springing up in our midst. He is bringing water to the wasteland, a way to the wilderness.

Similarly, the Gospel for the Year A Scrutinies (for use with RCIA candidates), told the story of Lazarus. This miracle story, a moment of foreshadowing in the Gospels, speaks of new life as well. Jesus tells the disciples to roll away the stone. He calls out to Lazarus, "Come out!" Jesus ends in ordering, "Untie him and let him go." Jesus speaks these words to us as well:

"Come out of your grave of sin, suffering, weakness, doubt, sadness, death! Find new life in me! I am the Way. I am the Bread of Life. I am the Resurrection!

Untie the bands that hold you back. Come out of the darkness and into the light!" 

Be bold during these final two weeks of Lent. Put your rally caps on and get ready for a comeback for the ages. A true Cinderella story during March Madness! Your story. HIStory. 


bulldogcatholic.org
With Holy Week just around the corner, it's time to finish strong. UMD student Matt Muhich gives a game plan for winning.
Pick up your stones and fight - for joy, for life, for Him!

He is doing something AMAZING...perceive it and believe it!
 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Bear Fruit

Today's Gospel is a story that highlights the contradictions within our faith - cut something off so that it can grow back better, stronger, fuller, more purposeful. Pare down so that abundance can issue forth from our simplicity. Be made strong in our weakness. Find joy in pain, hope in suffering and life in death. Receive mercy even though we are wholly underserving. 

Jesus tells the parable of the fig tree that bears no fruit. The master, seeing that it is barren, tells the gardener to cut it down. In a last ditch effort, the gardener pleads for just one more chance to prune it, tend its soil, nurture it and see if then it may bear fruit. If after one year the tree remains fruitless, the gardener begs, then it can be removed.



While not to further a centuries old debate about the hierarchy between faith and works, Jesus clearly states in today's Gospel that our faith must produce fruit. Our works must clearly mark our faith. Faith without works is dead ("So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead." -James 2:17).

During this Lenten season let us take advantage of the Master affording us one more chance at rebirth, one more chance for pruning to spur growth.

This Lent, let us become who we were created to be. Let us, like the fig tree, bring the fruit into the world that only we can bring. Each of us has been made for a specific purpose, a fruit that is unique to our tree. May our efforts to prune so as to produce more fruit not be in vain - let our fasting not lead to a slimmer physique but a transformed spirit. May our prayer fill not us with righteousness but to the recognition of our need for a Savior. May our almsgiving not give us earthly accolades but a more generous heart. 

The pruning is only a worthwhile horticultural technique only if it brings new life. Similarly, our prayer, fasting and almsgiving create nothing more than a spiny branch if they fail to make the world a little better through our actions. For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead (James 2:26).


To paraphrase Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, our past is dead and gone. Our future is still being forged. We have only today. Let's get to work, work that bears fruit.  

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Mountaintop

I've used the term "mountaintop" in faculty meetings to describe those moments, specifically while on retreat and/or during high points of our year, that fill us with energy, passion, conviction and inspiration. Basking in the light while on the mountain fills us with hope and joy. Like the apostles in today's Gospel, we would like to stay there forever. 


We've seen His glory. We've experienced His transforming power. But, we've also realized that we do not, and in this world cannot, stay on the mountain. 

We have not been called to stay there; those deemed worthy to ascend to the heights are simultaneously called to descend to the pits and valleys and point, lead, guide and assist others to the mountaintop.

Oftentimes, we find this work arduous. Challenges abound. Setbacks occur. The ascent is fraught with difficult footing, conditions, and passages. Discouragement mounts. Doubt clouds our perspective, making it seem as though making it back to top is not only impossible but also pointless. 

As His disciples we must keep the memory of our mountaintop experiences at the forefront of our minds. We must guard these moments within our hearts and not allow anything or anyone to steal them from us. Using applied optimism, we must recollect the energy, passion, conviction and inspiration found on the mountaintop and tap into it in moments of darkness and despair. The hope of restoration should propel us back to the peak. 

We were not made for comfort; we were made for greatness. Greatness isn't easy. It involves hard work, hard work that we can do. 

There is a line from the second part of the Eucharistic prayer that states, "giving thanks that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you." As ministers of Catholic education, God has held us worthy to be in His presence and minister to Him through our work at Incarnation Catholic School. He has deemed us worthy to join in His Passion. Let us always give Him thanks for this, no matter how long the journey, no matter how heavy the cross. 

For if He has found us worthy to join in carrying His cross, we are also worthy of participating in His death and Resurrection. 

Both the Transfiguration and the Crucifixion take place on the top of a mountain. We can't have one without the other. So, let us not count the cost. Let us not worry. Let us not doubt. 

Let us ascend with hope. Let us rise...to the mountaintop!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Work

Recently, I listened to a podcast on work by Fr. Mike Schmitz: http://bulldogcatholic.org/everybodys-working/

In it, Fr. Mike cited some statistics about work within our country.

First, we will work over 90,000 hours in our lives.

Second, only about 10% of the workforce feel engaged by their work. About 60% are not engaged by work. The final 30% are not only not engaged but they are openly hostile toward their work. 

Third, Fr. Mike presented a Catholic, biblical theology of work and how we were made for labor. In order for this labor to be a gift from God, though, a few criteria must be met:

1. Our work is connected to a goal. 
2. Our work has a meaningful purpose. 
3. Our work involves some sort of creative autonomy.

In light of these three criteria, I considered whether or not our work environment at ICS meets those three requirements in order for work to be worthwhile. Furthermore,  I reflected on how many of us would fall into the top tier of the breakdown of how employees view their work. 

While I don't doubt the accuracy of the study, I would imagine it inherently difficult to isolate the factors contributing to our self-assessment of our view of work. In some cases, we may lower our appreciation of work because of factors outside of the atmosphere of the working environment. 

But, in reflecting on these aspects of Catholic, biblical work, I would argue that ICS meets all three. Our mission is in the forefront of all that we do - keep with our tradition, inspire disciples of Christ, challenge life-long learners, and strive to serve. Furthermore, our goals of educating, catechizing and evangelizing could not be more noble or simple. Finally, opportunities to create within our work - lesson plans, activities, assessments, after school activities, extracurricular events - abound. 

So, if we meet these criteria, why might we fall into either the 60% or 30% of people in America that are either unengaged or hostile toward their work? Part of what I feel may hold one back is an unwillingness and/or inability to articulate an answer to the WHY do they do what they do to themselves and to their coworkers. Additionally and similarly, we may become righteous and bitter in feeling that not everyone is ascribing to the same motivations, purposes, and opportunities. We can fall into the trap of allowing our human weaknesses and frailty to distract us from our goals, mission, and freedom to create. "I'm not appreciated", "No one notices how hard I work", "I'm the only one who cares" are feelings that create bitterness, resentment and despair. These, in turn, can lead to hostility. 

Figure out your why and your how will be filled with new energy, passion and conviction.  

We have the awesome opportunity at ICS to not only co-create with God through our ministries but to also co-redeem. 

Our work is sacred because our Creator is a Worker. When we work in the way that He does - with others, for others and autonomously - we, too, become sacred. 

Our work is holy because our Savior desires for us to bring ourselves, our students, our families and each other closer to Him. 

Our work is redemptive because our Redeemer is establishing His kingdom on earth because of what we do at ICS.

Be inspired. Be blessed. Be bold. Be Catholic.

Fight for joy and for your work.

The time is now. 

Let us begin.