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

Dreams

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. 
But,
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...