The glory of God is a human being fully alive.
My dad would often encourage me by saying, "You're a jack of all trades, master of none." While this might come across as defeatist, I always took it to heart and wore it as a badge of honor.
I've never been amazing at anything, but I've been blessed to be pretty good at lots of things. My interests have always been varied and diverse: sports, music, writing. I've taught English, science, and math. I've been an Athletic Director, Principal and am currently a Professor.
One constant in all of these various pursuits: my faith.
And, as I've gotten older, I've seen how my faith enlivens my efforts in all aspects of my life.
This started in a profound way upon my entry into high school at Benedictine in Cleveland, Ohio. Up to this point, I had attended public schools, with my faith being molded by once a week Mass attendance, participation in my parish PSR (Parish School of Religion), prayer before meals and my parents' noble attempts to bring me and my siblings up in the faith.
With this said, my faith was strong. It was, however, compartmentalized and personal. I did not talk with my friends about my faith. We didn't pray before sporting events. Obviously, faith was not a subject I learned about in school.
When I started Benedictine High School as a 9th grader, though, I stepped foot into an atmosphere that was different. While I can't say I remember being completely overwhelmed with the differences, I became more and more aware of them the more that I became a part of that community.
Our Church teaches in various documents on Catholic education that the main task of a Catholic school is to demonstrate and bring about in students the synthesis between and among faith, culture and life (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, 1977, #37). Catholic schools must be able to use culture - art, music, literature, science, athletics - to make relevant connections to an orthodox faith. Similarly, Catholic schools must model intentional and authentic apostolic boldness about being a disciple of Christ and form a similar assimilation in students. St. Benedict's motto, "ora et labora" or "prayer and work" permeates Benedictine High School's campus and modeled this synthesis for the entire community.
Perhaps the most powerful expression of this synthesis of culture and faith, for me, came through the integration of sports and faith. Abbot Gary Hoover, then Fr. Gary, served as the chaplain for our athletic teams. For the first time in my life, faith was intertwined with sports: going to mass before pre-game meals, visiting the grotto before and after practices, praying decades of the Rosary as a team on our way to athletic competitions. Abbot Gary would also offer post-Mass pep talks that intentionally and purposefully used the Celebration of the Eucharist as a team, to bring us closer together to each other while also bringing us closer to God.
Telling stories about famous athletes like Rocky Blier, or using the lyrics to the iconic, "Eye of the Tiger", Abbot Gary took something relevant to a group of high school boys - football and our pursuit of excellence in that area - and connected it to something more important - our faith.
The presence of the monks on campus and in various ministries in the school served as living witnesses of an integration of faith and life. While these religious men, like all of us, were far from perfect, their example of humble service was imitated by faculty, staff and students alike. The late Coach Ron Alexander, a staff member who served as the school's wrestling and track coach was a shining example of a lay person who had adopted the Benedictine motto. He rattled off scripture passages applicable to almost any life situation. He ran a concession stand during lunch, after school and during home athletic events to go toward the athletic budget. He mopped the wrestling mats himself. He cooked wrestlers a post-weigh-in, pre-match meal of soup and bread. He mentored and helped countless young men, myself included, regardless of their background, status in the school, athletic capabilities, or involvement in a sport he coached.
Simply, he prayed and worked. He worked and prayed. For Coach Alexander, you might be able to just say that he prayed, for all that he did was a manifestation of his faith. He had synthesized faith, culture, and life, and in so doing was able to bring others to fullness of life in Jesus Christ.
In 1988, the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education wrote, "From the first moment that a student sets foot in a Catholic school, he or she ought to have the impression of entering a new environment, one illumined by the light of faith, and having its own unique characteristics" (#25). These unique characteristics, as taught to us by the Second Vatican Council, involve the Gospel spirit of freedom and charity and "help youth grow according to the new creatures they were made through baptism as they develop their own personalities, and finally to order the whole of human culture to the news of salvation so that the knowledge the students gradually acquire of the world, life and (humanity) is illumined by faith" (1965, #8).
Faith, culture, and fullness of life.
One of my proudest moments as a principal involved such a synthesis. After a monthlong focus on the Rosary as a school community, 300 PreK - 8th grade students, dressed in Halloween costumes, prayed the entire Rosary as a school community on Halloween. Teachers thought I was crazy. Parents saw it as a conservative tactic of a "religious zealot"; but, the reverence and engagement of an auditorium filled with superheroes and princesses and storybook characters battling the forces of darkness with the power of the Rosary was a grace-filled moment for our entire school.
It was a synthesis and integration of faith, culture, and life.
It was a way that I hope helped the school community come to greater fullness of life in Jesus Christ through this synthesis.
Many people see faith as a deterrent to a full life. Thanks to my parents and my time at Benedictine High School and other Catholic schools ever since stepping foot into that "new environment" I see it as the exact opposite.
For me, my faith is the animating ingredient, it is the leaven that elevates, regulates and perfects all aspects of life (Pope Pius XI, 1929, #95):
For precisely this reason, Christian education takes in the whole aggregate of human life, physical and spiritual, intellectual and moral, individual, domestic and social, not with a view of reducing it in any way, but in order to elevate, regulate and perfect it, in accordance with the example and teaching of Christ.
The whole aggregate of human life.
Faith, culture, and life.
Prayer and work.
The fullness of life stands at their synthesis.
Congregation for Catholic Education. (1988, April 7). The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccatheduc/documents/rc_con_ccatheduc_doc_19880407_catholic-school_en.html
Pope Pius XI. (1929, December 31). Divini Illius Magistri. Retrieved from https://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_31121929_divini-illius-magistri.html
Vatican Council II. (1965, October 28). Gravissimum Educationis. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_gravissimum-educationis_en.html
The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education. (1977, March 19). The Catholic School. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccatheduc/documents/rc_con_ccatheduc_doc_19770319_catholic-school_en.html