Thursday, June 2, 2022
Saturday, April 30, 2022
Yeah, your wounds are where the light shines through
So let's go there, to that place where
We sing these broken prayers where the light shines through--
The wound is where the light shines through
Yeah, the wound is where the light shines through."
Life is hard. Incredibly hard.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention* concluded that 4 out of 10 teenagers in America describe themselves as "persistently sad" or "hopeless". More than 20% of kids aged 12-17 reported having a "major depressive episode" and just under 20% of high school students seriously considered attempting suicide; note that this last number does not include the numbers who had attempted and/or had tragically died by suicide.
These numbers scream for attention and action. And, while these statistics shock, most of the information collected for this student occurred between 2013 - 2019.
The past two years have taxed us in myriad ways; however, we had a mental health crisis - and one that affected our children - even before the pandemic.
We are not okay.
I am not okay.
No one is. This isn't meant to dismiss the seriousness of the stats above. I'm not advocating a "toughen up" approach nor do I buy into the adage of some, "I experienced even harder times and I turned out fine!"
Professional athletes have helped to normalize the need for us to admit that we're not okay. However much those of us on the sidelines might note that the pressure comes with the paycheck, the platform possessed by these stars has offered a megaphone and an example in regard to admitting our brokenness and asking for help.
In this way, a dire need exists for whole communities to work together - families, schools, healthcare systems, tech companies, media, employers, government services, churches, teams - for us to preference the mental, emotional, and spiritual health of our children and of us all.
As we continue to emerge from the pandemic and inch closer to returning to normalcy, let us consider whether or not we want to return to the way things were. Much like the apostles who left the upper room filled with the peace, joy, and hope of the Resurrection and reentered society as new creatures in the Holy Spirit, may we have the courage to be different than we were before retreating to our upper rooms two years ago.
And, like Thomas, whose despair over the death of Christ transformed to faith as he touched the wounds of Christ's resurrected body, let us have the courage to name our wounds, the vulnerability to invite others - especially Christ - into their depths, and the humility to both accept our wounds and allow Christ's light to shine through them.
Thomas could have kept his hurt to himself. Thomas could have stayed away from the community. Thomas could have rejected the hand of Christ and remain unchanged by the power of the Resurrection.
Instead, Thomas embraced the title, "Doubting." As depicted by Caravaggio's painting of the scene (below), imagine how many of the other apostles' faith got an assist from Thomas's incredulity. Perhaps they had similar doubts. Perhaps they remained hesitant to fully embrace Christ's wounds along with His resurrection. Perhaps they came to a deeper faith in Christ because of Thomas's willingness to share his wound out loud.
|Caravaggio - The Incredulity of Saint Thomas|
None of us are okay. But, our wounds can be where the light shines through.
The light of faith.
The light of community.
The light of Christ.
The light of Christ in us.
May we, all of us, let it shine. As we do, we might liberate others to do the same.
Wednesday, March 30, 2022
What does it mean to be Catholic?
From a personal standpoint, does it require parishioner-ship at a Catholic Church? Reception of the Sacraments? Attendance at Mass on Sundays? Beliefs in the Trinity, Incarnation, Eucharist, and the Paschal Mystery? Performing spiritual and corporal works of mercy? Not eating meat on Fridays during Lent? Devotion to Mary? All of the above? Something else?
What about from an organizational standpoint? What makes a group worthy of the title "Catholic"?
This forms the main topic of the Congregation for Catholic Education's (CCE) newest document, Instruction of the Congregation for Catholic Education, "The identity of the Catholic school for a culture of dialogue": "the need for a clearer awareness and consistency of the Catholic identity of the Church’s educational institutions all over the world" (CCE, 2022, #1).
At a deeper level, the Congregation attempts to reignite the Church's raison d'être, or main purpose, for its educational ministry (#5). Representing "an essential part of her (the Church's) identity and mission" (#10), the Church's efforts in education stem from Christ's great commission, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Mt. 28:19-20).
Catholic schools have the blessings of both breadth and depth in regard to forming students into disciples of Christ. Not only do Catholic schools enjoy the gift of time with students, they also have countless avenues to synthesize faith, culture and life (CCE, 2022, #29). Some of our students attend Catholic schools 5 days a week for 13 years. Additionally, non-religious subjects such as math, language arts, history and science offer fertile soil to pursue truth, goodness, and beauty.
This integral formation attempts to make pupils both smarter and better. Knowledge and values (#23). Reason and faith (#95). In Catholic schools, "reason enters into dialogue with faith, which also allows access to truths that transcend the mere data of the empirical and rational sciences, in order to open up to the whole of truth so as to respond to the deepest questions of the human soul that do not only concern immanent reality" (#20).
These objectives of Catholic education must serve "the good of earthly society and the building of a world that is more human" (Second Vatican Council [SVC], 1965, #3; CCE, 2022, #13). Christ acts as the model, guide, and goal of Catholic education: "the principles of the Gospel in this manner become the education norms since the school then has them as its internal motivation and final goal" (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, 1977, #34; CCE, 2022, #20).
Catholic's belief in the inherent dignity of all people demands that everyone has a universal right to education (SVC, 1965, #1). Because of this right, the Church has a responsibility to provide and make available to all an education that considers and honors human's religious dimension (CCE, 2022, #13).
Mutual cooperation between and among families, educators, and students marks the operations of Catholic schools (#15). Educators play a key role in this work and their ministry in Catholic education necessitates permanent formation (#14), knowledge and promotion of Church teaching and theology (#47), and a "concrete pedagogy – based on bearing witness, knowledge and dialogue – is a starting point for personal, social and environmental change" (#34).
Catholic educational organizations must also be appropriately vetted by the local bishop (#54 - 59). This oversight entails that the bishop and/or his delegates have familiarity with the particulars of Catholic schools and offers the appropriate support and guidance to live up to this honorable distinction.
Instead of passing hard-fast rules and regulations that must be followed blindly, the Congregation seems to encourage "in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity" (Pope John XXIII, 1959, Part III; CCE, 2022, #85).
In a sense, this cadence suggests that deeming an organization as "Catholic" has less to do with an outside evaluation and more to do with an interior journey, effort, and ascent to autonomously claim and own this title as a part of one's identity. The Congregation states, "Even in the most serious conflicts, the unity of lived faith based on the Gospel remains the guiding compass. In this framework, doors are open to a true culture of dialogue" (CCE, 2022, #87).
|"Compass Study" is marked with CC BY 2.0.|
This metaphor of a compass resounds powerfully.
We could see the principles outlined above as the checkpoints ushering us in the general direction of the "Catholic" designation-destination. Additionally, we could see our identities as Catholics - both individually and organizationally - as the compass.
Just as Jesus never performed the same miracles in the same ways, there is no one way to be Catholic. The more that we strive to claim our own Catholic identities through "inclusive and permanent communication" (#87) and "profound discernment" (#90), the more that we will come to recognize Christ's personal invitation to each of us to move forward - in our uniquely messy and beautiful situations - in faith.
Congregation for Catholic Education. (2022, March 29). Instruction of the Congregation for Catholic Education, "The identity of the Catholic school for a culture of dialogue". https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2022/03/29/220329c.html#
Pope John XXIII. (1959, June 29). Ad Petri Cathedram. https://www.vatican.va/content/john-xxiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_j-xxiii_enc_29061959_ad-petri.html
Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education. (1977, March 19). The Catholic School. https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccatheduc/documents/rc_con_ccatheduc_doc_19770319_catholic-school_en.html
Second Vatican Council. (1965, October 28). Gravissimum Educationis. https://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_gravissimum-educationis_en.html
Monday, March 28, 2022
In his book, The Hope Quotient, Ray Johnston retells a story of an early 20th Century pilot's attempt to fly around the world (2014, p. 78). While refueling in a field before a four-hour flight over water, a rat climbed into the plane. About half-way through this leg of the trip, the pilot heard a "scratching, gnawing sound inside the plane" (Johnston, 2014, p. 78).
An uninvited passenger was chewing on the plane's steering cable.
Two hours from land in either direction, the pilot realized that rats weren't meant to fly. He began increasing the plane's altitude until the sound ceased. After safely landing on the other side of the ocean, the pilot opened up the plane's mechanical parts and threw out the dead rat.
Johnston's point: the next time a rat - doubt, disappointment, despair, downtrodden-ness, doom, death, the devil - is gnawing at you, ascend to the heights.
Discouragement drops; hope rises.
Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati expressed a similar sentiment through one of his most famous phrases:
|Photo from: https://frassatiusa.org/verso-lalto|
Translation: "toward the top" or "to the heights".
Frassati embraced life and lived it fully throughout his 24 years on earth. An avid adventurer, Bl. Pier Giorgio climbed mountains, skied, road horses, and played countless sports. His joyful, loyal, humble, and grateful spirit infected friends and family alike and encouraged fellowship and faith sharing among them. As a committed Catholic, Frassati attended Mass daily, held a devotion to the Mother Mary and the Rosary, and performed innumerable works of mercy for those suffering from poverty and sickness.
Whereas Frassati never declared "verso l'alto" as a life-motto while alive, his life witnessed a constant pursuit of the best things - truth, goodness, beauty and life - for himself and others.
In a world bent on deconstruction and tearing down, may we ascend to the heights focusing instead on "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Philippians 4:8). This doesn't mean ignoring injustice or denying the existence of darkness. Instead, it requires that we inject light and life into situations void of hope: God works in all things and "(h)ope would have us recognize that there is always a way out, that we can always redirect our steps, that we can always do something to solve our problems" (Pope Francis, 2015, #61).
To the heights.
In a time when society quickly cancels, turns failures into viral viruses, and dismisses dialogue and discourse, staying on the shore's safe sands and/or passively following the masses becomes attractive. Jesus calls us to "put out into the deep" - duc in altum - so that we can rise to the heights for which He created us.
In relationship with Christ, may we courageously dance in the darkness and sing from the shadows. As we do, we can liberate others to do the same. When we do, the world may try to silence our song or disrupt the dance - "this is silly", "no one will join in", "it won't work", "it won't make a difference", "it's too hard", "who do you think you are?", "it's all about you".
In these moments, remember Bl. Pier Giorgio's response to someone who told him that he sung out of tune, "But the important thing is to sing" (https://totheheights.com/2609/bl-pier-giorgio-frassati-quotes/).
To the heights.
Johnston, R. (2014). The Hope Quotient: Measure it. Raise it. You'll never be the same. W Publishing Group, an imprint of Thomas Nelson.
Pope Francis. (2015, May 24). Laudato Si'. https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html
Saturday, March 26, 2022
And so, now as in the past, the Catholic school must be able to speak for itself effectively and convincingly. It is not merely a question of adaptation, but of missionary thrust, the fundamental duty to evangelize, to go towards men and women wherever they are, so that they may receive the gift of salvation. (Congregation for Catholic Education, 1997, #3)
|"Pope John Paul II during the General Audience (790100)" is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.|
Monday, February 21, 2022
My kids love the word and.
Can we have ice cream and candy? Can we stay up late and watch a movie? Can we go out to eat and get dessert?
My five-year old son has a particular affinity for it. His imagination creates combinations of characters and settings and plot twists and props and dialogue and more plot twists to string playtime out for what seems like hours. “And then…and then…and then…”
If I’m honest with myself, I love the word and too.
And opens up possibilities. It creates connections between and among things, people, and places.
The word and includes. It builds bridges. It invites. It imagines. It elevates. It increases.
And acknowledges. It affirms.
Put simply, within our ministries as transformational Catholic school leaders we need to strive for more ands and fewer buts, periods, eithers, neithers, or ors.
I think this is especially true when it comes to our understanding of purpose. Organizationally, our shared purpose functions as our mission, the group’s main goal. Purpose serves as a key ingredient in a recipe for success. We also recognize purpose as a vital disposition of Catholic school leaders.
Purpose involves planning. Purpose requires intentionality. Purpose provides conviction.
And, this isn’t necessarily enough. We need purpose and vision. We need purpose and persistence. We need purpose and pliability. When it comes to purpose, we need and.
In a study of what makes strong organizational cultures, John Kotter and James Heskett (1992) found that groups needed both a strong sense of purpose and a willingness to adapt. Having just one and not the other leads to either stubbornly refusing to evolve or aimlessly following the ever-changing winds of popular trends.
Purpose and pliability allowed Catholic schools to shift from in-person to virtual learning practically overnight in March of 2020. Purpose and pliability enabled many Catholic schools to reopen and remain open throughout the majority of the past two school years.
We did this because we needed to keep kids safe and we needed to preference in-person instruction. With purpose and pliability, we have found ways to continue with our ministries and compassionately acknowledge that the pandemic continues to affect our world, especially those suffering from poverty and/or vulnerability.
With focus and flexibility, we innovate, invent, and inspire, discovering methods to more authentically combine relevance and orthodoxy, charity and justice, the mind and the heart, college/career readiness and heaven.
Being purposeful and pliable liberates us to hold fast to the most essential aspects of who we are as individuals and institutions while simultaneously embracing opportunities to more fully become who we were created to be: changing the mascot; reimagining discipline to create disciples; recalibrating the standards and methods by which we assess our students, schools, and selves; pursuing radical inclusivity and aggressive collaboration; promoting participation through subsidiarity; and seeking new partnerships, funding strategies, and organizational models.
Purposeful and pliable. Intentional and innovative. Committed and called.
This is the posture and work of a disciple with hope to bring, living with one foot firmly planted in the purpose of Jesus Christ and the other one raised, pliably ready to take the next step in faith to wherever He will lead.
Kotter, J. P., & Heskett, J. L. (1992). Corporate Culture and Performance. New York: Free Press.
Wednesday, February 16, 2022
Newsflash: "The National Catholic Educational Association said nationwide enrollment increased by 62,000 to about 1.68 million students, marking the first increase in two decades and the largest jump it has recorded in at least five decades" (Henao, 2022).
This spark of hope must inspire Catholic school leaders, teachers, families, students, and stakeholders everywhere to ensure that this trend continues. As stewards who stand on the shoulders of the apostles that came before us, we must tend to this growth and cultivate it. Like the stewards in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), we need to take what we've been given, put it to use, and offer the Lord and our world a return on His investment.
|"Sunflower Plant Shoot" by sameold2010 is licensed under CC BY 2.0|
In order to turn this blip into a wave of evangelization and integral formation, we must (re)focus on our mission - Christ's mission.
“Thus, the (Catholic) school does not have a mission; the mission has schools” (Nuzzi and Hunt, 2012, p. 4). This quote should serve as an anchor for all that happens within Catholic schools, helping those who minister there understand they advance the work of Jesus.
When our mission in Catholic schools aligns with the salvific mission of Christ, every decision - whether focused on academics, extracurricular activities, admissions, budgeting and/or funding - should be filtered through the lens of whether or not a particular action advances Christ’s mandate to “(g)o, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
Ensuring that all members of a Catholic school’s personnel, including its business officers, understand and actively support the school’s true purpose is essential to its operations. Having clarity of mission from a financial perspective allows for innovative approaches to tuition models, sharing resources such as counselors and fine and performing arts teachers across schools, centralizing purchasing, and seeking business partnerships and funding strategies. As Catholic schools strive to offer even stronger academic and faith-based programming, compensate teachers and staff members more competitively, update facilities and technology, and also keep tuition from prohibiting families from choosing Catholic education for their children, business personnel who are committed to Christ’s mission and inspired by the Holy Spirit will find ways to creatively sustain and enhance our schools.
These Holy Spirit-infused entrepreneurs need to help our schools and Church tend this enrollment growth - concentrated mostly in Kindergarten and PreK - so that it can blossom for years to come.
This mission-minded approach is the heart of stewardship. Church personnel such as clerics, parish and diocesan staff, and parishioners of Catholic churches need to see Catholic schools as treasures of the Church worthy of cultivation, celebration, and commitment.
More fully recognizing Catholic schools as an integral arm of the mission of the Catholic Church could bolster financial support from parishes and dioceses to Catholic schools. Instead of subsidies, these monies could be seen as investments in the future of our Church, and the building up of the Kingdom of God on earth.
Stewarding our Catholic schools, and in turn the mission of Christ, also demands appropriate checks and balances to responsibly use the resources entrusted to us. Catholic school leaders play an important role in partnering with business officers toward this end. While Catholic school leaders do not need to be an expert in financial matters, they need to actively participate in overseeing the finances of the school. From checking the payroll of the school periodically to looking at balance sheets and profit and loss statements at least quarterly to empowering a team of people to know how to perform various business related tasks, the school leader must assist the business officer in the school’s stewardship efforts to “(receive) God’s gifts gratefully, (cherish) and tend them in a responsible and accountable manner, (share) them in justice and love with others, and (return) them with increase to the Lord” (USCCB, 2002, p. 9).
A seed has been planted, has taken root, and is starting to burst forth from the soil into the light of day.
May our efforts to steward the mission of Christ allow this new life to blossom and produce a bountiful, wonderful, and beautiful harvest for today, tomorrow, and into eternity.
Henao, L. A. (2022, February 14). Enrollment in US Catholic schools rebounds after sharp drop. AP NEWS. Retrieved February 16, 2022, from https://apnews.com/article/coronavirus-pandemic-health-religion-education-united-states-8bea1bef885e2d4180a2f5dca5110c9a
Nuzzi, R., & Hunt, T. (Eds). (2012). At the Heart of the Church: Selected documents of Catholic education. Notre Dame, IN: Alliance for Catholic Education Press.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. (2002). Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response: A pastoral letter on stewardship (10th anniversary ed.).