Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Vision

"...to this they (bishops, priests, all the Catholic faithful) feel obliged in conscience, and with a generosity and constancy worthy of all praise, they are firmly determined to make adequate provision for what they openly profess as their motto: 'Catholic education in Catholic schools for all the Catholic youth.'"

-Pope Pius XI, 1929, Divini Illius Magistri, #82

Sir Isaac Newton, in what might be considered a backhanded compliment to his predecessors in science, said, "If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants" (Newton, in a letter to Robert Hooke, 1675). Regardless of Newton's intent, though, this line honoring those that have come before us testifies to the fact that we owe much to our ancestors. 

In Catholic education within the United States, those of us blessed to minister in this way definitely stand on the shoulders of giants. From bishops and priests who navigated oppressive waters to preserve the Catholic faith of their flocks, to waves of religious women who heroically supplied Catholic schools with their teaching and charisms, and parents and families who helped build our schools with with brick, mortar, and sweat, we can see further because of the work of these giants of Catholic schools. 

We stand upon a solid foundation thanks to these pioneers; we must also embrace their vision for Catholic education that we should see clearly from this heightened vantage point: "Catholic education in Catholic schools for all the Catholic youth." 

This powerful vision stems from a deep belief in the power of Catholic education. Catholic 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" (Pope Pius XI, 1929, #95). Therefore, Catholic education casts a really wide net. Given the fact that Catholic schools form students in all subject matters, including religion, and that this takes place over the course of five full school days, this wide net also can and should run deep.

Since Catholic schools can and should have a deep impact on the formation of their students, this shouldn't be exclusive to Catholics. Pope Pius XI writes, "(H)er mission to educate extends equally to those outside the Fold, seeing that all (people) are called to enter the kingdom of God and reach eternal salvation" (1929, #26). As such, the Church's vision of Catholic education declared by Pope Pius XI in Divini Illius Magistri should be extended to see beyond the walls of our Church:
Catholic education of the highest quality to as many students as possible.

This vision, this picture of the preferred future within Catholic schools, is what the world should look like when programs like the Alliance for Catholic Education and the many notches within its wide and deep net, cast out into the deep and lower their nets for a catch. By forming dynamic teachers and transformational leaders informed and inspired by a Catholic worldview, while also forming educators in the areas such as STEM, inclusion, and English as a New Language in the context of our rich faith, we can sustain, strengthen, and transform Catholic schools. We can and must make our Catholic schools more academically excellent, spiritually rich, holistically formative, and accessible to all children and families, regardless of academic standing, financial status, or religious affiliation. 

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dove_of_the_Holy_Spirit.png
Image from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dove_of_the_Holy_Spirit.png 

May those of us in Catholic education blessed enough to stand on the shoulders of the giants who have come before us, see this vision with clarity, and may we pursue it with zeal and conviction united with each other and in cooperation with "divine grace" (Pope Pius XI, 1929, #94).    


References:

British Broadcasting Corporation. (n.d.). Learning English - Moving Wordshttps://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/movingwords/shortlist/newton.shtml 

Pope Pius XI. (1929). Divini Illius Magistri. In Nuzzi, R., and Hunt, T. (Eds.), At the Heart of the Church: Selected documents of Catholic education, (pp. 37 - 60). Alliance for Catholic Education Press.

 

Monday, September 20, 2021

Consumed

Growing up as a teenager in Northeast Ohio, my favorite song was “Jesus Freak” by dc Talk (see below for a link!). Its mix of rap and rock spoke to my eclectic musical tastes, and its message of standing out in the name of Christ struck a chord with my attempts to discover and identify who God created me to be.

Freak, according to dc Talk’s usage of the word, means an ardent enthusiast. If you stand for anything, stand for Jesus. If you want to be different, be different because of your relationship with Christ. 


I think that being a Jesus Freak served as my training ground for leading with zeal


Programmatically and charismatically, the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program's definition of zeal comes from Bl. Basil Moreau: 


(T)he great desire to make God known, loved, and served, and thus to bring knowledge of salvation to others. (Moreau, 1856/2006)


Moreau goes on to state that zeal fills teachers with “enthusiasm, love, courage, and perseverance” and that “without it, everything falls apart” (Moreau, 1856/2006). Zeal is energy and spirit and it fuels all aspects of our ministries and lives. Zeal is the gas that puts the other dispositions into motion. 


A deeper investigation into zeal uncovered for me new insights about what zeal is and how we can protect and foster it. 


First, zeal, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, flows from an intensity of love. Other definitions of zeal classify it as love in action, the state of being hot or beginning to boil, or a deep affection that seeks to obtain what is loved or to remove what stands in the way (ETWN Global Catholic Network, 1998; Trinity Communications, 2021).


Put simply, zeal is love


After driving the merchants out of the temple, Jesus’s disciples recalled the words of the Psalmist, “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:17 and Psalm 69:10). In other words, love for His Father and His Father’s Kingdom in heaven and on earth consumed Jesus. It directed all of His activities. It inspired His life and ministry. 


Love impelled Him. Zeal for His Father’s house consumed Him. 


May it consume and impel us as well.


At this point in this year, though, our supplies of zeal may be in short supply. We may feel so consumed by vaccinations and masks and mandates and policies that our zeal might seem like a faint flicker, fading ember, or even extinguished altogether. 


Heads up and hearts out, though, sisters and brothers. Be encouraged. 

 

My second new insight about zeal/love is this: the way to increase our zeal, our love for Jesus, is to increase our contact with Him. We can’t love - and truly don’t love - people with whom we do not interact. 


So, interact with Jesus.


Encounter Him in the scriptures. Every day He speaks anew the words of the Gospel. Not relegated to a specific time and group of people, He has the words of eternal life and His words are meant for you and me and everyone. Allow His words to speak life to you each day. 


Interact with Jesus by seeing Him in your relationships with others. We are made in the image of a Triune God; relationships, therefore, are pathways to holiness. Commune with Jesus in your words and deeds to others. Remember, where two or more are gathered in His name... 


Receive Jesus in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Or, put more accurately, be received by Jesus through these celebrations. Allow Him to wrap His healing arms around you in love during Reconciliation. Allow Him to consume you as He lovingly offers you His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Let your “Amen” in response to the words, “Body of Christ” affirm your belief in His Real Presence and inspire you to become Who you receive.


In this way, let your “Amen” be your commitment to go be Christ’s Body out in the world. Strengthened and nourished by His love, His zeal, go make God known, loved, and served.  


Go be a Jesus Freak. Be an ardent enthusiast of Christ, because He is an ardent enthusiast of you.  


Go lead with zeal. 


Go lead with love.       



References:

dc Talk (2009, February 24). Jesus Freak [Video]. Youtube. https://youtu.be/kbB0QrBIs9k 

ETWN Global Catholic Network (1998). Zeal. ETWN. https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/zeal-12796 

Moreau, B. (2006). Christian Education (S. Walsh, Ed.). Holy Cross Institute at St. Edward’s University. (Original work published 1856). https://catholicliberaleducation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/moreau-christian_education.pdf  

Trinity Communications (2021). Catholic Dictionary. Catholic Culture. https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=37230



Friday, August 27, 2021

The 4th Commandment

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Monica. The mother of St. Augustine, who played a pivotal role in the conversions of both her son and her husband, represents a powerful model for parents and families.

Pray for our children. Ardently. Consistently. Constantly.  


As a parent, this is one of the most important parts of my vocation: to help my children come to know Jesus and enter into relationship with Him. 

A few years ago, as a member of the Diocese of St. Petersburg Vocation Enrichment Team, I attended a meeting with Catholics from around the diocese to focus on enriching, enhancing and promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life. The theme for the day: Family - The First Home of Vocations - centered on the role of the family in fostering a sense and acceptance of vocation.

Fr. Alfredo Hernandez, the keynote speaker for the event, retold pieces of his own vocation story, including the simple prayer of his mother for him to discern what God was calling him to do and that if it was priesthood that he would be a good priest.

Citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2221 - 2231), Fr. Alfredo mentioned that the role of parents involves moral formation in addition to physical and intellectual nurturing:
The fecundity of conjugal love cannot be reduced solely to the procreation of children, but must extend to their moral education and their spiritual formation. "The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute." The right and the duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable. (2221)
Parents must recognize their role in this spiritual formation and they must accept that it is "almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute." Such is the important role of parents in the faith lives of their children!

At times, though, this task can seem overwhelming. Given the magnitude of decisions that parents make on an hourly basis regarding the formation of their children, it may be difficult to sense that the way in which they are leading their kids in the faith is down the wrong path. Out of exhaustion, frustration, confusion, and/or our own human sinfulness, we can give them screen-time when what they need is some me-time - time with their parent. We can forego blessing our food, or praying before bed, or even attending Mass regularly and do so out of what we feel are good intentions: we've been really busy, the restaurant is really loud/quiet, we have to rush to the next thing, it's too late, we don't have enough time, everyone is too tired, I'm just not in the mood myself. 

But, like St. Monica, we must persist. We must disconnect from our virtual worlds so that we can reconnect with the glory right in front of us. We need to pray for and with them, even when we don't feel like it ourselves - dig the irrigation ditches for when the rains come. 

Put your children on a path to holiness and recognize that in doing so, you can follow along, too.

This doesn't mean you have to be perfect. None of us are. Instead, it means that you actively strive to follow the will of God for your life and that of your family:    
Parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons. Showing themselves obedient to the will of the Father in heaven, they educate their children to fulfill God's law. (2222)

Strive to live out the virtues that you hope to see in the world. Be explicit with what those are for your family. Knowing the endpoint can help us to arrive at the destination:  

Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery - the preconditions of all true freedom. (2223)

Teach children how to sacrifice for the greater good of others. The law of the gift - manifested by Jesus on the Cross - should be lived out in our families. We become who we were created to be as we offer ourselves as a gift for others. We are better together: 

The home is the natural environment for initiating a human being into solidarity and communal responsibilities. Parents should teach children to avoid the compromising and degrading influences which threaten human societies. (2224)

Parents must foster a sense of vocation in their children. God has a special plan for all of our lives. Prayer and relationship with Christ and others can help us to discover the riches of the fullness of life God has in store for us: 

When they become adults, children have the right and duty to choose their profession and state of life. They should assume their new responsibilities within a trusting relationship with their parents, willingly asking and receiving their advice and counsel. Parents should be careful not to exert pressure on their children either in the choice of a profession or in that of a spouse. This necessary restraint does not prevent them - quite the contrary from giving their children judicious advice, particularly when they are planning to start a family. (2230)
Some forgo marriage in order to care for their parents or brothers and sisters, to give themselves more completely to a profession, or to serve other honorable ends. They can contribute greatly to the good of the human family. (2231)
Fr. Alfredo would pray the following prayer as a child with his dad: "Take my heart, take my heart it is yours and not mine." Fr. Alfredo's mother called him "regalcito de cielo", little gift from heaven, and this shaped his sense of generosity and trust in God. We all need to follow the lead of Mr. and Mrs. Hernandez and St. Monica and treat our children as gifts and teach them how to be a gift to others. 

True joy is borne from encounter with others, from hearing someone say, but not necessarily with words, "You are important to me."

That is God's message to each one of us. 

Let our lives and words bear this message to our children - our gifts, our joy, our regalcitos de cielo

You are important to me. 

St. Monica, pray for us! 

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Together

"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

-Matthew 18:20

We are better together. 

Made in the image and likeness of a Triune God, Who Himself exists within a relationship of love, we are made to be in loving relationship with others. 

We come into this world only through another person. Literally. We would not exist if it weren't for others. 

God, in His infinite wisdom, also created humans in such a way, that unlike other animals we require support, nurturing, protection, and formation from other humans in order to both survive and thrive. 

We are made for relationships and we are better together. 

We are who we are as individuals, only through the context of others. We learn through, with, and because of others. We learn through modeling and imitation. Knowledge is mostly the product of others. Whereas we could come to discover theories and truths through experience and experimentation, most of what we know is produced and brought to us by someone else. 

Our ongoing survival and thrivival depends upon others. Some people might live on self-sustaining farms; the rest of us depend on farmers, truck drivers, and grocery stores to eat. Electricity, water, gas, clothing, internet, devices, emergency services, roads, trash removal - we cannot thrive, let alone survive, without others. 

We are better together.

At a time when our country and world seems more divided than ever, it would benefit all of us to strive for unification. It would benefit all of us to consider how we might be able to sacrifice some of our own personal agendas so as to benefit others.

Driving the speed limit and obeying traffic laws can keep myself and others - even those outside of my car - safe. Returning carts to either stores or cart holders can help keep prices down and make a workers' job just a bit easier. Paying taxes, voting, donating to charity, performing service are all ways to benefit the greater good including and over and above yourself. 

Maybe even wearing a mask, maintaining distance, and washing your hands, even if we find these things inconvenient. 

Within schools arriving to our duties on time can uphold the breaks and schedules of others. Walking quietly and in an orderly fashion (i.e. straight lines) can maintain academic atmospheres across the campus. A uniform helps to unify. Proper behavior can do more than just help an individual find success.   

At an even higher level, we can only accomplish our mission within Catholic schools through communion with others.

St. Pope John Paul II wrote:

Communion and mission are profoundly connected with each other, they interpenetrate and mutually imply each other, to the point that communion represents both the source and the fruit of mission: communion gives rise to mission and mission is accomplished in communion. (1988, para. 32

Consider how Christ's ministry - even most of the miracles he performed including turning water into wine, feeding 5,000, and raising Lazarus - depended upon others. 

Through His Incarnation Christ sought communion with us to participate in His mission. He invites us into His salvific mission to advance His Kingdom in heaven and establish it here on earth.

On earth as it is in heaven. 

Together with each other and our Father. 

We are better together.  


Citations:

St. John Paul II. (1988, December 30). Christifideles laici [Apostolic Exhortation]. Retrieved from: https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_30121988_christifideles-laici.html 

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Giving

Each moment is a gift; that's why we call it the present. 

We would do well, then, to give each moment away. Instead of keeping it for ourselves, we should use the present to be present to others. We should use the present to present to others the presents that God has presented to us. 

We shouldn't keep the gifts God has given to us for ourselves. We should willingly and freely give them back to God.  

When we do this, we will come to experience that God is never outdone in giving. 

When we give, God gives back in abundance. To God, 5 + 2 = more than 5,000. 

It is the law of the gift. 

I first came across the law of the gift a few years ago.

Simply, the law of the gift states that we can't out give God. The gifts we give to Him, much like the multiplication of the loaves and fish, get amplified in magnificent ways. 

Similarly, much like the Paschal Mystery, we come to fullness of life as we give ourselves to God.  

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI explained the law of the gift in this way: "One receives one’s life precisely when one gives it away" (Pope Benedict XVI, 2013). 

His predecessor, St. Pope John Paul II, referred to the law of the gift often. Pulling from Gaudium et Spes, St. John Paul II would frequently teach that humans "cannot fully find (themselves) except through a sincere gift of (themselves)" (Second Vatican Council, 1965).

We become who we were created to be as we freely give ourselves to God. 

"Whoever seeks to preserve (their) life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it" (Luke 17:33). 

Or from today's readings

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)

And:  

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. (John 12:24-25)

As the new school year begins, let us embrace the law of the gift and freely give ourselves to God and in turn in service to others.

Let us see our ministry within Catholic education as a participation in the saving mission of the Church and in building up the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. 

Let us give ourselves, our ministries, and our Catholic schools to the Lord, for it is in giving that we, and others, may truly receive.  

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Celebrate and Commemorate

Welcome to the 2021 - 2022 school year!

I hope and pray that your summer was filled with the restorative graces you needed to continue in this ministry. May you remember that you have been called to this work, and may you continue to have the courage and commitment needed to carry it out. 

You are called, courageous, and committed. 

As the new school year commences, may you take time to both celebrate all that you accomplished as well as commemorate the past year and a half. 

You and your students endured, accomplished, and conquered so much over the 18 months. Celebrate those wins in communion with each other. Take time to honor the hard work of the teachers of the prior year and a half. Consider ways that you can include parents and families in these celebrations. Be specific with invitations and connections. 

You taught and learned virtually. 

You worked from home while quarantining, parenting, adulting, and surviving. Parents and families did the same and added teaching assistant to their resumes. 

You taught and learned in a hybrid environment. 

You taught and learned with masks, social distancing, plastic dividers, obscene amounts of hand-sanitizer, temperature checks and so many other different policies related to the pandemic. 

Think of a way to celebrate these and so many other ways that you prevailed over the pandemic.


In addition to some sort of celebration, also consider how you might commemorate the past 18 months. From loss of life, to loss of jobs, to missed celebrations, to social isolation and loneliness, to the overall stresses of the pandemic, our re-entry into normalcy, as well as having to once again mask and distance (argh!), it is important that we allow our communities a chance to commemorate the suffering, pain, anxiety, fear and loss. 

Pray. 

Reflect. 

Share. 

Mourn and be okay with allowing the space for people to do this. Bring tissues and patience. 

Perform some sort of ritual of healing - plant something, create a quilt, construct a mosaic/mural, write prayer intentions and bring them to the altar during mass.

Commemorate. And celebrate. 

Whatever this upcoming school year brings, trust in God's providence and believe that He has you in His hands, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely; In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths" (Proverbs 3:5-6). 

You can - because you have - and you will do hard things. 

You were made on purpose for excellence, holiness, greatness, and sainthood. Your students were as well. 

Have a blessed year!

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Called, Courageous, Committed

Over the course of the past few years, an almost daily prayer of mine for my children has been that they will have the wisdom to know the call that God has for their life, the courage to say yes to this, and the strength to remain committed to this holy work. 

Specifically, I pray that they have wisdom, courage, and strength. 

Put another way, I want them to know that they are called, I hope that they can be courageous, and it is my prayer that they can remain committed to what God has called them to do. 

I think that this cadence is important for all of us: called, courageous, committed. 

Wisdom, courage, strength. 

This past year has taxed all of us in varied ways and to various degrees. Since this is a blog specific to Catholic education, I will single out Catholic school teachers for their heroics since March of 2020. 

We have all heard this story:

  • Pivoting to online instruction overnight. 
  • Prioritizing in-person instruction and jumping through the necessary hoops - health screenings, testing, mask wearing, hand sanitizer, anti-bacterial wipes - to incarnationally instruct. 
  • Embracing a hybrid approach to meet the needs of families by managing students in classrooms and on-line. At. The. Same. Time. 
  • Classroom and school quarantines and re-entries into the building. 
  • Elbow bumps, air handshakes, eye smiles, and other attempts at showing the love, care and compassion for students that had epitomized your ministry up until this point. 
As you limp, stagger, crawl, and drag yourselves across the finish line of this school year, may the summer of 2021 bring you much needed rest, relaxation, rejuvenation, and re-creation. 

Allow your survival over the past 15 months to turn into revival.


Remember your original call to this ministry. It wasn't for the money, accolades, or ease. It most likely had something to do with making a difference in the lives of children. You've done that in spades, especially since the pandemic began. Take time over the summer to rediscover and re-anchor yourself in your WHY. Trust that in this apostolate of Catholic education that you are carrying out Christ's call to the apostles

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. (Matthew 28:19-20)

May you have the wisdom to remember your call.  

Ask the Holy Spirit for another measure of courage. Your tank is undoubtedly beyond empty. Well past fumes, you have run on the atomic level of your will and the fundamental level of God's grace. Pray for restoration. Sadly, as our world returns to "normal" many of our youth are facing unprecedented fears, our nation is still suffering from the sin and ramifications of racism and political polarization, and the effects of the pandemic on church attendance and faith remains to be seen. Whereas it seems that instruction in the fall will, for the most part, go back to pre-pandemic norms, our ministry will face other challenges. 

May we have the courage to frame these and all challenges as opportunities to live out our call in a world so desperately in need of "the reason for your hope" (1 Peter 3:15). 

Finally, please stay committed to this work. You are appreciated and loved. Your ministry helps to establish the kingdom of God here on earth while advancing it in heaven. As you remember your call, and muster up new stores of courage, may you look back at these 15 months with a convicted sense that you are strong. Take stock of all that you accomplished and lay each victory - no matter how small - as another brick in your foundation of teaching. Whereas you might feel weaker and more tired and more burnt out than ever before, recognize that you did more than just endure. You prevailed. 

It wasn't perfect. 

No school year ever is. 

It wasn't what you had planned. 

Again, though, does anything ever go as planned in education?

This summer, as you recover from your efforts on the battlefield of ministry, take stock of just how strong you are, and believe that you will move into next year even stronger than you were before any of this happened. 

May you have the strength to remain committed to this holy work God has entrusted to you. 

You are called, courageous, and committed. 

God has gifted you with wisdom, courage, and strength.  

You are changing the world. May you continue to do so. 

For now, though, enjoy your summer! Thank you and congratulations, Catholic educators!