Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Full, Conscious, and Active Participation

My wife and I were driving to Jacksonville this past weekend to visit my brother, sister-in-law and their two children. On our way to I-75, we hit a pretty rough patch of storms and driving became a bit treacherous. Emily was behind the wheel at that point, and she turned the radio off, asked me to be quiet, gripped the steering wheel with both hands and leaned forward in her seat. For the next twenty minutes or so, she demonstrated full, conscious, and active participation in her driving. If in a similar situation, I hope that I, and many of you, would do the same.

As Catholics, we are called to a similar level of engagement every time we take part in the Celebration of the Eucharist. The Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, a body of the Second Vatican Council, advocated "full, conscious, and active participation" by the faithful "both inwardly and outwardly." This manifests itself in many and varied ways: we stand, we sit, we kneel, we process, we recite, we respond, we listen, we meditate, we sing, we offer sacrifices, we exchange signs of peace, we receive, we eat, we drink, we are transformed and sent to bring Jesus to others. And while our minds may wander and our focus shift, we are called to be truly present during the many different aspects of the Mass. God can do miraculous things with those who merely "show up", but He wants us to be on fire with love for Him. A simple example issues forth from this past Sunday's Gospel reading. Many of us could say the Lord's Prayer with little thought or concentration; our Lord wishes, however, for us to be fully aware of the words that we recite and to say them "with all of our hearts, with all of our beings, with all of our strength and with all our minds"-- instead of just with our lips (Luke 10:27). He wants us to be as engrossed in Him as we are with watching a Rays' game, listening to music, or driving through a rainstorm.

This idea of "full, conscious, and active participation" can also help us with our approach to Catholic Education.

As teachers, we are called to be truly present to our students. Classroom instruction must be more than lecturing and standing behind a podium and/or sitting behind a desk. Teachers must design dynamic lessons that activate prior knowledge, introduce new concepts, show relevancy to broader themes and ideas, and demonstrate that new knowledge was assimilated into the brain. Teachers must move around the classroom, subtly quieting a disruptive student, nonchalantly calling the distracted student back to task, and checking on student progress and work. Teachers must take supervisory duties seriously, circulating among students as opposed to conversing with colleagues. Teachers must differentiate instruction, being certain to appropriately challenge and engage students of all ability levels. A teacher's presence-- in the classroom, in the hallways, at recess, at lunch, and at dismissal-- is a teacher's present to his/her students.

Students can demonstrate full, conscious, and active participation in the classroom by coming prepared for school each and every day. From eating a hearty and healthy breakfast, to wearing the appropriate school uniform, to ensuring possession of all of the necessary supplies, a student must walk through the school's doors in a successful position to learn. Students must listen with both their ears and their eyes, giving the speaker their full and undivided attention. Students need to participate in class activities by answering questions, asking questions, working diligently on class assignments and helping others in need. Students need to focus on W.I.N.-ing every situation throughout their days. By focusing on "What's Important Now", students can recognize that appropriate behavior during lunch can be inappropriate during Mass. They can come to recognize that "there is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens" and in doing so understand how to fully, consciously and actively participate in all of the many events throughout a school day and year.

Finally, as parents, you can fully, actively, and consciously participate in the lives of your students in a multitude of ways. First, put the cell phone down during drop-off and pick-up. These are great times to not only be safe but also offer your child(ren) a goodbye, hello and/or I love you. Parents can ensure that students are prepared for the day, offering support and reminders but not enabling by rushing back to school with every forgotten lunch, project, and set of PE clothes. Oftentimes, enduring the consequence of being forgetful is a great way for students to rid themselves of this habit. Check grades on Sycamore. Assume that your child's teacher is correct and that your child is in need of formation (if they didn't need guidance, there would be no need for the educational system). Even the best, smartest, and holiest of kids make mistakes.

Parents can also become engaged in the life of the school: volunteer and fulfill your required service hours. Our operating budget depends on the good work of parent volunteers to sustain our school. Pay your tuition and other fees. Our faculty and staff depend on this financial commitment to make a living and implement our academic and extra-curricular programs. Participate in fundraising and development efforts giving your time, talents, and treasure. Tuition alone does not cover the cost of educating our children. Participate in community revealing activities: bring your students to Sunday Mass, come to Back to School Nights, join us for Mass on Wednesday mornings, reach out to new families, attend an ICS sporting event, and immerse yourself in the ICS family.

St. Irenaeus claimed, "The glory of God is the human person fully alive." I'm sure that he would agree that the glory of God is also the Catholic School who's members are fully, consciously, and actively involved.

I look forward to glorifying God with you, our teachers, and our students at Incarnation this upcoming school year and beyond.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Just Show Up

To be completely candid, I have had a hard time coming up with the material for my last two blogs. This isn't for lack of trying. I've prayed every day. I've gone to Mass and participated wholeheartedly. I've read chapters in a book on Jesuit spirituality. I've listened to Christian music. I've even meditated. I feel that all of these efforts were made in vain, though; I'm afraid my blogging well has run dry.

But, I'm blogging nonetheless, and what's more is that today's blog doesn't end here.

Sometimes you just have to push through the writer's block and start writing. At times, just opening the blog is half the battle.

The same is true for a workout regime. Undoubtedly, in the midst of a regulated exercise routine there will be days when you just won't feel like breaking a sweat. That's when just showing up, or tying the laces on your running shoes, or starting to warm-up can get you through to the end.

And so it is with many of our daily activities that wear on us, or those that take part in the grind. Whether it's paying the bills or taking out the trash or spending time with your kids or putting away the dishes, there are times when you just don't feel like doing something.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "What you are afraid to do is a clear indication of the next thing you need to do." Perhaps we could paraphrase this to say: what you don't want to do (but probably should) is a clear indication of the next thing you need to do. It's precisely when you don't want to do something (but know that you should) that you need to get up and do it; otherwise, you fill with regret. Or worse yet, you compound the amount of things you'll just have to do tomorrow. Why put off until tomorrow that which can be accomplished today?

Including prayer.

Especially prayer.

Being vigilant in our prayer lives is hard. Ashamedly and unintentionally, one of the first things that gets cut from a busy day for me is spending time with God in prayer. Other days, I just don't feel like praying. But, if I can catch myself, this is exactly when I'll turn to the Bible, spend some time in quiet meditation, or search out some sort of prayerful inspiration. It's not always the most fruitful exercise for me. At times it can offer a moment of clarity or motivation, and other times it seems as if all I did was go through the motions. But not every prayer session has to be a conversion experience. God just wants us to show up. Like a good friend, He just wants to spend time with us. If we turn to God in prayer, He's the one that can turn it into something beautiful. It doesn't require a monumental effort. It just requires us and Him.

A wise friend once told me, "Reading the psalms is like digging irrigation ditches for when the rains come." I think the same holds true for prayer. We may not always feel like praying, but consistently doing so can help us to prosper through life's storms.

Just like consistently studying can help you to do well on a pop quiz. Just like practicing the trombone every day can help you to hold on to first chair when 2nd chair challenges for your position. Just like cleaning the house (or your room) a little every day can make you feel more comfortable when an unexpected visitor drops in. Just like checking your tire pressure can help your car to endure an unseen pothole.

So, the next time you don't feel like doing something, just show up...and just do it.

You'll be glad you did.

Monday, July 12, 2010

This Little Light of Mine

Growing up in Northeast Ohio, one of my favorite summertime activities from my childhood was capturing fireflies (also known as lightning bugs). If you've never seen one, the appeal is that from about dusk until around 10:00 p.m. these bugs rise from the grass and light up for a few brief seconds at a time. Trailing them in their "dark" stages, the fireflies light up again, giving you a chance, after sprinting to the location of the last illumination, to capture them in your hands.

On more than one occasion, I would fruitlessly put my captive lightning bugs into a jar with holes drilled into the top (thanks to my Mom for the jars and thanks to my Dad for drilling the holes-- and thanks to both for humoring me). I was even thoughtful enough to put in a twig or two with some grass, thinking that making them feel more at home would help them to survive the night. But without fail, my new pets would not come out of their night in prison alive. Maybe the holes were too few. Maybe grass was not part of a healthy diet for lightning bugs. Maybe lightning bugs need more space to sleep-fly. Regardless, trying to keep their glow to myself was futile.

Luckily for the lightning bug species, it did not take me long to learn this lesson:

Lightning bugs do not belong in jars.

Lightning bugs were not created for my own enjoyment, but to light up the summer nights in the Midwestern United States (and various other locations throughout the world). Trying to contain them and keep them hidden went directly against the purpose for which they were created-- to shine for the whole world to see.

Lightning bugs everywhere, please accept my apologies, but know that your comrades did not fall in vain.

There's a greater lesson in all of this.

How often do we do the same thing to ourselves? How often do we bottle up the gifts and talents God has given us instead of sharing them with the world? Or, what about the times that we do this to others? How often do we try to categorize others upon meeting them and assume that we know everything there is to know about them?

How often do we put ourselves, or others, in jars?

In education, it is imperative that we not merely fill our students' jars with knowledge so that they can glow for a test or project, only to die out when it comes to having this knowledge endure. We must give them the tools and skills needed to light up the world around them. We must allow them the freedom to test their abilities in various situations and locations so that they can acquire the courage to learn new ways to light up.

As educators, if all we ever do is improve test scores we've only done about 1/4 of our jobs. We must teach our students how to use their new knowledge meaningfully. We must demonstrate to our students how this new knowledge relates to larger themes and ideas. We must inspire them to use this new knowledge to benefit others and the world around us.

Put simply, we must teach them how to shine.

This is how the Master Teacher taught, telling His disciples, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father" (Mt. 5: 14 - 16).

Just like lightning bugs, we do not belong in jars.

It goes against that purpose for which we were created: to shine before others, that they may see our good deeds and glorify our heavenly Father.

Everyone has a light. You, me, lightning bugs, our students-- everyone.

It's about time we let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.