Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Reason

It was so long ago. It took Him so long to come.
But, come he did.
Angels sang praises to God for this Child’s birth.
People from distant lands gave gifts foretelling His future worth.
He lived,
He died,
He lived again.
All so that you and I may share in this Life.
Born of a virgin,
            An apparent impossibility
Born in a barn,
            Among cows and sheep
Born with the responsibility of saving mankind.
He was divine– a great Prince with the royalist of blood.
But, fortunately He was more than just that:
                HE WAS ONE OF US.
He laughed,
            He cried,
                        He yelled, failed, loved...died.
He died.
He died.
He died.
The most powerful of Kings, more powerful than life or death
Subjected Himself to both before conquering each one.
He lowered Himself to pain, suffering, humility-
            To death on a tree
                        For nothing less than all humanity.
He entered the world like a slave
            And left it like a criminal.
Because of Him Death lost its sting on human souls.
He triumphed by living after it.
So that we,
            If we choose
                        Could do the same.
Jesus’ birth was a miracle.
His life was a ministry.
His death, a tragedy.
His Resurrection was the reason for the miracle.
And He,
            In all of His magnificence,
                        Is the Reason for the season. 

Monday, December 12, 2011


In John, Chapter 3, verse 16, we hear, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

Like John the Baptist growing inside of Elizabeth, we, too, should leap for joy upon hearing this message. God loved us so much that he gave us His only Son, so that we could have eternal life. Just the fact that eternal life in Heaven is possible to us should set our hearts on fire for God.

The mystery of the Incarnation changed the world. If Jesus doesn’t come, we don’t have Christmas, we don’t have the New Testament, we don’t have the death or (more importantly) the Resurrection. We don’t have a Catholic Schools. We don’t celebrate the Eucharist. We don’t have salvation.

And even though we understand the Incarnation to have this kind of impact, we don’t always appreciate it. Our wonder and awe of how Mary gave birth to the Son of God gets overshadowed by candy canes and gingerbread.

So, in the spirit of Jesus’ parables, let us consider the Incarnation from another perspective:

For God so loved the world…
Max had always loved ducks. For years he had enjoyed them returning in the warm summer months to the lake outside of his cottage. He would spend his days watching them, at night he would lay out more seed for them to eat. The ducks became the subject of his paintings, a recent hobby he had acquired. Max even went so far as to name two of his favorites: Herb and Norma. He would pray for their young offspring. He would delight in their swimming and flying, playing and quacking. It was joyous for Max to have these ducks visit his pond year after year. In fact, it was the best part of his life.

…that He gave His only Son…
Max had lived in the cottage for his entire life. As it sat on a coastal town, Hurricanes had become second nature for Max. Too old to evacuate, and really nowhere else to go, he would hunker down, boarding up his windows, stockpiling water, batteries, candles, and other necessities, but would otherwise be unfazed by the powerful storms. Miraculously, he and his cottage had survived every Hurricane that had crossed his path. 37 to be exact.

So, when 38 arrived, Max had no idea that it would be the one to take his life.

…so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life.
It was late in the day and the clouds had been rolling in since mid-afternoon. Feeling the coming tropical storm in his bones, Max began the process of nailing two-by-fours across his windows. “If I start now,” he thought, “I can be done and enjoying supper by 6:00.” Hammering the last nail into his wooden home at about 5:30, he chuckled to himself as he loved to be early. What else did he have to do?

Preparing his meal took no time at all: opening the can of soup, putting it on the stove and cutting and buttering his bread took less time combined than waiting for the soup to boil. As he waited for the steam and bubbles, he located his water supply, gathered up his flashlights, candles and matches, took mental stock of his Hurricane prep-list, and set his table.

Max sat for dinner precisely at 6:00 and as he bowed his head in prayer, he caught a glimpse of the time, smiled once more, and took his first bite.

It was at this time that he heard the first clap of thunder. The pitter-patter of rain on his roof soon followed. Paying it little attention, Max dunked his bread in his soup, softening and flavoring it, before bringing it to his mouth. The broth tasted salty, which was a nice complement to the tartness of the sourdough-rye he was using tonight. Max was so entranced in his meal that he didn’t even flinch as the powerful winds pelted the cottage with rain.

Finishing his meal, Max got up to peak outside at the storm’s wrath. As he squinted through a small slit in the wooden coverings, he saw the tall palm trees bending to the left. Rain fell sideways in sheets. The wind howled. His tiny cottage trembled with each thunder strike. Taking this as commonplace he was about to go and clean his dishes from dinner when he noticed Herb and Norma. Cowering behind a tree, Herb tried his best to shield Norma from the storm, spreading his wings and hugging her, exposing his back to water, twigs and other flying debris.

Max’s eyes immediately fixated on the ducks. From inside of his cottage he began yelling and screaming at them, “Herb! Norma! Go to the shed! Get out of the storm!” As he shouted he pointed at the shed to which he was referring. Located just a stone’s throw from his front steps it was only a few feet from the Herb and Norma’s sheltering tree. The place where he kept his gardening tools and other odds and ends, it was built of concrete, a remnant of the army barracks that at one point was housed on this very plot of land. It was sturdier than his cottage.

Max went on encouraging his duckling friends for a few minutes, experimenting with different tones, volume levels and even words. Realizing his attempts to communicate were in vain, Max brainstormed some other possibilities.

He ran and retrieved a flashlight. As he had many from which to choose, Max selected the most powerful beam in his reserve. Given to him by Sheriff Briggs, Max new it was strong enough to cut through the rain and reach his web-footed friends. Opening a window, Max hammered out one of the wooden planks. “It will weaken my defenses a bit,” Max considered, “but it’s the only way I can get this light to them.”

Turning on the flashlight, Max shot its beams onto Herb. Jiggling it a bit, he then traced the path from the ducks into the shed. Herb must have thought ill of this light as instead of it leading he and his bride to safety, it caused him to leap into the air, only to get thrown back to the earth by the fierce winds. Herb lay motionless to the right of Norma, who began to burrow deeper into the ground.

Max’s heart dropped into his stomach. It was a pain that he had not felt in quite some time. Thinking out loud, he sighed, “I have to save them. I have to save them, but I will have to get closer to do so.”

Max stood in front of his front door long enough to check his body for the necessary rain gear. Boots, pants, coat, hood, glasses. “Well, I can’t cover myself in any more plastic and rubber,” he judged. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, reached for the doorknob and opened the door.

He was immediately struck by wind and rain. Stumbling back a bit, he leaned forward, stepped out onto his porch and closed the door behind him. Moving as quickly as his old body would allow, he darted in the direction of Herb and Norma. As he got closer, he called their names, “Herb! Norma! It’s Max! I’m hear to save you!” The roar of the rain bouncing off of his waterproof hat and hood muffled the sound of his own voice. He scrambled through the mud and water, inching closer to his friends. Drawing closer he bent down to scoop up Herb. “Norma is at least behind the tree,” Max’s mind raced. “I need to get Herb out of this rain.”

As he stooped down, Max slipped on an exposed tree root. He tumbled to the ground, the left side of his body taking most of the impact. Water seeped under his rain gear. He felt his clothes underneath begin to dampen. He rolled over and reached for Herb. His hand brushed Herb’s wing, causing Herb to once again spring to life, furiously flapping his wings and honking. Max tried to chase after Herb. “Herb, I’m trying to save you!” Max yelled. “Please, go into the shed!”

Bringing himself up onto his knees, Max tried every conceivable hand motion and gesture. He tried calling out like a duck, cupping his cold and wet hands over his mouth and buzzing into his balled up fists. This only caused Herb to stir even more, squawking and getting tossed around by the winds.

Max got up and moved toward Norma, bracing himself on the trunk of the tree to steady his attempt at retrieving her. She flew out of his grasp, staying close to the ground as she fled. Max ran after her. He was growing tired. His heart was beating rapidly and it felt like it was about to erupt. He staggered. He gripped his chest.

A moment before Max’s heart gave out, he thought to himself, “If only I could become a duck, I could communicate to them and lead them to safety. If only I could become one of them…”

Thursday, December 8, 2011


What can Mary teach us about how to prepare for Christmas?

Okay, that question sounds entirely too simple, entirely too superficial. What can Jesus’ mother teach us about Him? I’m sure that she could teach us everything we ever wanted to know. There is probably not a person in the history of the World that has known Jesus better. So, to ask, “What can Mary teach us about how to prepare for Christmas?” is like asking what Aaron Rodgers could teach us about throwing a spiral, or what Mozart could teach us about playing the piano. The question just doesn’t seem to do justice to the vast knowledge owned by the expert we are asking.

Nonetheless, what can Mary teach us about how to prepare for Christmas?

First, she can teach us about how we are respond to God’s question about whether or not we have a place for him in our lives: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” We are foolish to think that God’s plan for us will bring us anything but our heart’s greatest desire. Whether it is to become a missionary, doctor, social worker, behavioral therapist, or mother, we must be open to God’s call for us when it comes. And, for as scary as what He asks of us might be, we need to accept it with grace and confidence, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” or in the words of St. Ignatius, “In all of this may I place my life in your hands. Lord, I am yours. Make of me what you will.”

When God calls us, let us have the grace and confidence to accept the fulfillment of our heart’s greatest desire.

Second, Mary can teach us that preparing for Christmas takes much longer than 25 days or from the day after Thanksgiving or even the day after Halloween (as Big Business would have us believe). The funny part is that Big Business, despite its misguided reasons for doing so, actually has a better concept of how we are to prepare for Christmas than most devoted Christians do. But, if we were to get it right, we would start preparing for Christmas on March 25- the Feast of the Annunciation. Mary’s preparation began the day that she was “conceived by the Holy Spirit”. When we think of the many changes that a pregnant woman undergoes from the beginning of her pregnancy until giving birth, we come to realize the many ways that we should prepare for Christ’s coming. We should prepare Him room. We should take care of ourselves and get our affairs in order prior to His birth. In light of today's Feast of the Immaculate Conception, our preparation extends beyond 9 months; our entire lives must be spent in preparation for the God's call. Like Mary, we were conceived for a special purpose. 

Preparing for Christ to come into our lives should completely change our lives – our habits, our bodies, our thoughts, our desires – everything. And, this preparation takes much more than four weeks. It takes a lifetime.

Third, Mary can teach us that when we say yes to God’s call and we make room for Him in our lives, that He will be with us for much longer than just Christmas morning. Jesus doesn’t pass into and out of our lives throughout the course of Christmas Eve night. He doesn’t visit us once a year. Despite all that He does bring us, His focus isn’t on what He brings us, but on what we will bring to Him and to others. Much like the difference between a wedding and marriage, raising a baby has a much deeper level of responsibility than does giving birth to one. Accepting baby Jesus into our lives requires of us a commitment, a dedication, a loyalty that we will put Him above all else. Carrying out God's mission for our lives involves much more than merely signing the contract. 

If the preparation takes a lifetime, living with Jesus after accepting Him into our lives takes...well, it takes us into eternity. 

In all of the hustle and bustle of this season be courageous enough to conceive of some new ways to prepare for Christ's coming. Be courageous enough to follow your heart's greatest desire. Be courageous enough to allow God to tell you what that is. Be courageous enough to accept the purpose for which you were conceived. 

Be like Mary. 

Monday, December 5, 2011


When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage"...Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother and paid him homage.

-Matthew 2: 1-2, 7-11
No matter how dark the darkness, light always overcomes it. The moment a candle is lighted, or a light switch is turned on, light immediately overtakes the darkness. Even from great distances, the tiniest light can be seen.

In fact, it is light that allows us to see at all. Without it, we would live in a world of darkness. 

Light gives things color. Without anything to be absorbed and/or reflected back to our eyes, all would be black.  

Light is what gives life to plants. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. Light, along with water and other nutrients, is one of the foods necessary in order for a plant to survive. Because of this production of oxygen, light is also life giving to us as well.

Light increases our levels of Vitamin D, which makes us happier. In places that get less sunshine than the Sunshine State, people are actually prescribed light therapy to help combat depression.

From what our Gospel reading tells us, Jesus is connected to a light- specifically a star. In John’s Gospel (8:12), Jesus Himself says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

Jesus allows us to see right from wrong. 

He gives our lives color- giving it a meaning and/or purpose that it would otherwise lack without Him. 

He gives us life. 

He makes us happier. 

He is truly our Light.

As our days continue to get filled with more darkness, as we wait during this Advent Season for Christ to come on Christmas morning, let us focus on His Light. The Light from the Advent Wreath, that will get brighter with each passing week as Christ’s coming inches closer. The Light from our houses and Christmas trees, decorated to help us prepare for Christmas Day. 

Let these lights that are signs of Christmas remind us of Christ’s Light that can come into our lives when we, like the wise men, seek Him out and pay Him homage.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Catholic School Advantage

QUESTIONS: Why choose a Catholic school? Why pay for education from a Catholic Schhol when you can get it for free?

ANSWER: The Catholic School advantage.

With the economy still in the dumps, there must be some benefit in order for it to be worthwhile. The benefit must go beyond the inclusion of a religion class throughout the course of the day; students can attend faith formation classes for free on the weekends. It must go beyond having the ability to accept and deny students based on academics and behavior (and in turn have fewer problems and higher achieving students).

"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" (The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium, n. 3).

The Catholic School must have at its foundation an obligation to evangelize. It must charge itself with producing lifelong believers and future citizens of heaven.

"Its (the Catholic School's) task is fundamentally a synthesis of culture and faith, and a synthesis of faith and life: the first is reached by integrating all the different aspects of human knowledge through the subjects taught, in the light of the Gospel; the second in the growth of the virtues characteristic of the Christian" (The Catholic School, n. 37).

The Catholic School must weave Jesus into all aspects of the curriculum and school culture. It must put the subjects and concepts taught in the light of the Gospel, and ensure that students are not just made smarter, but that they are also made better.

In a sense, the Catholic School must be able to produce productive citizens- people who can and do contribute in a positive way to their society. Ancient theologians argued that a good Christian made for a good citizen. Current research corroborates this:

A Harvard University study conducted in 2000 (Campbell, p. 25) reported that Catholic School students performed better than other students on the three basic objectives of civic education: the capacity for civic engagement (e.g. voluntary community service), political knowledge (e.g. learning and using civic skills), and political tolerance (e.g. respect for opinions different from their own).
The longer that students spend in Catholic school's the greater the spiritual and academic benefits:
Catholic Schools are still the most effective means of forming adult Catholics that are active in their parish. 43% of those who had more than 8 years of Catholic School attended Mass every week (Greeley, p. 250).
If a student spends 8 years or more in a Catholic School, the advantage is higher math, reading and vocabulary scores (Sander, p. 545).
Catholic School students are happier than their public school counterparts. They are healthier. They have a more benign view of their fellow humans. They are more accepting of people of different viewpoints. They are more generous in giving back to the Church, donating over $750 million dollars annually (Greeley, p. 260 - 261).
Even here in our own state, a 2009-10 analysis of students who qualify for Step Up for Students, Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program, shows that students in Catholic schools outperform their public school peers that they left behind. Catholic Schools can educate students better and for less than ½ of the money that it costs public schools to educate students.

Put simply, there isn't just a Catholic School advantage, there are Catholic School advantages.

Any questions?

Works Cited

Campbell, David. “Making Democratic Education Work: Schools, Social Capital, and Civic Education” (paper presented at the Conference on Charter Schools, Vouchers, and Public Education, March 2000), 25ff.

Congregation for Catholic Education. “The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium.” Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry & Practice, Vol. 2, No. 1: 4 – 14.

Greeley, Andrew. 1989. “My Research on Catholic Schools.” Chicago Studies, Vol. 28, No. 3: 245 – 263.

Sander, William. 1996. “Catholic Grade Schools and Academic Achievement.” The Journal of Human Resources, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Summer, 1996): 540 – 548.

Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (Washington, DC: USCC, 1977).

Friday, October 21, 2011

Kick the Tires

Incarnation Catholic School (and probably many schools across the Diocese of St. Petersburg and even the United States) just finished the first quarter of its 2011 - 12 school year. The ending of one quarter and the pending beginning of the next is a good time to reevaluate a teacher's or school's policies, procedures, expectations, and even philosophy. It is a good time to tighten anything that grew loose over the past 9 weeks. It is a good time to "kick the tires".

A month ago, I wouldn't have been able to use this phrase. For anyone unsure of its meaning, it will be revealed in a few moments. For now, let me relate how I came upon this expression.

At a recent in-service a vendor who was pitching a product (and sponsoring lunch!) said that since his company's product boasts customer service, in Spanish, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, he makes a point to wake up on Christmas morning, call the help line, and utter "Feliz Navidad" to the unwitting operator answering his call. He said it's his way to "kick the tires", as a way to ensure that his company is living up to the ideals it professes.

His presentation and the lunch his company sponsored were equally impressive. He was a good salesman; but not that good. Despite not purchasing his company's product, this phrase stuck with me. First, I love the imagery. I picture a beat up car on a dusty road and I can almost feel my foot bouncing off the front driver's side tire. Not that I know anything about cars, but I imagine this being a final step (after filling the tank, checking the oil and doing other such car maintenance tasks) before climbing back into the vehicle to continue on my travels.

Second, much like the first time my Uncle Dave asked me if I was "feeling froggy" and if so told me to "go ahead and leap", I was amused by this expression and intrigued by the fact that I had never heard this figurative expression used before. Contextually, I understood the way he included it in his presentation. But to be sure, I googled it: Doing research before making an investment and To make a quick, superficial inspection of something, were two of the definitions upon which I stumbled. Then, I found the etymology: since tires on early automobiles were often made with cheap and/or thin rubber, "kicking the tires" was an easy way to test not only the thickness but also the tire's ability to hold and retain air. "Kicking the tires" would quickly reveal an inferior product.

Third, I respected this gentleman for putting his own product to the test. We could fill volumes with the number of companies that promised one thing and then produced something very contradictory. Few business or organizations or even people behave in such a way that they consistently do what they say they'll do.

Of course, no company or person is perfect. But rare are those who follow through with what they say they'll do with some regularity. No organization entirely lives its mission, no person holds onto his/her convictions without stumbling. Unfortunately, though, few even try or care that they fall short.

Jesus called such people Pharisees. Today we label them hypocrites. We are all of us guilty of being less than perfect. We can, though, continually improve.

We can "kick the tires" and discover chinks in our armor. Doing so exposes our weaknesses and challenges us to make changes. Neither of these is pleasant. Both are essential as both people and Catholic Schools.

Kick your tires. Ask someone else to kick them for you and with you. Don't kick somebody else's unless you've been asked in turn. Worry about the plank in your own tire and not the splinter in another's.

Ask the questions, "Why do we do that?" or, "Why do we do that in that way?" Put behaviors, policies, procedures, actions in terms of your mission and scrutinize whether or not they help you to fulfill it. Analyze areas where you are saying one thing but doing something that sends an entirely different message (educators know this as the null curriculum).

Never accept "we've always done it that way" or "I've always done it that way" as sufficient enough reason to continue to do something.

Take the biggest obstacle keeping you from being the person or institution God has created you to be and throw it out the window. Then ask yourself, "Now what?" Maybe that obstacle wasn't the thing keeping you from being your best self. Maybe you and your reluctance to change are.

Check your ego at the door and start allowing God's spirit to mold you and shape you into what He wills. Invite God to give you and/or your school a tune-up. Allow Him to fill you with air if you're flat, patch you if you've been punctured or make a change if you need a new part. Let Him do it now so that when He calls at a time like Christmas morning to kick His tires (us!), we can answer, say "Feliz Navidad", and pass Inspection.    

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Earlier this week, Emily and Elizabeth visited our public library for story time. While I have not had the opportunity to attend, it has been described to me as songs, stories, and a free sharing of and playing with toys. At this most recent visit, Elizabeth climbed onto the lap of another mother who was holding her 10 month old daughter (Elizabeth is 11 months old). Seeing Elizabeth infringe upon her territory, this little girl quipped, "Uh oh!"

As Emily related to me this episode as well as other words spoken by this prodigy, I responded like any parent- why can't my daughter, 30 days this girl's elder, talk with clarity? What are we not doing? Reading to her enough? Speaking to her and not just about her? Doing things for her instead of teaching her and/or letting her figure it out herself? Luckily, my feelings of concern quickly fleeted. The educator in me rationalized with my inner-parent: every child progresses at different paces.

This story time-mate can use interjection in appropriate contexts but may not yet be able to stand, wave or make a complete mess of her bedroom by unshelving and opening every book she owns. Everyone is inherently different. Thank God for that! All created in His image and likeness, we were also created as unique and special persons. As such, we all have varying gifts, talents, weaknesses and shortcomings. Thank God for that, too!

With this in mind, the dynamics of having 20-30 individuals, each with their own unique gifts and talents, in the same classroom presents various challenges to meeting the needs of all of those individuals within that classroom. Known in education as differentiated instruction, teachers are charged with meeting each student where they are and helping them to progress. It starts by shifting to a student-centered classroom (as opposed to the traditional teacher-centered ones). From there, delivering the content so that it makes sense to and has meaning for students trumps teaching in the method, style or pace most suited for the teacher. Covering material is out the window in differentiated instruction. Sitting in its place is student learning. Student learning, not teacher teaching, should be the focus of any classroom trying to do more than just educate those students in the middle of the ability spectrum within a classroom.

As one would imagine, differentiating instruction successfully is extremely difficult. Most teachers aim for the middle of the famous "bell curve", figuring this strategy and pacing will allow them to educate a good percentage of students. This is hardly blameworthy. A majority of students get a best fit education. Meteorologists cannot boast a higher success rate. Major League Baseball players make millions of dollars if they can be productive at a much lower rate.

But, when it comes to education, specifically Catholic education, a majority isn't good enough. The top tiered students will become bored. The lower end frustrated. Both extremes disillusioned.

Bottom line: unacceptable.

Catholic social teaching promotes the dignity of all persons. As Catholics we respect and honor human life from conception to its natural end. Jesus challenges us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal those who are hurting. Go and make disciples of all the nations. Jesus even gives us the parable about the vineyard workers getting hired at different times but receiving the same wage (Mt. 20:1-16a). Fair doesn't mean equal. Every student in our classrooms deserves our time, attention, talent and love.

A staple in special education classrooms, differentiated instruction involves open ended assignments, tailoring instruction to meet the specific needs of all students, allowing different groups of students within the same classroom to be at slightly different stages, and even activating multiple intelligences. Luckily, general and even Catholic education classrooms have taken to this approach. Educators have come to realize that this is just good teaching because it promotes good learning. The student becomes the focus and the center of the educational effort. The teacher employs different strategies to reach each student. Instead of students adapting to a teacher's style, teachers differentiate to meet the varying needs of each and every student.

Good teachers will get a majority of the students in their classroom to succeed. Outstanding teachers will design ways to engage the highest and lowest performing students as well.

The difference is something that makes a world of difference, especially to the kids on either end of the spectrum: differentiated instruction.

Monday, September 19, 2011


For the past three months, I have waged war on the ants living around, on, and unfortunately in my house. Figuring I could win this battle without the help of trained professionals (by no means is the problem an infestation- we'd find a stray ant inside the house here or there- but lots outside working like mad to find breaches in our house's security), I sprayed these pests on a weekly basis. I even went so far as to plug up tiny cracks and holes in the house's joints and corners with new caulk. Despite my onslaught of chemicals and my attempts to reinforce my house's barriers, the ants always seemed to come back.

As such, Emily had an exterminator on the premises this past week. Even though my bug fighting and killing experience and repertoire of strategies pales in comparison to this expert, I'm starting to think that the ants are just too resilient to be defeated.

Or maybe just too numerous- ants are everywhere. Their army seems to have an unlimited supply of troops. I hope that our extreme measure proves to be successful; the grittiness of my lilliputian nemeses, though, is impressive enough to instill doubt. After all, ants can carry more than five times their body weight. I would be lucky to still be able to lift 1.5 times my own. And, even though we called for reinforcements, my team is greatly outnumbered.

In brainstorming possible ways to hold the line, I started to develop a rivalry-esque respect for my six legged opponents. Their unwavering determination and will astounded me. The more I tried to keep them at bay, the faster and more numerous they seemed to grow. I can just imagine them clenching their mouths, rolling up their sleeves, digging their heels into the ground, maybe even spitting once or twice and yelling to each other, "Is this the worst this guy has to offer? Bring it!"

In personifying these insects and identifying a soft spot in my heart for them, I also reflected on the importance of this character trait in not only students but also teachers. Resiliency, determination, grit. Our pampered, fast-food, instant gratification lifestyles have massaged any toughness right out of us. For those who have faced difficulty, there's likely a law, diagnosis (and corresponding medication), talk show, or watered down educational/accountability system that can offer these "victims" easy relief. Not a way out of the difficulty, just a way to make it not as rough.

Without pressure and heat, there would be no such things as a diamond. Iron is made into steel by removing impurities through extreme heat. Sometimes a plant must be pruned back before it can fully blossom.

One of the most important lessons we can teach our students and one of the most important character traits we should foster and develop is resiliency. How to weather a storm. How to work hard to overcome a difficulty. How to roll up their sleeves and say to a classmate, "Is this the worst this guy has to offer? Bring it!"

To build resiliency in students we push them. Challenge them. We hold them accountable for academics and behavior. We deal with them in fair and consistent ways. Most importantly, we model it. We follow through on everything. We mean what we say and say what we mean. We push ourselves to overcome challenges and difficulties. We ensure our preparedness and professionalism. We believe that every student can be reached, taught and improved.

Timothy Daly of the New Teacher Project puts it in these terms, "At the end of day it's the mindset that teachers need- a kind of relentless approach to the problem," This approach can, under any set of circumstances, ensure student success.

Angela Lee Duckworth, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, argues, "Those who initially scored high for 'grit'- defined as perseverance and a passion for long-term goals, and measured using a short multiple choice test-- were 31% more likely than their less gritty peers to spur academic growth in their students" (

So, then the question becomes, "How do you create resilient teachers?" Unfortunately, it's harder to do with adults than children. The approach is the same, though. Push, challenge, follow through, hold them accountable, be fair, be consistent, model it.

Teachers, like ants, are impressively strong creatures. Able to do so much more than carry five times their "body weight", a resilient teacher will guarantee that all students thrive. A resilient teacher will develop resilient students. Resilient students will be able to do...just about anything.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


In the fall of 2010, Subaru launched a clever ad campaign tauting the 2011 "Mediocrity". The Mission Statement of this understated way of getting people's attention includes:

"Each and every day, we strive for predictability, unoriginality and no frills utilitarianism for all of your transportation needs. The 2011 Mediocrity will get you from A to B without anybody ever noticing, and that's a good thing" (for more, click here: Mediocrity).

One of their non-commercials states, "Instead of breaking the mold, we went down and found those pieces from that mold, and we put it back together."

Of course, Subaru is playing with us. No one would actually want a car like that- so we are intrigued enough to go in search of one of their models. Average? Ordinary? Middle of the road? Commonplace? Good enough?

How many of us woke up this morning and thought, "I want to be an average _____________ today. I don't really want to make a difference or be noticed"? Fill in the blank with husband, son, principal, father, student, brother, mother, janitor, banker, chef, whatever. No one would actually hope to be mediocre.

Similarly, there isn't a student sitting in their seats this school year thinking, "I hope that in June I have all C's!" Hopefully, there isn't also a teacher standing in the front of a classroom musing, "If I can just reach the students in the middle this year, that would be a success!" The dawn of a new year yields an optimism and positivity that this year will be different. The promise of a new teacher, perhaps a new schedule, even a new school, or a new roster of students (or at the very least a new set of school supplies!) also gives us a new confidence that this will be the year that we do all of our homework or study for multiple nights before a test/quiz, complete our lesson plans before they are due to be checked, make the tough phone calls, and the positive ones, too.

This may last until around September or even through the first round of tests or possibly the end of the first quarter. And as the monotony of the daily grind replaces the life-giving hope of the first few days and weeks, we start to give in to this spirit of mediocrity. We start to settle for good enough. We start to believe that a C is about the best I'll get anyways. We buy into the trap that some students are lazy or too far behind for me to help. We become afraid.

This fear keeps us a long way from reaching our heavenly call. St. Paul tells Timothy, "God did not give you a spirit of fear, but one of POWER, LOVE and SELF-CONTROL" (2 Timothy 1:7). Even the Psalmist writes, "I praise you because I am WONDERFULLY made" (Psalm 139:14). Jesus Himself tells us, "You are the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14). A far cry from average, ordinary or even mediocre.

We were made in God's image and likeness and if we are to believe our God is all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing, than we, too, must tap into this royalty. We were made for so much more than middle of the road. We were made for heaven.

So, this year, instead of just being good enough, why not be heroic? If anything stirs inside of you as you read this, it is the Spirit tugging at your heart the same why He did when you were young (or younger). It is God awakening your passion for Him within your heart. If your breath is getting faster, or heart beating more quickly or if you find yourself becoming energized (which is rather presumptuous of me!), go with it. Be the parent you once were and always wanted to be. Be the teacher you set out to be when you first stood in front of a group of students. Be the student who takes ownership of his/her learning and make this the year that puts you back on the path to becoming who God created you to be.







It's a Mold that can't be broken.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


One of my favorite bands of all-time is (or was, as I don't think they're still together) Hootie and the Blowfish. Hootie's was the first rock concert I ever attended. I have all of their albums. I even have Darius Rucker's solo rhythm and blues attempt, which was solo in another way, too- it was his only one.

But, to remain relevant, Darius Rucker evolved. Taking a risk, Darius launched a country music career in 2008. For those of you who don't know, Darius Rucker is African-American. Furthermore, very few African-Americans have vertured into the world of country music; even fewer have found success there. Prior to Darius reaching #1 on the country charts in September of 2008, the last African-American to accomplish this feat was Charley Pride in 1983, 25 years before. Growing up in South Carolina, Darius was no stranger to country music. A singer with a soulful voice, his evolution into country music was not as far of a leap as some may think. But, it was definitely a leap, and one that enabled Darius Rucker to remain "bearing upon or connected with the matter in hand" (from Hootie and the Blowfish is no longer relevant. Darius Rucker is.

As Catholic Educators, are we connected with the matter in hand? Do we have direct bearing upon what is pertinent, important, timely? Have we appropriately evolved? Or, do we still teach, solely, from behind a podium? Do we punish entire classes for the misdeeds of a small few? Are we autocratic or authoritative? Are we educating students for success in our world or theirs? Is our educational approach relevant?

As Catholic Educators, the beauty of the message of the Gospel is that it is timeless. It is always relevant, always pertinent. Our Catholic Church is a wonderful example of staying relevant while still maintaining a rich tradition. Its roots continue to get deeper so that its branches can continue to grow taller. The Vatican has a YouTube Channel: The Pope even has a Twitter account, "tweeting" on February 8: "I invite Christians, with an informed & responsible creativity, to join the network of relationships which the digital era has made possible" (from!/PopeBenedictXIV). On November 27, the American Church will put to use the Third Edition of the Roman Missal, harkening to a more direct translation between the prayers used during the Celebration of the Eucharist and the Scripture upon which they are based. The Catholic Church is staying relevant while maintaining its firm foundation. 

As Catholic Schools we must use our creativity to stay relevant. We must enlist the help of our parents, corporations and businesses. We must find ways to use state and federal money to our advantage. We must capitalize on scholarship money and grants. We must seek out the most up to date research on planning, instruction and assessment and weave it into our style of teaching. We must market. We must plan. We must teach in such a way that the Catholic Church remains relevant for another 2,000 years. We must be better than the educational offerings at public, private or even other denominational schools. We must evangelize. 

Every aspect of our schools must show the relevance between the subject matters we teach and the only Subject that really matters- Jesus.

Every aspect including our blogs... 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Elizabeth can stand. Not quite cruising yet (which, for all of my readers who are not parents, means that a child walks with the support of his/her hands on objects such as a couch or coffee table), Elizabeth is able to pull herself up on just about anything a few inches off the ground; she can also crawl at the speed of some small animals. This, in turn, has caused me and Emily to do a bit of "baby-proofing" around our house. Shoes have to be put in the closet. Food and sharp utensils cannot be kept even with body-length/reach. The TV is kept off between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Doors of rooms "off-limits" are permanently closed. In a lot of ways, the house is more "adult-proof" than "baby-proof".

My heightened sense of anxiety because of Elizabeth's heightened abilities of mobility has perpetuated a reflection on the word "proof".

It has multiple meanings. A noun, verb and adjective, the word means everything from evidence, to a trial copy, to resistant and the activation of yeast.

Proofing was mentioned in last week's Gospel: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened” (Matthew 13: 32 - 33). Part of Jesus' long list of parables, proofing - or the activation of yeast - is a concept that recurs throughout the Bible, but mostly in a negative way. But, as Jesus often does, he reverses the commonly held perception of yeast and gives it lasting power. We think of proofing dough and its connotation to how we should view the Kingdom of God in a positive way. Bread that doesn't rise or expand, even in our carb conscious culture, is typically not a good thing (especially if it is supposed to). Prior to Jesus's use of the concept, yeast was seen as something that would take over dough, similar to the way that sin can take over every aspect of our lives. Expanding and rising in intensity, even a little sin can lead us into a downward spiral.

Jesus's use of the idea is proof that we are called to rise and expand. We are to become activated, quickened, elevated, and in being so enlivened - leavened - we should be able to do the same for others.

Educators within Catholic Schools should be this key ingredient in the recipe for our students' learning. Inspiring the pursuit of greater and deeper knowledge should be coupled with an equally intense search for spiritual development. The two of these combined should leaven us out of our school doors to make the world a better place. We shouldn't just be bread for the world, we must also be the yeast that makes the bread possible.

So, we must provide a different type of proof as well. We must be the proof, or evidence, that the Kingdom of God truly exists. Called to establish His Kingdom here on Earth in the hopes of inheriting a piece of it in eternity, we must behave in such a way that our very lives cause others to consider the fact that there is not only a benevolent God, but that this God passionately desires an intimate relationship with us. We must be the proof (n.):

1. The evidence or argument that compels the mind to accept an assertion as true
2. The convincing or persuasive demonstration
3. The determination of the quality of something by testing (definitions via: The Free Dictionary)

of such a God.

How do we offer up such proof? With the same ingredient that proves we are Christians and that mom's cooking really is the best: love.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Void of both teachers and students for the past month and at the tail end of a two week vacation with my family, I have enjoyed taking a greater role in the "home schooling" of our daughter (she's 8 months old). Present for more naps, block staking and knocking over, movements, attempts at speaking, baths and new foods, I have come to a greater appreciation for single parents and/or parents who are essentially single for any reason such as a spouse serving oversees.

I've taught in classrooms of close to 30 students. I ran a High School athletic program. I just completed my first year as Principal in a school of over 30 personnel and 340 students. I should be able to handle just one, right?

But, as any teacher who is also a parent (and many parents/people who think that anyone with even a high school education can teach) would attest: parenting is an entirely different and entirely more important type of education.

Unfortunately, I would venture to say that our American society does not share my high regard for parenting. Case in point, upon a recent trip to the Post Office with Elizabeth, my wife Emily found herself last in a very long line. The next customer after Emily and Elizabeth was a middle-aged woman with only her parcels in tow. As the line slowly inched forward, and Emily managed both Elizabeth and our packages to mail, the woman said to my wife:
You know, I may be from what you would call a third world country, but there pregnant women and women with children would never wait in a line such as this. In my country, you would be considered sacred.
Now, I understand that the "I hate Casey Anthony" Facebook Page was the fastest growing page last week but does our reverence for the vocation of parenthood extend any further than hitting the "Like" button?

Are mothers in America sacred?

The Catholic Church does not shy from its stance on the importance of parents:

Parents and those who take their place are bound by the obligation and possess the right of educating their offspring. Catholic parents also have the duty and right of choosing those means and institutions through which they can provide more suitably for the Catholic education of their children, according to local circumstances (Can. 793.1).

Furthermore, the Church promotes the family as the primary avenue of the propagation of the faith. Blessed John Paul the Great wrote in his Letter to Families:

Certainly one area in which the family has an irreplaceable role is that of religious education, which enables the family to grow as a "domestic church". Religious education and the catechesis of children make the family a true subject of evangelization and the apostolate within the Church. We are speaking of a right intrinsically linked to the principle of religious liberty. Families, and more specifically parents, are free to choose for their children a particular kind of religious and moral education consonant with their own convictions. Even when they entrust these responsibilities to ecclesiastical institutions or to schools administered by religious personnel, their educational presence ought to continue to be constant and active (16).

Children should learn about Jesus from their parents. This faith should be supported by participation in the Church, not the sole place it is supplied.

Parents are not just important. They are the most important part of Catholic education.

But, how many Catholics have even read this letter? Or, how many, regardless of whether or not this letter was read, even believe that parents and the family play such an integral role in the development of children?

Plato wrote, "A society cultivates whatever is honored there."

Do we honor children? How about families?

Hospitals in America view women in labor as patients. Is giving birth a sickness? Cereal companies, knowing the huge childhood obesity problem in our country, often list sugar or one of its many aliases, as the second most bountiful ingredient- which is okay because they're made with whole grains! Advertisers, regardless of the product, keep in mind our children and strive for brand recognition and loyalty. Television, even "kid-friendly" programs, often contain objectionable material.

But, sex sells, and in a society where money is honored, money is in turn the expense of our children.

ABC News supposedly paid Casey Anthony $200,000.00 for exclusive rights to videos and pictures of her story. Chances are also good that at some point, she will capitalize from this infamy.

Kate (of "Plus 8" fame), sans John, still gets paid for offering up the lives of her children, even though it already cost her her marriage.

Even teachers cultivate money as opposed to children. Despite attempts in many school districts across the country to base teacher salaries on performance, most public systems allow tenured teachers- many of who are burnt out or at best antiquated- to keep their high paying positions regardless of their inadequacy.

Money is honored here and we think that just because we hate Casey Anthony that we can claim to care about and cultivate our kids.

That's like planting a garden in the shade, watering it sparingly with Coke, giving it a shot of Miracle Grow and expecting it to yield a bountiful harvest.

As Catholic educators (teachers and/or parents), we must approach each child we encounter as the sacred gifts that they are. We must realize that (and I've included this before) as teachers we do not "write on inanimate material but on the very spirits of human beings."

In honoring our children, we must do much more than press a "Like" button to voice our displeasure at a bad parent, or add some Miracle Grow to make up for our deficiencies. We must spend less time cultivating our money trees and more time giving some TLC to another abstract arbor: our family trees.

Thursday, June 30, 2011


On the Thursday prior to Father's Day, upon returning home from work I walked in the front door and Elizabeth, with a huge smile on her face (exposing her two little bottom teeth!), came crawling toward me! The stress of the day immediately melted away, I put my bags down, got down on the floor with her and gave her a gigantic huge and kiss. While I received Father's Day presents on that Sunday, this momentous event would be my favorite. My little girl, so excited to see her Daddy, came crawling to me. And I, in turn, forgot everything else and met my daughter with unabashed joy.

Over the course of that weekend, as well as the past week, I reflected again and again on this occurrence. I thought about how incredible it is that Elizabeth, who can't speak or even move gracefully and with coordination, can express her emotions so clearly. What's more is that I'm even more impressed with her displays of happiness than sadness. She is so excited to see me or Emily. She'll smile. Shake. Squeak. And now come to us- the object of her desire.

Am I so quick to let others know that I love them? As teachers, do we show such emotion toward our students? What about their parents? What about our colleagues?

Another part of my reflection focused on the importance of fatherhood, and in turn parenthood and teacherhood. Elizabeth crawled to me. She'll also follow Emily and me if we move from a room with Elizabeth to a room without her. She'll make noises or movements in the same fashion (somewhat) and motion (again, somewhat) as what we model.

St. John Bosco, the founder of the Salesian order (who devote themselves to working, primarily in schools, with the young and the poor) in one of his famous dreams, recounts the story of the monkeys. To paraphrase his tale, a man wanders into a forest and falls asleep. As he sleeps, a group of monkeys sneak into his campsite and take all of the hats that he has packed. Upon waking in the morning, the man is astonished to see a cadre of monkeys donning his hats. Outraged, he yells and screams for them to give him back his hats. They, in turn, make loud noises. The man then proceeds to jump up and down in frustration. The monkeys do the same. Finally, out of desperation and resignation that his hats are gone forever, the man takes off his hat and throws it to the ground, sits down and pities himself. His reserve of hats then comes showering down upon him.

The Old Testament figure Judith preaches to the rulers of the people of Bethulia, saying, "Therefore, my brothers, let us set an example for our kinsmen. Their lives depend on us, and the defense of the sanctuary, the temple, and the altar rests with us" (Judith 8:24). As parents and teachers, it is imperative that we set an example for our kinsmen/children/students. Their lives truly depend on us- their salvation rests with us.

Makes you think twice about cursing or even showing frustration in front of a kid, right?

Finally, Elizabeth's first time crawling toward me, her earthly father, made me think of how many times in my life I have gone crawling back to my Heavenly Father hoping to be reconciled with Him. Like the prodigal son, I am humbled, especially considering the example I am called to set for both my own daughter and all of those students entrusted to my care at Incarnation, thinking of Elizabeth crawling toward me.

She makes me want to crawl faster, and more often, back to Him. With the strength of the Eucharist and the power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I know that I have the tools, if I would just use them, to be the type of dad Elizabeth needs me to be.

She may be the one learning how to move, but in many ways, I am the one who's crawling...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Year of Possibility

This past Friday marked the unofficial end of the 2010 - 11 school year, my first as Principal at Incarnation Catholic School in Tampa, FL. While we were finished with students on June 3rd, and teachers only worked on the clock until the 7th, we hosted a Math workshop June 10 for ICS Math teachers. As it was outside of their 190 paid work days, it was not compulsory. Well attended, though, it was.

While not a rousing end to a banner year, it did signal the hope, promise and expectation shared by myself and our teachers about the year ahead. They could have very easily stayed at home and started their summer break. As a school, we could have let the government money used to sponsor this workshop roll back into the hands of bureaucrats.

Championships, however, are won in the off-season.

Very much a forward thinker, I seldom look back to the past with either nostalgia or regret. What does the future hold? How can I bring it to fruition? Do other possibilities exist? How can I open myself to see beyond even these avenues and welcome that which is from God?

Very much introspective, reflective and prayerful, I tend to spend much time prior to making a decision in thought, reflection and prayer. Doing so allows me to put the outcome of such decisions in the hands of God and rarely spend time in regret. Rarely do I even reminisce. Trust that I'm doing, in a human and imperfect way, what God wants me to do. Pray that He gives me the strength to do it. Keep trying.

But, look to the future. At the very least, focus on the present moment in such an intimate way so as to live in harmony with the only time there is. "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow..." Fleetwood Mac sings, "...don't you look back."

And I typically don't. I loved it when Elizabeth would fall asleep on my chest. I loved being able to sprint and play sports that require quick changes of direction. I even loved being an Assistant Principal. Instead of longing for these pieces of my past, though, and what I no longer have, I choose to focus on what is still to come. The glass isn't just half full, the other half is coming.

But, within a span of 48 hours last week, the first year of my principalship ended, my wife and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary (the best 4 years of my life-- and they just keep getting better!), and one of the most influential people in my life outside of my immediate family and my wife died: Coach Ron Alexander, my wrestling coach at Benedicting High School. "Coach Al" as he was affectionately and respectfully known, taught me so much about not only what it means to be a man of faith ("Cheese and crackers, Michael! What in the ham sandwich are you doing?"-- never once did I ever hear Coach Al swear and he would NEVER use the Lord's name in vain), but also what kind of man I wanted to be. Humble, hardworking, generous, kind, Coach Al made Christ incarnate to me. In me Coach Al saw what few others did, including myself. I'd like to think that he saw me as He sees me. Coach Al challenged me. He encouraged me. He supported me. He loved me.

My retrospection continues. As I thought about the past year, I thought back to that pivotal year half of my life ago. I was 16 and had made the transition from the hard court (basketball) to the grunt and grind of the mat (wrestling). My reasons for quitting just about the only thing I ever quit were numerous. What I learned that year echoes in my mind as I reflect on the many events and lessons of this past one.

Reinvention. The differences between basketball and wrestling are many. Prior to my first day at wrestling practice I thought that I was a good athlete. After that first day of getting twisted into more shapes than a box of rejected pretzels, and being completely exhausted, I realized I had very little endurance, little functional strength and absolutely no idea how to wrestle. I lost 8 matches prior to finally winning one, which, according to Coach Al, was much quicker than even he had expected. I had an enormous drive to learn an entirely new sport (prior to joining the team I had never even seen a wrestling match that didn't start with a W and involve foreign objects), fueled mostly by my desire to please Coach Alexander. I would spend time after practice working on the move covered that day at practice. I would pride myself on running our mile or two-mile warm-up as fast as possible. Climbing a rope once, turned into doing all four of my climbs consecutively. I had to reinvent myself as an athlete and as a person. Thanks to Coach Al, I didn't have to do it alone.

16 years later, I became a first time principal and father within a year. I also had major knee surgery, altering my once-typical workout routine. Reinvention once again, and again, and again.

Risk-taking. As a junior in high school, I took a risk to begin a new sport dominated by life-long wrestlers. Thanks to the tutelage of Coach Al, my gamble paid off. Only two years into the sport and I placed third at sectionals. This confidence to attempt new things empowered me to walk-on to the University of Notre Dame's Football team. The risk I took my junior year, though, was juxtaposed to Coach Al's gigantic arms. He was there to pick me up every time I fell. Had he not been my safety net, I'm not sure I would have gained the confidence to try other new becoming a principal.

This past year was filled with many new tasks. Observing and evaluating teachers. Re-aligning a faculty and staff to stay within budget. Adjusting our tuition scale and parish contribution expectation. Starting a Dads Club. Refreshing a website. Reconnecting a Parish to its School. Revitalizing a mission.

Resolve. After each practice we would, without fail, join in prayer together as a team, and repeat after Coach Al, "Victory doesn't always come (repeat) to the stronger, faster, man (repeat). But sooner or later (repeat), the man who wins (repeat), is the man who thinks he can (repeat). We respect everyone (repeat). We fear no one (repeat)." To this day, those chants ring in my ears, my mind, and my heart. 16 years ago, Coach Al nurtured a flame inside of me that has transitioned from a passion for sports into one for Catholic Education, and dedication to my school and team into a loyalty to my wife and daughter.

Coach Al, thank you for planting seeds of life inside of me that have continued to grow and blossom. So much of my life has been affected and influenced by the lessons taught to me that year.

I don't know what life has in store for me. God only knows the stories I'll be able to tell a year from now, or even 16 years from now.

But, I do know that no matter where I am or what I'll be doing, Coach Al will have, as he has for the past 16 years, played a part.

Thank you, Coach Al. I hope to see you again someday.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Failure is an Option

A commercial from the 1990s displayed NBA legend Michael Jordan narrating all of his stats. But, instead of mentioning his NBA Championships, MVP Awards, Scoring Titles, and All-Star accolades, Jordan rattles off the number of shots he has missed, the number of games he has lost, the number of times he was trusted to take a game winning shot and missed and how failure was a neccesary ingredient in his success.

A very interesting and humbling perspective, even from Air Jordan himself. Somehow, and I know I sound incredibly old in saying this, I can not imagine many of today's starts declaring their shortcomings so openly. I'd even go so far as to say that even Nike no longer wants to tell any of its athletes who they should be or how they should behave...right?

Regardless of the current state of professional athletics (compared to the "Golden Age" of my childhood), Jordan's philosophy on the importance of failure resonated with me back as a teenager and remains with me today. As an educator, I see that a willingness to fail is a trait found in good learners. As the father of a 7 month old daughter, I see this philosophy lived out every day.

With eating under her belt, Elizabeth has shifted her focus to crawling. Able to creep, Elizabeth has not yet mastered the art of moving forward on all fours. Belly flops, rolls, tangled legs and incessant rocking followed by screams and wails have all been a part of her learning-how-to-crawl process. She's close, and will probably be crawling soon, but she probably just needs to fail a few more times so she can figure it out.

In addition to education taking time and effort (see the May 15 post), it also takes a willingness to fail, and in turn, failure itself. So, as educators, we must couple holding students accountable to high academic and moral statnds with loving support, nurturing and care. Right now, Elizabeth has a curiosity and love for exploration that is truly inspiring. She also has a determined spirit, and at this point a blind courage. Failure to eat, crawl or find her pacificer at night (even multiple pacifiers that have been strategically sprinkled in her crib) has not deterred her from trying.

Hopefully, this love for learning and her willingness to take risks will continue into toddler-hood, childhood, adolesence and beyond. Whether it is an unwavering self-confidence or an iron will, the older we get the less likely we are to tackle new challenges. For most of us, at some point in our lives we start to believe the lies of the one who wishes to keep us from becoming who God created us to be. You're not smart enough. You're not pretty/handsome enough. Savvy, strong, well-rounded, disciplined, healthy enough. You're too young. Too old. You're not good enough.

You are a sinner.

And so we stop trying. We stop challenging ourselves and growing. Maybe (and unfortunately) teachers, parents or even friends have reinforced these negative feelings. Maybe the pain of a particular failure, rejection or loss was too deep and the support needed to overcome it too shallow.

And in no longer trying we no longer fail and in turn gain control over the pain. We never have to worry about living down to the disappointment of missing a game winning shot if we always pass to another player, stay on the bench, watch it from the stands or critique it the next day at the water cooler. Playing it safe means we never fail.

It is encumbent upon Catholic educators to kindle the flame inherent in each of us for greatness. We must handle this light with extreme care and caution. The USCCB's Council for Catholic Education states (1998), "Teaching has an extraordinary moral depth and is one of man's most excellent and creative activities, for the teacher does not write on inanimate material but on the very spirits of human beings. The personal relations between teacher and student, therefore, assume an enormous importance."

Catholic educators, approach every day and every student knowing that you affect eternity.

The World already has too many wandering people with extinquished flames.

It has too many people so afraid of failing that they never even try.

It has too many would be saints wallowing in the mud figuring there's no point in getting up- they'll just fall again anyways.

What it needs is more failures, more people who realize that in order to be successful failure is an option.

It's just not the only option.