Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Finding CHRISTmas

Finding CHRISTmas

Tell it on the mountain
Up on the rooftop
On the busy, city sidewalks
Over the fields, in the meadows
and everywhere
that Jesus Christ is born.
Dash through the snow
Deck the halls
Dance and prance in the frosty air
Are you listening?
Do you hear what I hear?
See what I see?
Do you even know why this jubilee?
I’m telling you why:
Follow yonder star
Shout joyfully
Throw your cares away
Sing in exultation
Bring Him laud
The Lord has come!
Let Earth receive her King!
Fall on your knees and hear the angels singing
From now on our troubles will be far away
For Christ was born on Christmas day.
Let them know it’s Christmas time
It doesn’t show signs of stopping
Joyful and triumphant
Behold Him
Adore Him
Face unafraid the plans that we’ve made
Go out in the storm
Take the road before us
Sing out in chorus:
Joy to the world!
Christmas is here!
Heavenly peace!
Heavenly peace on Earth!
Jesus Christ is born!
Tell it!
-Michael Zelenka

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas This Year

The recent events from Connecticut were absolutely horrific. As Gov. Dannel Malloy stated, "Evil visited this community" that day. In the days since, many questions from concerned parents flooded my inbox, my desk and my conversations. How will ICS keep its students safe? How will any school? The Newtown tragedy has sparked much debate about gun laws, school safety and security and mental health issues.

I will break from my usual neutral stance on politics to say I support stricter regulations on the possession of firearms. I will maintain my position (see "Safe and Sound") on the vitality of safety and security in schools. Every other school in the country outside of Sandy Hook got lucky on December 14, 2012. Sadly, evil could have walked into any of our schools and wreaked the same level of havoc. Even sadder, evil still could visit us. Any of us. And while schools were probably the safest place for kids to be on December 17 (Hillsborough County employed modified lockdowns for all schools and sent patrol cars to each location), our reaction to the events in Newtown must be more than just a shot in the arm. Our reaction must last much longer than 26 acts of kindness and one week of no outside activities. It must change our approach to our children in this country. It must awaken us to the many evils we expose them to each and every day - poor nutrition, neglect, violence, sex, drugs - and inspire us to change.

May the victims of 12/14/12 not have died in vain.

Along these same lines, my father's passing created an enormous hole in both my heart and my life. In so many ways, I have seen God's hand providentially moving me through the grieving process and have come to accept God's will, however difficult, in this situation. My father lived a good life and his life had a beautiful ending. Even though I didn't know him for the first 34 years of his life, I feel as though he died as his best self.

What a way to go out.

But, the pain and shock of his sudden passing have burdened me with wanting the death of my father to change me. The love and closeness I felt to my family during this loss are feelings that I hope will continue. My dad's death caused me to see my dad with new eyes; I hope that this graciousness allows me to be more patient, loving and forgiving. I want to pray more. I want to be stronger. I want to focus more heavily on my family and put less of my being into my career. Normal isn't normal anymore. There is no going back to a life with my father. And if I can't go back, then I want my path going forward to be different, better, truer to who God created me to be.

I want my dad's passing to inspire me to change.  

Tomorrow, Christians around the world will celebrate the moment that God broke through all of the muck and mess of humanity and sanctified it through the Incarnation. God took on human flesh and in doing so blessed our human lives with His divinity. This single moment, when Christ came into the world, changed the course of human events forever. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that all who believe in Him may not die but may have eternal life (John 3:16)." By this same time tomorrow, presents will be opened, services will be attended, good deeds may have even been done, but will we go back to our normalcy on Wednesday? Will we allow the commemoration of Christ's birth to change us? Will we be different, better, truer to who God created us to be?

I pray that this Christmas will put a greater emphasis on the importance of family. I pray that Christmas this year will help us to see those in need and more quickly and frequently run to their aid. I pray that it makes us more patient, more loving, holier and more willing to submit, as Mary did and as I'm trying to, to God's will. I pray that Christmas this year changes us both for the good and for good.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Life.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Catholic Education

St. Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians:

"Brothers and sisters: I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God."

-Philippians 1:4-11

In mid-November, the last time that my dad hugged me, he told me that he was proud of me. These simple words and that simple embrace will stay with me forever. At the time, I had no idea it would be the final time I'd embrace him. I had no idea it would be the last time that I would hear his voice in person.

Our father’s death was sudden. It was unexpected. It was heartbreaking.

But, his passing is not without hope. My dad was a good man - one of the good guys. In a sentence, he always did the right thing. It may not have been easy. He may have at times outwardly complained about it or griped in the middle of it and after it, but he would do it. He was a man of conviction. His faith in Christ Jesus and his love for his Catholic Church was always apparent; over the past few days these characteristics of my dad have radiated ever more brightly. My dad was a good man. We are all confident he is enjoying eternal life.  

As my mom, my siblings and I have reflected on this immense loss in our life, and mourned the days with my dad that will never be, we have all expressed how much we’dlike for one more day with him, one more hour, one more minute. We have also explored the impact that dad has had on our lives. In the end, we arrived at three "ENDURING UNDERSTANDINGS" that our dad imparted to each of us. In the world of education, the term “ENDURING UNDERSTANDING” is used to describe the broad brush strokes and overarching themes that contribute to lasting and meaningful wisdom. I offer the following three as a small portion of the legacy of Robert Zelenka:  

ENDURING UNDERSTANDING 1: Working hard is a key component to finding success in anything that you do.

My dad was one of the hardest working men I have ever known. He was an ideal employee. I never remember my dad taking a sick day (my dad never really got sick anyways). He was loyal to his bosses and would go the extra mile to fulfill their desires. He was good at what he did - blessed with the gift of gab, my dad was a natural salesman. As a pharmaceutical salesman, he worked hard at developing relationships with doctors that he would visit, restaurants who would cater his product pitches, and anyone with whom he came in contact. He worked hard at his job, but even harder with this family. I don't think that my dad missed a single game in which I played, or my brother Joe played or a concert in which my sister Mary performed. He had an incredible determination - waiting for hours on end for a football practice to end, driving through the night to attend games or make family visits, or sing itsy bitsy spider for 37 straight times at the request of one of his 7 grandchildren. 

I can't say for certain that my dad never told me that working hard was recipe for success in any area of life. He may have explicitly offered that guidance. His life, though, was a shining example of the fruits of hard work.

Working hard is a key component to finding success in anything that you do.

ENDURING UNDERSTANDING 2: Your family should always come before yourself.

It says so much about my dad that my daughter Elizabeth, at age 2, was so excited to come to Ohio because of a chance to visit Nana and Papa (pronounced Pa-pa! in what my mom and dad considered to be the cutest French accent). She absolutely adored her Papa. All of Dad’s grandchildren adored him. The adoration was mutual. 

My Dad was never big on displays of emotion, but he was never short on big displays of love. He was an impossible person for whom to buy gifts because he never wanted anything for himself. His heart's desire was to give gifts. I cannot think of a time growing up that I ever wanted for anything. We were never lavished with our every want, but my Dad always provided for his family. He put my brother and I through Catholic high school. He footed the bill for mine and my sister's collegiate educations - taking out second mortgages, keeping cars until they were both owned and unmovable, sacrificing what I can only assume were countless personal desires so that Mom, Mary, Joe and I would want for nothing. He would arrive at my house during my adult life with gifts for me, my wife and his grandchildren. He would pick up the bill at dinner. According to stories that have surfaced over the past few days as my Mom, Joe, Mary and I have mourned and commemorated our Dad, he would get home from work, quickly change clothes and clean up and then spend the rest of the evening attending to his children as we were growing up. His commitment to his grandchildren as I have already mentioned was even more intense.

He was an amazing dad. He was the world's greatest Grandfather. He was a loyal son, a dedicated brother, a present uncle, and an exemplar God-father. Most importantly, however, he loved my Mother for 40 years with a fierce, protective love. 40 years. There isn't much, let alone marriages, in our current world that lasts as long. On the night before he passed into eternal life he accompanied my Mother to a fabric store so that she could purchase supplies to make something for one of their children or grandchildren. What makes this feat, which was probably repeated hundreds of times throughout the course of their 40 years together, even more amazing is the pride in which he took over my Mom's creations. It was as if he had a hand in whatever Mom was producing.

We ate meals together as a family. We prayed together as a family. We went to Mass together as a family. When my sister, brother and I were old enough we started to celebrate holidays together as a nuclear family. We weren't and aren't perfect; but the love in our family is beautiful. It is one of my Dad's greatest gifts to me, my family, my brother and his family, my sister and hers and our mother. Just like my Father before me, I hope to be an even greater son, brother, husband, father, uncle and whatever else life has in store for me than my Dad was. I have incredibly huge shoes to fill.

Your family should always come before yourself.

ENDURING UNDERSTANDING 3: It doesn't benefit me if I gain the whole world but lose my soul - I must be a man of faith in order to honor my family and find success.

My Dad was not wealthy by earthly standards. By those same standards he was probably, at best, moderately successful. He was a beautifully imperfect and flawed man. Yet, my Father was holy. His heart may not have always been aligned with his actions, but as I've said before, he strived to always do the right thing. He prayed. He prayed with his family. He went to confession. He attended Mass and took his family with him. He was involved with his parish in so many various capacities. He prayed the Rosary. He fought to follow the teachings of both Christ and the Catholic Church. He was holy.

In return, he was blessed with a beautiful wife, three amazing children and seven joy-filled grandchildren. He got to spend quality time with all of us in the weeks leading up to this past weekend. He celebrated 40 years of marriage to my Mother. He came to Florida to meet his youngest grandchild. He visited Joe and his family during Thanksgiving. Mary and her family celebrated Dad's 67th birthday with him in his home. On the night before he passed into eternal life he not only went to a fabric store, he both went to Mass and enjoyed a steak dinner with his wife. He passed away, suddenly and unexpectedly, in his sleep. Peacefully. Joyously. Holy.

Our Dad was a man of great faith and as a result he honored his family and found true success.  

67 years ago, God started a good work in my Father that continued up until the very moment that he entered into eternal life. That good work continues on, though, in me, my siblings, my mother, our families and all who have been touched by the life of Robert Zelenka.

I will forever cherish those sweet words uttered by my Dad the last time we embraced: "I'm so proud of you."

I bet they were the first ones God said as he welcomed my Dad back home.

We love you, Dad, and we miss you. 

And we are so proud of you. 

In loving memory of my Father, Robert Michael Zelenka
December 1, 1945 - December 8, 2012

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Safe and Sound

Since we have the week off for Thanksgiving break, Emily scheduled Elizabeth's two year doctor's appointment so that I could attend. I appreciated the opportunity to be with my family and to accompany my wife on this necessary check-up. Of course, along with the two year old check-up came another round of immunizations and vaccines. Given her developmental stage, this was the first time that she could actually understand the pain of the needle prior to the sight of it. It was also the first time that we figured that Elizabeth could be upset with Mom and Dad afterward if we didn't supply the appropriate and honest amount of prior warning. So, for the past few days we've been telling her about her pending doctor's visit. We've been talking to her about what is going to happen and what to expect, making no bigger of a deal of the shots than the height and weight measurements. We even had Nana and Papa who had been visiting the past two weeks, buy Elizabeth an Elmo goes to the doctor book. We've read it about 15 times in less than a day (her choice, actually, not her crazy dad's!).

While I would like to think that strong parenting and good proactive prompting had anything to do with the outcome: two shots and zero tears, I know that it is due in large part to Elizabeth's character and temperament. She is very analytic, aware, and determined. In fact, she got more upset when the nurse asked her to step on the scale than she did at the sight of the needle. My heart swelled with pride over my strong, brave, intelligent and tough two year old daughter!

Along the same lines, Catherine has impressed me, in less than a month, with her strength and raw power. From the day that she was born she has been raising her head off of my shoulder, off of the bed - all over the place. I am still unused to this kind of movement from a newborn. I have had to adjust my holding practices and on more than one occasion I have had to resort to two hands so as to keep her bobbing head from jerking her right out of my embrace. Catherine is strong; and her strength has challenged my parenting to be able to keep her safe and sound, even from herself.

Safe and sound. That's what I'd like to ensure that my family is forever. Protection only goes so far. I can't keep my girls from growing up and I can't keep them in a bubble, shielding them from any and all harm. Prevention, too, is only a part of the overall recipe. I can't anticipate every danger. I must prepare my daughters for the various evils that will confront them, so that they may be able to handle problems on their own.

As a Catholic educator, my first mission is to ensure the safety and security of all members of our school community but most importantly our students. This must be the first item crossed off on my to-do list so that I can focus on education and evangelization. Students that are physically, emotionally or spiritually unsafe cannot learn and they cannot grow closer to Christ. But, I mustn't consider this preparatory piece of my principalship to be a pre-requisite for my real work to get done. Ensuring that my students are safe and sound is a part of my real work.

Like my approach to my daughters, I must teach the students in my school to be in the world but not of the world. I must take measures to protect them and to prevent as many dangers as possible from befalling them. But, I must prepare them, too. So that after they leave the safe haven that is hopefully Incarnation that they will be ready to face and tackle challenges of this world.

In St. Peter's first letter to the Christians of Asia Minor, he encourages his fellow believers to hold fast (1 Peter 5: 6 - 10), recognizing and resisting the snares of the enemy:
So humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.d7Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you.e8Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour.f9Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings.10The God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory through Christ [Jesus] will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little.g
As Catholic educators, we must come to understand that the first part of our Mission / Ministry must be to maintain the safety and security of our community members. We must put on the full armor of God, which as St. Paul writes to the Ephesians is the spiritual weaponry needed to fight evil (Ephesians 6: 10 - 17):
Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power.11Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil.g12For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.h13Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground.i14So hold fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate,j15and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace.k16In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all [the] flaming arrows of the evil one.l17And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.m
As ministers of Catholic education we are going into a hostile environment every day; the world is full of trouble. We must be vigilant in our approach to keeping kids safe and sound. We must be prepared to fight for their well-being, for their livelihood, for even their lives. We must be willing to stand up to adults who jeopardize their health. We must be willing to see our non-instructional duties like morning drop-off, lunch, recess or passing time as the times throughout our day most in need of God's armor. These times cannot be considered break time. They cannot be used to consult with colleagues. We cannot have the mindset that it's enough to merely react to problems that arise versus actively trying to prevent them.

Be safe guarded not innocent. Innocence is for children - the very people we are called to protect.

If someone were to entrust to me their most prized possession - their car, their house, their computer, etc. - I would do all in my power to ensure its integrity. I would know its location. I would limit the access that others have to this item. I would keep it in under lock and key. I would take other necessary precautions to guarantee that the item was returned in pristine condition.

If we would do it for a watch or a guitar or a baseball card, why would we not do it for a school filled with God's and parents' most prized possessions: children?

Catholic educators must protect their students, prevent situations that could be harmful, and prepare students for dangers that are unanticipated.

But, Catholic educators must not be foolish, thinking that problems only happen other places, to other schools and to other kids. St. Paul and St. Peter are very clear about the approach necessary to endure the many attacks of our enemy. Even Jesus exhorts us to "Stay awake!" multiple times throughout the Gospel.

Vigilant, watchful, preventative, proactive, prepared, active, and willing to fight are all things we must be so that those to whom we minister will always be safe and sound.

Elizabeth (who had been sleeping while I typed this) just called for me.

When duty calls, I respond.

Safe and sound. Safe and sound.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Waiting for Superman...

May God bless America.

I am honored to be a citizen of this great nation. I am privileged to live in a state where my vote for President actually matters. I was filled with an enormous sense of responsibility when it came to casting my vote by mail ballot (due to the birth of my daughter, Catherine Rose on 10/26!). I watched the debates. I researched the amendments and other candidates up for various state and local legislation and offices.

Public officials deserve and receive my respect and gratitude. They are servants of our city, state and country and do so much to allow us to enjoy so many civic services. My right to vote is also something that deserves and receives my respect and gratitude; hence my efforts to make informed decisions and my efforts to ensure that despite a major life event that both my wife and I would still have the opportunity to vote.

My faith would encourage me to be such a dutiful citizen. St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans (13:1 - 7):
Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God.a2Therefore, whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed, and those who oppose it will bring judgment upon themselves.3For rulers are not a cause of fear to good conduct, but to evil.b Do you wish to have no fear of authority? Then do what is good and you will receive approval from it,4for it is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword without purpose; it is the servant of God to inflict wrath on the evildoer.c5Therefore, it is necessary to be subject not only because of the wrath but also because of conscience.d6This is why you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.7Pay to all their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, toll to whom toll is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.e
I am indebted to the many soldiers, leaders and citizens of America who have made it possible for me to have a voice in the government of my country.  

And yet, throughout this election season, I became more and more disenchanted about the entire political process.

Being in a swing state, I am disgusted by the amount of ads - television, phone, mail - that have littered my life over the past few days, weeks and months. Not only are they annoyingly misleading and hurtful, they cost money. Lots of money. Millions of dollars worth of money. Money that could be spent helping those without shelter, without food, without clothing. Money that could be spent on something as noble as education. Money that could help to erase our national debt.

Backtrack to the annoyingly misleading aspect of the process. The "fact-finder's" rate of accuracy is probably closely tied to the political slant of the news media used to offer the supposed "truth". Coverage on television tonight, again depending on your network of choice, will offer the states' projected winner well in advance of the polls even closing. Fluctuating percentages over the course of the past few months with one candidate gaining or losing ground make for exciting news stories. After all, networks want us to watch their coverage of election night or the debates or the nightly news (and there are ads to be sold, too!). As my high school English teacher Mr. Francioli once chimed, "All news is inherently subjective."

Finally, it saddens me when these men and women who choose to be public servants lower themselves to bashing one another, smearing mud and attacking the other sides' views as opposed to promoting and defending their own.

We elect images. We are attracted to appearances. We rally behind our Mockingjay, fooling ourselves into thinking that being fiesty, witty, handsome/pretty, condescending, or even rude translates into some semblance of power.

I long for a candidate, at any level, who instead of raising funds to invade my home with advertisements does something with that money worthy of a higher calling. Think of how much good could be done.

I long for a candidate who instead of wallowing in dirt turns the other cheek and refuses to participate in a mud slinging contest. Someone who stands up for what they believe in and defends it, regardless of what the media or campaign advisors would desire or suggest. Think of how refreshing this type of purity would be.

I love our great country and I am proud to pledge my allegiance to its flag every morning with our entire school community.

And even though Superman may never come, I know that regardless of who is in any office, my allegiance is also pledged to my one and only King.

May God bless America.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


"Run while you have the light of life, that the darkness of death may not overtake you."
-John 12:35

If you had said to me when I was in high school or college that one day I would consider myself a runner, I would have scoffed and quipped, "Running is something I do to get ready for other sports. I don't run for the sake of running."

Since graduating from college, I have competed in a multitude of races - sprint triathlon, marathon, half-marathon, 15k, 5k and 1mi. I run as exercise. I run for the sake of running. I run to have fun. Yes, my 14 - 22 year old self is hanging his head in shame. A runner? Me? Really?

Really. And I really do enjoy it. After football it was a way to shed excess pounds. As a cost savings measure running really only requires a decent pair of shoes - no other equipment required. From an efficiency standpoint, I can run just about anytime and anywhere.
I became a runner...not a particularly fast or well-endured runner, but a runner nonetheless.
As a principal of an elementary school, I find maintaining my fitness particularly important. Parents and families send their children to our school to help educate and evangelize them. But, what good is an educated mind or an enflamed spirit if our earthly vessel is incapable of completing the work that God has called us to do? Encouraging physical fitness and promoting a healthy lifestyle is a third component in the education for which I feel responsible for delivering.

This responsibility takes on even heftier importance thanks to the "Designed to Move" Report (watch the video above, read the report here, see a condensed version in this article), which claims that for the first time in recorded history children are expected to live 5 fewer years than their parents. Sedentary lifestyles, unhealthy foods, instant gratification - the culprits are many. The solutions are simple and schools can and should play a big part in this fight to give our kids those 5 years back.

So, Incarnation Catholic School provides daily recess for all grade levels (PreK to Grade 8). We offer Physical Education classes, again to all grade levels, twice a week. Grades 6 - 8 also have a once per week Health class coupling the physical activity of PE with scientific concepts. These may not seem like rare exceptions to the world of education, but there are a good number of schools, public and private alike, that have decided to cut out these important times for students.

Incarnation Catholic School offers interscholastic sports for students in grades 5-8. We have increased the number of junior varsity teams (Grades 5 and 6) offered by our school over the past two years. This way, even more students are involved in sports and physical activity.

Furthermore, this past school year ICS started a Running Club, called "Sacred Steps" because of its connection to Sacred Scripture (each "Workout" begins with a scripture passage, reflection on that passage and prayer). This club, offered to students in grades 2 - 8 has over 40 members. In a school of just under 300 students, I find this to be a staggeringly high number. There is no requirement outside of parental permission in order to participate, but all we do is run. I have said on more than one occasion during our first 4 workouts that "There are no balls allowed in running club!" Students keep track of their laps on a weekly basis and will receive recognition for milestones that they pass. The school has plans to branch club membership down to the PreK, Kindergarten and First Grade levels as well as invite parent participation.

As Jesus encourages us, "Run while you have the light of life, that the darkness of death may not overtake you." It seems that His words have just as much emphasis on our physical bodies as our spiritual ones. Run (or at least move or exercise) so that the darkness of death may not overtake you.

Run while you have the light of life so that your life may be five years longer.

Are you in?


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

One More

“What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance."
-Luke 15: 4 - 7
One of the criticisms against the success of Catholic education is that Catholic schools are inherently elitist. Catholic school students are more successful, the argument goes, because Catholic schools reject or weed out those students who have behavioral problems, academic weaknesses, or families with low incomes. It's easier to have higher test scores or fewer drop-outs or less behavioral problems when you only have the best, brightest and wealthiest students in your school.
While there may, in some cases, be some validity to this stance, I feel that it not only cuts against the original reason for Catholic schools in this country (to provide immigrant families a place of education that was affordable, rooted in their faith, and committed to maintaining their heritage) it also goes against the "univerisal" aspect of the word "Catholic". Catholic schools should be for all - regardless of race, religion, economic status, academic / artisitic / athletic ability or any other factor.
But, my point in writing this blog isn't to focus on Catholic schools' moral obligation to keep their education financially within the means of all families or for Catholic schools to open their doors to more than just the upper echelon of society. It is to say that too often, and maybe in defense of those who say Catholic schools are only successful because they keep the "bad" kids out or kick them out if they happen to slip in, Catholic educators expect that their jobs should be easy. We get frustrated with the unruly class, or the whiny student, or the emotional parent and behave as if these disturbances are beneath our time and talent.
We wouldn't have jobs if kids - or people for that matter - were perfect. Similarly, as Catholic educators we should believe that forming students entails "disciplining" them. In other words, what we do should involve making students into disciples of Christ.
Imagine if Jesus had a stringent admission policy. He probably wouldn't have had 12 apostles...or any. If He is our Model and Inspiration, we should be more forgiving of our students and we should try harder with those who are in most need of our help.
As a principal, I would be irrate if a teacher came to me and said, "I'm going to stop teaching the other 24 students in my class for the next week because Student Withnoname is completely lost and I need to help him." But, it is equally frustrating, and unfortunately so much more common, to hear that a student is unteachable, unreachable or so troubling that we just don't know how the rest of the class will be able to make it through the year.
Most of the students in our classes don't really need us to be successful. They are the 99 and while we still need to challenge and cater to them (or fool ourselves into thinking that we actually are challenging them), it is equally important to go that extra step to help that lost sheep in need of some extra tender loving care.
As educators, our jobs our difficult. As Catholic educators, we carry the extra burden of dealing with that which is eternal - the souls of our students. Most days it seems like we've already traveled a journey of 99 miles. We've already completed 99 different tasks (all before lunch!). We cared for 99 of our sheep. We've tried 99 different ways to reach that student who is unreachable.
Don't stop. Go one more.
Go one more.
Go one more.
Go one more. Go one more. Go one more.
It's just one more step for you, but it could mean everything for the one that, because of your efforts, you are able to reach.
One more.
Go one more.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Curriculum Night 2012 - 13

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every sin and burden that clings to us and run with perseverance the race marked out before us, while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of our faith.”
-Hebrew 12: 1-2

Incarnation Catholic School is off and running so far this year! In two weeks, there is a momentum and energy across our campus that is palpable. It’s tangible. There is an excitement in classrooms. There is a spirit in our worship. There is a different pace and feel to this year as compared to the previous ones.

We are off and running.

I think there are many reasons for the difference:

-Outstanding teachers
-New organizational structures and programs
-High support and involvement from parents
-Great kids

Let us unpack each of those.

Outstanding teachers: Our teachers are committed to continuous improvement. They have worked hard on course timelines, unit plans, incorporating the Common Core State Standards, assessment philosophies and practices and codifying policies and procedures across the campus. I am honored to work with such a dedicated group of educators. I have been especially impressed this year with how they have collaborated with each other – just today I stopped into the computer lab to see a joint Spanish / Technology class that had students absolutely buzzing about both Spanish and technology. Teachers have been innovative in helping to tweak the many programmatic changes we’ve made this year, from coming up with more efficient ways to supervise students after school to proposing interdisciplinary approaches to delivering the curriculum, similar to the Spanish / Technology joint venture I just mentioned.

We’re able to run because we have outstanding teachers. 

New organizational structures and programs: We revamped our entire school day. Small tweaks in our starting and stopping times as well as the amount of time in between classes have yielded, in my opinion, some huge dividends.

We are able to gather every day as a school community for what we are calling “Morning Gathering”. This is a time for us to celebrate birthdays, offer announcements and promote our school’s mission through a “Thought for the Day”. These short sessions allow me as the school’s leader to convey important information to our school community while at the same time keeping us focused on the purpose for our school – Jesus Christ.

Students in younger grades now have increased academic time for not only their Specials – PE, Art, Music, Media, Technology and Spanish – moving from 30 to 45 minutes, but they also have what would equate to 12 Language Arts periods each week (up from 10 last year) and 6 Math periods (up from 5). This emphasis on these core subjects allows us to lay a solid educational foundation for students during these early years.

Students in Grades 5 – 8 now have three Spanish classes each week (up from one last year). In addition, they have two periods of Technology each week, with a third coming as an interdisciplinary class with LA, Science or Spanish (this increase in Technology is also up from one class last year). We have also introduced a Health class to our PE program for grades 6 – 8, affording our Physical Education Department the opportunity to couple physical activity with sport specific, kinesthetic, and biological knowledge.

We’ve done all of this without costing ICS families any additional costs and without sacrificing times such as recess or lunch.

We’re running because we have great teachers and we have a strong plan.

High support from parents: I have talked with students many times throughout the course of this short year about how at ICS they are, as St. Paul says, “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses”. Part of this cloud entails our outstanding teachers. The other part is composed of their outstanding parents. Parents are the primary educators of their children. We are so honored that parents have partnered with us to help them in the formation of their student(s). It is a responsibility that we take seriously – we understand that we are writing on the souls of children. There isn’t a more important job that any of us could be doing. We thank our parents for running with us at ICS.

We have great teachers, a strong plan, supportive parents, and we have outstanding kids.

ICS students continue to impress me with their love of learning and their love of God. They have a desire to be successful and they are good kids. They’re respectful, they’re hard working, they are committed to doing the right thing and helping others. The best parts of my day are when I get to interact with our students. It is my privilege to be their principal.

We are running. We have a great cloud of witnesses here at ICS. By reorganizing our structure and reimagining some of our programs we have rid ourselves of the burdens that clung to us in the past. We will do all that we can to stay focused on and committed to our wonderful mission of inspiring life-long learners, disciples of Christ and servants of all. We will do all that we can to stay focused on the reason for our school – Jesus Christ.

And this year, we will run with perseverance the race that is marked out before us.

We are off and running. Thank you for running with us.

Monday, August 20, 2012

INSPIRATION: Oh My God / I Am a Seed

My sister is five years older than me, and so as I was going through the end of middle and high school, Mary was already off in college. As like most 13 - 18 year old boys, my body was constantly changing and growing. I would sprout at such a pace and my transformations in between her visits from college were so drastic that she would actually call me a "weed". Unfortunately and even though I'm still holding out for a late spurt, my green thumb didn't last much past 6'. I may not be much of a weed anymore, but I am a seed.

The above video comes from a group called The Digital Age. They are the resurrection of The David Crowder Band, forming after the aforementioned band decided to break up. The song, which appeared on DCB's last album, "Give Us Rest (A Requiem Mass in C [The Happiest of All Keys])", and the fact that this reborn version of the song is being sung by a reborn version of the band are great illustrations of the mystery of the Resurrection. Our lives, in many different ways, follow this Pascal pattern. We suffer. We die. We rise. As the song says, "Death will lose and we will win / I am a seed / I've been pushed down into the ground, but I will rise up a tree / I am a seed / I won't stay long here in this earth when you rain your love on me / Lord, rain your love on me."

We are seeds. So are our students. Nothing illustrates this better than the beginning of a new school year. Last year is in the earth. Buried. The promise of new life breaks forth from the ground and hopefully by the end of the year our students will rise up as trees. We have new soil with which to work. If we, as educators, have appropriately rejuvenated over the summer, we may also have some new fertilizer, nutrients and/or nurturing techniques to use this year. A new day is dawning. The rains will come, but will only serve to strengthen our young buds. Sprinkle in a little love, from both ourselves and from God, and we should be able to reap an abundant harvest.

St. John Baptist de la Salle says this about teachers, "Be satisfied with what you can do, since God is satisfied with it, but do not spare yourself in what you can do with grace; and believe that, provided you want it, you can do more with the grace of God than you think."

This year, let us do more than we've ever done with students. Let us do more than we can even think possible. Let us not put limits on ourselves or our students. Let us ask for God to rain His love down on us and let us allow Him to amaze us with His creation.

He is the Gardener; we are merely the workers. We are merely seeds...but we (and our students) will rise up into trees.

It is time for us to get to work. Let us begin.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

INSPIRATION: Keep Your Eyes Open

I have wonderful parents. In light of all of the publicity that the parents of Olympic athletes have received (whether positive or negative) as well as my own journey in parenthood, I realize how amazing Robert and Linda Zelenka were, and - praise God - still are. I realize how much they love me. I realize how pivotal there were in shaping me into the person that I am today. I realize, not for the first time or the last, that I have wonderful parents.

In looking back on my childhood, I am impressed by how my parents were able to teach me how to survive while at the same time never making me feel as if I was alone. Their love and support, tough at times, was constant (and still is!). Yet, they were able to strike the balance between sheltering me and allowing me to scrape a few knees, elbows, hands, heads...They gave me roots and wings.

They encouraged me to take chances, but demanded that I make commitments. The only thing I've ever quit - basketball during my junior year of high school - was followed by my enlisting in our school's wrestling team. Of course, my parents supported me. Flippant, though, they would not allow my decision to be. I remember my dad challenging me, if switching to wrestling really was in my future, to stick with it for the entire season.

They helped get me through the University of Notre Dame while I chased a dream of playing collegiate football as a walk-on. I paid off my final student loan last month, a term that would have been much longer had it not been for my parents' many sacrifices.

My parents' support extends well beyond my athletic career. They supported my decision to major in Notre Dame's Great Books Program, the University's equivalent of an education in the seven classic Liberal Arts. Heck, my mom was practically the inspiration when she guided me to declare a major that would excite me for my time in college, not necessarily prepare me for any particular career after I was done. They accepted me joining a service organization upon graduation (the Alliance for Catholic Education) and they have been interested and involved in my career in education.

They are even okay with me living over 1,000 miles away from their home in Berea, OH, making the trip down to Florida a few times a year to spend time with me and my growing family. Despite the distance in miles, I feel a closeness to them that I hope and pray my own children will one day have with me and Emily. I know of their unconditional, selfless and immense love for me. Thinking about my parents loving me today as much as I love my own daughter is simply amazing. Knowing that they've loved me like this my entire life is humbling. 

In a song by Matt Maher called Woke Up in America (see my first INSPIRATION blog for more info on Matt), he sings:
My parents gave me a life full of dreams / yeah, they gave me a heart to endure almost anything.
Perhaps the Zelenkas knew the Mahers, because I couldn't agree more. My parents gave me dreams. They galvanized me to chase after them. They instilled me with faith and taught me how to see with it instead of my eyes.

As the Olympics near their end, we will most likely hear something about the parent(s) of yet another athlete. If nothing else, we'll see some overly sacchrine commercials about how much the mom and/or dad of an Olympian has helped them to compete in London. I'm not in London and I'm not an Olympic athlete, but I have wonderful parents. World class. Olympic.  

Thanks, Mom and Dad. I love you.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

INSPIRATION: Strong Enough

Sometimes I feel as if God thinks I have unlimited strength. Or patience, or willpower, or discipline, or compassion, or mercy, or humility. For those who know me, it is no secret that this past year was difficult on many different levels - professionally, personally and spiritually.

My second year as a principal was challenging. Changing a building or a textbook, a website or a schedule is easy. Changing a culture, though, is not.

My wife's second pregnancy, while much improved, has taken a toll on me. Her extreme sickness during the first half of the pregnancy taxed me in ways that I didn't think were possible. My schedule for those weeks was grueling. Emotionally, I was a wreck. Spiritually, I was drowning. Issues at school seemed to be coming at a frantic pace. Looking back on it, I'm not quite sure how I was able to make it through (and I'm sure that some would argue whether or not I really did make it through).

After revealing some of these struggles in an April post, a friend texted words from a WWII poster in Great Britain, "Keep calm and carry on." My brother shared with me the story of codfish (who are actually made stronger by fighting with catfish - http://arloasutter.blogspot.com/2007/08/why-we-need-adversaries.html).

And, somehow, it's August 1. I have a million things to complete before our teachers report next Thursday August 9 and at least double that before students report on August 20. I can't sleep. I can't seem to find peace in my prayer life. I haven't consistently exercised since June. Thoughts creep into my head that I'm not strong enough, that there is no way everything will get done. There is no way I'll be able to do all that is expected of me.

Luckily for me, I don't do it alone. Not only has the Lord blessed me with a wonderful "cloud of witnesses" in my family, my colleagues, my friends and my mentors, but He has also given me His grace.

Teaching (and I take liberty to include myself in this profession even though I'm a principal) is the most important profession in the world. Teachers, with each student who passes through their classrooms, are shaping our future. They are responsible for the formation of other humans. They affect eternity. As such, teaching can become incredibly taxing. The weight of lesson plans, angry parents, demanding administrators, energetic students, and assembly period schedules (when you miss your 3rd period English class for the 5th Monday in a row!) can crumble us to our knees. Add to that any sort of personal struggle (the bank closing before you've left the building, a fight with a loved one, a sick child, etc.) and the mountain can seem insurmountable.

But with God's grace, all things are possible. St. John Baptist de La Salle, the patron saint of teachers, urges teachers,
"Be satisfied with what you can do, since God is satisfied with it, but do not spare yourself in what you can do with grace; and believe that, provided you want it, you can do more with the grace of God than you think."   
With God's grace, we don't have to be strong enough because He already is- strong enough for both of us, for all of us, for anything.

Keep calm and carry on. It's just another catfish.      

Monday, July 23, 2012


In 2010, at the age of 30, I became the principal of Incarnation Catholic School. In addition to starting my tenure as the school's leader, I also became a father within that same calendar year. Within a span of two months, I went through two life changing events.

In the two years since, I have had to rely on my faith in many and various ways. As a new principal of a Catholic School, I have prayed heavily for the strength to remain focused on and committed to our school's mission of inspiring life-long learners, challenging each individual in the school community to become a disciple of Christ and striving to live out our Catholic faith through service. Distractions from this mission abound, especially as the leader of the organization. Complaints, unexpected hiccups, emergencies and the ebb and flow of working with people and for people wear on our ability to stay committed to an idealistic vision.

The fact that we're building a cathedral can get lost when we're digging a ditch. The process itself can be dirty, frustrating and difficult. Staying dedicated to our mission requires staying dedicated to Jesus.

As a new father, I have been confused more frequently than I've been certain. Having a newborn and being entrusted with her care and nurturing and not having any worthwhile experience as to how to successfully do this has caused me to pray for the Lord's strength and direction. Being a father has led me to a deeper appreciation for the love that God, our Heavenly Father, has for me. It has challenged me to love more deeply and unconditionally. It has inspired me to love more. I am currently praying for the strength, wisdom and guidance to be the father of two...

St. Joseph has been the recipient of many of my prayers over the past two years. A statue of Jesus's earthly father is in the back of our church (as the Church of the Incarnation, there is one of Mary, too). Many days I will sneak away from the office, into the vacant church, and kneel before this model of self-sacrifice, humility and hard work. On countless occasions I have prayed to St. Joseph that he help me to lead not only my school community but also my family. I would like to believe that these prayers have not been made in vain.

Moriah Peters, an up and coming Christian music artist who tried out for American Idol (and was told by the judges to go and make some mistakes, kiss some boys, and come back in a few years when she's grown up and more worldly), sings in her song Well Done, "If people walk with me, talk with me, looking for truth / They're gonna find out soon / If they're following me then / They're gonna follow You."

I pray for guidance, Lord. I pray for strength. I pray for wisdom. I pray for patience, compassion, mercy, and peace. I pray that you lead me, Lord, so that I may lead others - Incarnation Catholic School, my wife, my daughter, my future son / daughter, readers of this blog, anyone with whom I come in contact - to you.

Lead me, Lord. Lead me.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


"For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope."
-Jeremiah 29:11

I am a believer that everything happens for a reason. This is often a difficult philosophy to embrace, especially when seemingly bad things occur. In many ways, my life is proof of this scriptural passage.

First, I was deathly ill when I was first born. I was baptized in the hospital because I wasn't supposed to make it home. At the time, doctors couldn't even identify my illness. But, I survived.

Many parts of my adolesence, especially being picked on during middle school (but who wasn't?), taught me many lessons about treating all people with respect and dignity.

Much of my athletic career set me up for becoming the first athletic director of Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School - from getting cut from the basketball team, to joining the wrestling team (both in high school), to walking onto the football team at the University of Notre Dame and actually seeing the field. Even my first two years in coaching at St. Petersburg Catholic helped to shape my vision for what athletics should be in middle and high schools http://www.bmchs.com/canesathletics.cfm?subpage=743682.

My wife Emily and I grew up about 15 minutes away from each other in suburbs of Cleveland, OH. She went to an all-girls Catholic high school. I attended one of the three all-boys Catholic schools. We lived in dorms next door to one another in college and even had mutual friends. But, it took joining the Alliance of Catholic Education and randomly being placed in Florida for us to meet and become best friends and husband and wife.

I could go on and on about the connections between and among the many aspects of my life and how I have seen God's hand through them all. I haven't always been able to see It in the moment, but have been able to see Divine Providence at some point afterward.

It's what gives me the courage to believe that God has a plan for me and for all that is happening to me. He has plans for my welfare, for my future hope! It's not always easy, but trusting that God can take ANYTHING and make it work for His good is our challenge as believers. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans (8:28), "We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose."

In other words, I can see and I truly believe that right where I am in my life - no matter the storm, no matter the curve ball - is exactly where God wants me to be.

I can see and I believe that everything that's happened has led me to this...whatever this may be. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


As mentioned in my last blog, Rejuvenation, I mentioned the need for educators to find sources of inspiration during their summer break. As a way not only to rejuvenate myself but also to offer a source of inspiration to others, the focus of my blogs throughout the summer months will be inspiration.
For faithful readers of my blog, you may have noticed the short list of blogs that I myself frequent. Among them is a blog from Christian music artist Matt Maher (pronounced "mar"). Besides the music, the thing that draws me to Matt is that he is Catholic, and in a business where openly professing faith in a particular sect of Christianity - especially Catholicism - could have a detrimental impact on overall sales, his openness is daring. And what's more is that his knowledge of the Catholic faith is impressive. His songs have depth, many are based on Catholic theology and catechism or even Catholic prayers.

As a Catholic educator, his music can give a whole new meaning to praise and worship music.  

His latest single, Rise Up, is a song that uses its title as a rallying cry. Since receiving the album on which it is found for Christmas 2011, I have turned to this track multiple times throughout the past 6 months. Teachers must often rise up above their circumstances of being overworked, underpaid, unappreciated and underslept. Catholic schools must rise up above dwindling enrollments, limited resources and the opening of new charter schools touting a free "private" education. Teaching is difficult. Dealing with as many personalities / characters / family backgrounds / intelligence levels / etc. as there are students in a classroom is draining. Trying to lesson plan, grade, discipline, help with extra-curricular activities and communicate and work with families leaves little time or energy to do much of anything else.

Rise up.

Jesus tells us, "In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world" (John 16:33). Take courage. Fill your heart. Life is hard - even Jesus tells us so - but He has conquered it. We're playing for the winning team. No matter the score, no matter how low, discouraged, disheartened, or disillusioned we feel, rise up

Rise up.

Lambs will roar like lions. Prisoners will break their chains. The poor will find their treasure. Heaven is coming this way.

When life has got you down look at the One who has conquered the world...and rise up.   

Saturday, June 16, 2012


As a principal, I am well aware of the dangers associated with students sitting idle during their summer break:
According to the authors of a report from the National Summer Learning Association: 'A conservative estimate of lost instructional time is approximately two months or roughly 22 percent of the school year.... It's common for teachers to spend at least a month re-teaching material that students have forgotten over the summer. That month of re-teaching eliminates a month that could have been spent on teaching new information and skills.' http://www.rif.org/us/literacy-resources/articles/keeping-kids-off-the-summer-slide.htm

Therefore, I am a strong supporter of summer programs designed to keep students engaged in learning. I would probably even go so far as to be a proponent for "year round" schooling, with smaller but more frequent breaks spread out throughout the entire calendar year, including the summer.

Ideally, students and families would take advantage of the summer not only to relax and rejuvenate, but also to participate in experiential learning through trips to other cities, countries or to places like museums, zoos, or parks and recreational centers. Visits to the library (or downloads onto eReaders) would allow students to read for pleasure (it actually is pleasurable!); therefore, such trips / downloads would be frequent. Students would be encouraged to venture outdoors, or outfitted with creative toys like Legos or art supplies.

Even though I am a proponent of fighting against the summer slide, I (along with just about every educator across the country) embrace the upcoming 8 weeks of summer "vacation". For me it will provide ample opportunity to plan for the upcoming school year - purchasing new text books and supplies, designing class schedules, revamping / refining policies and procedures, cleaning, doing maintenance work, updating computers / technology, and planning professional development opportunities for my faculty and staff. I can't imagine not having a break during which I try to accomplish these things.

But, probably even more importantly, the summer weeks provide me the opportunity to tap back into the wellspring of inspiration to accomplish what is oftentimes an emotionally, intellectually and physically draining job. I'll listen to music. I'll read (for both business and pleasure!). I'll take some time to be with my family. I'll sleep more. I'll exercise more frequently. I'll pray - for my teachers, my students and our school's families. I'll look for sources of inspiration anywhere and everywhere I can find them.

I'll replenish. I'll rest. I'll refresh.

It won't happen by sitting idle for two months. It can't happen by staying in school year round.

Even Jesus went off by himself to pray...to rejuvenate.

Blessings to all for a safe, relaxing, fun and rejuvenating summer! 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Magic Powers

The 8th Graders at Incarnation Catholic School created a class book while in 2nd grade (during the 2005 - 06 school year) titled, "If I Had Magic Powers..." In it, each student was given a two page spread: one for their explanation of "magic" powers and the other for their accompanying drawing.

Many of the entries were typical of 2nd graders,

"If I had magic powers everything I touched would turn to gold and I would be President of the United States."

"If I had magic powers I would wish every day was Christmas. People would get lots of presents and see Santa and his reindeer."

"...I would fly away." "...my dog would fly with me." "...I could zap myself into my guineapigs size. Then no one would be able to see us. We would be able to sneak into Busch Gardens and go on all the rides." "...I could turn invisible and scare people on Halloween. I could scare my cousin on Halloween, too." "...I would turn people into frogs if they're mean to me." "...I would make Star Wars real."

"If I had magic powers I would go to the Milky Way and visit Planet Peace. The aliens there would be called Twonkeys."

Others, though, took on a much deeper slant:

"If I had magic powers I would make it rain money, so I could buy food for all people."

"If I had magic powers I would make sweets healthy for us. I would eat doughnuts, candy and ice cream all the time. They could only serve that in the cafeteria."

"If I had magic powers I would make everyone happy every day. And every day everybody would stop fighting and be nice to one another."

"...I could buy a bike and give it to a child who doesn't have one."

"...I would make kids smarter so they can pass all their tests."

"If I had magic powers I would make everyone stop fighting. And I would make war stop, too."

As products of a Catholic School, these 8th grade graduates may not possess magical powers with the abilities to visit the home of the Twokeys or even eradicate poverty, but they do possess gifts and talents to make our world a better place.

They may not have Midas's touch, they may not be able to defy gravity, and they may not be able to make the junk food that we put into our bodies any less unhealthy than we already have. But, because of the benefit of a Catholic education, they have have an education rooted in Christ, so they not only have knowledge but also a moral compass. Being formed as disciples of Jesus, they have been fitted into a Mold that won't allow the world to squeeze them into its own.

Some day they will pass policy that will provide food for all people. Some will figure out a way to establish and keep peace. They will impart knowledge. They will care for those who have less than they do. They will work to make people healthier. They will spread happiness.

They will take the world that they will inherit from us and do what they can to make it better than how we gave it to them.

Even as second graders they had a sense that the world was in need of fixing. That in some way, it was broken and that they were being called, by Jesus, to use their "magic powers" to make it better.

As products of a Catholic School, they may not have magic powers, but they do have heavenly ones - and those are about as magical as you can get.    

Congrats, ICS Class of 2012. Good luck and God bless.

Thursday, May 31, 2012


"...for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
-William Shakespeare from Hamlet

Since beginning this blog in May of 2010, I have not had a month go by without writing at least one post. This, in and of itself, doesn't really mean much of anything. But, the thought of missing a month shames me into squeezing in an entry at the last possible minute. Again, though, missing a month isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's my thoughts about this omission that color it negatively.

In this way, our mind is an incredible tool. Our thoughts can overwhelm us to the point of being immobilized by fear, doubt and anxiety. Similarly, it is our thoughts that can approach any situation and see the cup as half full.

It's all in our perspective. It's all in our thoughts.

Knowing this should inspire us to view life's challenges as opportunities to grow. It should enable us to deal with life's problems as chances to work on things like patience, humility, ingenuity or even determination. Our knowledge of this mental trick, however, often escapes us. Our thoughts frequently get overshadowed by our emotions and feelings and instead of being able to view a situation positively, the storms of doubt come rumbling in and wash away our hope of optimism.

Or, sometimes our thoughts become so intense and multiply so rapidly that before we know it we are shackled with worry. Take the Syfy Channel's show, "Total Blackout". While I've not seen an episode, I understand the premise to be that contestants participate in games in complete darkness, not knowing whether the bucket into which they're placing their hand is filled with their worst fear or something else. Of course, the show is capitalizing on the power of our minds.

Jesus warns us about giving into such negative thoughts:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?" (Matthew 6: 25 - 27).

He goes on to encourage us:
"Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil" (Matthew 6: 34).
And yet we worry. We doubt. We complain. We act from places of emotion instead of thought. We think too much without being aware of our thoughts. We forget (which literally means that we are unable to think of) that nothing is either good or bad, but that our thoughts make it so. We live a life unworthy of our heavenly heritage.

The Buddhist tradition has a saying from Lord Buddha (from the Dhammapada) that illustrates the importance of thinking positively:
"We are what we think. What we are is the result of our thoughts. With our thoughts we make our world. Speak or act with an impure mind and trouble will follow you as the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart. Speak or act with a pure mind and happiness will follow you as unshakable as your shadow."
With our eyes and minds fixed on Jesus, the "leader and perfecter of our faith" we can do incredible things. We can "persevere in running the race marked out before us" (Hebrews 12:1), we can walk on water, we can move mountains, we can cure the sick, give sight to the blind, pick up serpents with our bare hands and be unharmed. With our minds fixed on Christ, we can avoid the traps of negativity.

We can adequately conquer the evil that is sufficient for its own day.

This takes effort. It takes practice. It requires patience. It takes consciousness. It demands faith.

As Catholic educators, we would do well not only to model this behavior but also to teach our students how to do it. A disciplinary situation is a chance to walk more closely with Christ. A low test grade is an opportunity to reflect on how effective a particular study habit was. A disagreement with a friend isn't reason to bag the relationship but an invitation to work on listening, discussing and problem solving. Receiving a deluge of homework is a moment to work on organization.

Focusing on positive thinking doesn't guarantee a trouble free or even stress free life. It won't have you bouncing out of bed ready to tackle the day's challenges! It won't make you extra money. It won't give you fame or even make you well liked.

But, then again, I suppose and should probably (if I take my own advice) think that thinking can make even these things so. We do, after all, make our world with our thoughts.

Think about making it something good.