Sunday, January 29, 2012

Eat Your Vegetables

Recently, I came across a news story in which the US Congress named pizza as a vegetable. Now, I like pizza, and it can be relatively healthy depending on the crust type, sauce and toppings. But, no matter how much tomato paste or sauce, a vegetable it is not.

I suppose the thought behind such a ruling is that the tomato sauce under the cheese has enough actual tomatoes to qualify as a bona fide vegetable. And, with a one year old who is starting to have a more discriminating palate, I understand the concept behind strategically and covertly placing vegetables in food (we have to do the same thing to Elizabeth with meat!). To suppose that getting kids to eat real vegetables is impossible is defeatist. To suppose that encouraging the consumption of pizza as a replacement for vegetables is immoral.

Making a pizza and passing it off as a vegetable is undoubtedly cheaper and unhealthier than securing and preparing fresh and unprocessed vegetables.

This is yet another example of our country's woeful treatment of its children. It is another example of big business dictating what's best for us. It's another example of our country's stubbornness to change to meet the best interest of its children.

For example, research proves that a long summer break makes it harder for students to retain knowledge. Yet, summer breaks remain and will most likely never be replaced with year round (interspersed with more frequent, albeit smaller breaks) school. We know that recess and physical activity is good to combat childhood obesity and is a good stress relief, especially for our sedentary and technologically dependent society. Still, many schools are cutting such programs because of a lack of funds. The arts can inspire, enliven, improve behavior, and increase math scores. Sadly, many schools have eliminated the fine and performing arts classes and clubs.

Bankers who needed government bailouts live in excess. We pay millions of dollars to professional athletes and hundreds to see them play insignificant (with all due respect to the Patriots and Giants) games. News stories are sensationalized to attract the largest viewing audience. Potential political candidates raise and spend millions of dollars trying to sway votes. Once elected they pass legislation to call pizza a vegetable.

We waste millions of dollars but can't seem to find the money to do what's best for our kids.

America is a great country, the greatest in the world. But, in order to remain this way and not get left behind by other countries who have somehow managed to give health care to all citizens and educate students to be some of the top thinkers and innovators in the world, we must do more than lower our standards for our children's health and overall well-being. Doing something as simple as involving children in the production and preparation of vegetables and other healthy foods can make them more interested in trying them (ICS Garden). But, school gardens cost money. Taking the time to teach children about their health benefits and ways in which they can be prepared takes effort.

Money, time, effort. We sacrifice these things for so many less important things. We must be willing to sacrifice them for the sake of our children.

If not, we may as well save Congress some time and taxpayers some dollars by declaring Jolly Ranchers candy a fruit.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Sir Isaac Newton, in a quote about his many accomplishments, humbly stated, "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Newton understood that his intelligence and all of his many discoveries depended on others' abilities, talents and knowledge of his teachers, predecessors, colleagues and rivals. Newton unarguably possessed innate intelligence and would have undoubtedly risen to some level of excellency on his own. But, because of those who had gone before him, taught him, challenged him, and supported him, Newton wasn't just excellent.

He was legendary.

He is legendary.

In many ways, all of us can "see further" because of the giants upon whose shoulders we stand. In many ways, for many of us grandparents serve as those giants. While parents do the grunt work and most of our formation, grandparents give us a sense of stability. Grandparents give us a sense of history. Grandparents give us a sense of belonging. They are living proof that all will be okay- all of our many trials and catastrophes of today will pass into memories of tomorrow. They may have been the first people in our families to go to college, come to this great country, speak English, start a business or convert to Catholicism. Maybe they worked multiple jobs to send our parents to school. Maybe they served in WWII, Korea, Vietnam or the first Gulf War. Maybe they unabashedly hang on to their cultural traditions, their native language and their sense of style. When we stand on their shoulders, we get a better sense of who we are because it gives us a better sense of who we were. We can see further because of them.

We may thank grandparents for the large checks that come in the mail on birthdays and Christmas. We may appreciate them for their stories of how things used to be. We may laugh at their eccentricities or joke at how set they are in their ways. Chances are good, though, that we don't necessarily recognize them for the gift of faith. Not only are they responsible for igniting some sort of faith within our parents, they are ultimately responsible for the spark in our own hearts, too. Whether they are believers who pray a Rosary after every daily Mass, or non-Church goers who believe that, just like hospitals are only for those who are sick, churchers are only for sinners, some aspect of the grace present in our lives was made manifest by their faithfulness.

Our Catholic Church and our Catholic Schools can definitely see further because of their faithfulness. Baltimore Catechists and instructed by the good sisters and nuns, priests and brothers of the golden age of Catholicism in this country, their belief and faith in not only the Church but also its educational system has helped to sustain us through scandals, economic hardships and other reasons cited for dwindling Church attendance and Catholic School enrollment. They gave our Parishes the traditions of our Carnivals, Festivals, Fish Fry's, Shrines, Collections. They may have even been responsible for helping to build its actual walls. They went to our schools when there were 50 students from various grade levels in the same classroom taught by the same saintly sister. Many of them had brothers, sisters and cousins who entered the priesthood and religious life.

Just like in our human families, our grandparents supply our Churches and Schools with history, tradition, foundation and stability. They remind us that these institutions have been through much worse than our current situations and that they will, because of our faithfulness, remain long after we are gone. They are the giants supplying the shoulders allowing us to see further than they did.

They are our models. They are our inspiration for someday helping others to see further than we can right now.

They are our past. They are hope for our future.

They are legendary.

They are giants. They are grandparents.          

Friday, January 13, 2012

Become Who You Were Born To Be

In one of my favorite movies of all time, "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King", Elrond (the King of the Elves) tells Aragorn (the rightful albeit reluctant King of Gondor) to "Put aside the Ranger. Become who you were born to be." It is the moment in the trilogy in which Aragorn finally starts to accept his bloodline, his heritage, his position as King. It is the moment where he becomes that which and who he was created to be.

The Gospel reading from this upcoming Sunday, the first Sunday but the beginning of the second week of Ordinary Time, follows a similar theme (John 1: 35 - 42). Jesus meets Andrew and his brother Simon for the first time. After one look at Simon he changes not only his name (Peter) but also his role in the world. Putting aside the fisherman, Peter is to become the Rock upon which Jesus will build His Church. While Peter's path to fulfilling his potential after this moment is anything but rock-solid, in this moment Jesus changes Peter's course. It is the moment that Peter starts to become who he was born to be.

Tomorrow marks the end of the Church's Vocation Awareness Week, a week to focus on and pray for an increase to priestly and religious vocations within the Catholic Church. Incarnation Catholic School had a priest, Fr. David Toups, come to speak to our students about vocations. We prayed the Prayer for Vocations as a school community every day during morning prayer. At Mass on Wednesday another class was given the Vocations Cross, beginning their week-long focus on praying for an increase in vocations (this, by the way, is a weekly practice with the Cross rotating among the different classes of the school).

But, every week in a Catholic School should be Vocation Awareness Week. Our goal should be threefold: to evangelize, to catechize and to educate. In accomplishing this mission, we should be able to ignite the faith and cultivate the intellect in such a way that young people give serious thought and consideration to a priestly or religious vocation. If Catholic Schools are doing what they are supposed to do, priests, brothers, deacons, sisters and nuns should naturally result because of our efforts.

Vocations should be a natural result because our goal should encompass helping all students to become who they were created to be. The truth is, everyone has a vocation. Not everyone is called to priestly or religious life; but everyone is called. Jesus is giving all of us a new name and a new role. He is calling out to us. He is giving each of us a vocation.

Vocation, from the Latin vocare, meaning "to call".

Are we listening? Do we even know how to listen? Do we recognize His voice? Can we hear it above the incessant noise of the world? Do we have the courage to answer His call? Especially if the call is to the priesthood or religious life?

If Catholic Schools are doing things right, the answer to the questions above should be an irrevocable and resounding yes. Our students should know that God's vocation for them is beyond their hearts' greatest desire. They should believe that following this vocation will give them greater fulfillment than they could ever imagine.

They should be taught to listen for God's call. Make vocation, in the broad and general sense, yet intimately connected to priesthood and religious life, a constant refrain.

They should be taught how to listen. Teach them scripture and examples of others- Mary, Joseph, Peter, Paul, Moses, Noah, Samuel-  responding to God's call. Teach them how to pray and that prayer must not always be us barking at God. Teach them that praying also needs to entail sitting in God's presence listening. Teach them that listening means unplugging and does not require a controller or earbud.

They should be encouraged to boldly go where and do what God is asking of them. This is counter-cultural. It may not bring fame. It may not bring fortune. It may not be easy. It may not make sense to others. It will, however, bring fulfillment to themselves, to others, and to establishing the Kingdom of God.

Be blessed.

Be bold.

Be who God created you to be.

Become who you were born to be.