Sunday, March 31, 2013

I Can't Shut Up

I've always wondered why Jesus told the blind man to stay silent about receiving his sight. I would think it some sort of masterful reverse psychology if it wasn't for the fact that Jesus wouldn't / couldn't / didn't need to manipulate people in this way. He was truth and lived in perfect accordance with who God created Him to be. He wouldn't have said it if He didn't mean it. He couldn't have said it if He didn't mean it. 

Instead of trying to analyze Jesus's motive here, outside of truly not wanting to draw attention to Himself, I am more intrigued by why the man who had been blind disobeys Jesus by spreading this good news and the Good News. As you can see there is some sort of contradiction here. Either Jesus is going against His nature - which can't be the case - or the formerly blind man blatantly, after having been the recipient of a miracle, disregards Jesus's desire and speaks. 

Perhaps it is because the man who had regained his sight couldn't do otherwise than proclaim it. He had literally been transformed by Jesus. The man's personal encounter with Jesus left the man changed in such a way that he was different than the person he was before meeting Jesus. It's the same reason that keeping a surprise of any sort is so darn hard. We have a desire to share news with others, but specifically good news. This man, blind from birth, now had sight! What could have been better? How could he not share that with others? 

In a similar way, I feel that I can't shut up about the joy of the Resurrection. I don't intend to blog as frequently as I had during Lent; I just couldn't seem to go to bed tonight, though. 

I just couldn't shut up. Don't be afraid to proclaim the Good News of Christ's Resurrection. Don't buy into the worldly message that Easter is over. 

It has only just begun. 

Happy Easter...for 49 more days. 

Don't shut up about it. Alleluia! 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

It Is Finished

This marks my 40th blog from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. Technically, I failed in my attempt to compose 40 blogs over the course of the 40 days of Lent. We are currently in the season of the Triduum, the Church's shortest liturgical season and the period of time from Holy Thursday night until Holy Saturday's Easter Vigil. So, number 40 should have come before sundown on Thursday. Regardless, the task is complete.

It is finished.

As I've reflected over these past few days about what I'd say in this final blog, I've thought a lot about the irony in that my final blog, 40/40, would be about simplifying our lives. We are bombarded by messages. Think about the number of texts, emails, phone calls, and pieces of mail you receive on any given day. Then, think about the number of things that you "should" be checking up on - news, work or school related updates, financial statements, bills, church bulletins and other source of information in which you have a vested interest. Now, sprinkle in all of the Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, blogs and any other social media sights that you're plugged into and you have, in paragraph form, all of the ways that you are being inundated with information in a day.

Well, almost. Add in any time spent watching TV, listening to the radio, actually talking with real, live humans and then you have all of the ways in which you receive information in a day. Consider, though, which of these ways actually fill you with life? How many of your emails or texts? How many of the songs to which you listen? How about Facebook, Twitter, etc. updates? Does it really matter that Miley Cyrus just ate dinner? Does it really matter that this is the 40th blog out of 40 between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday?

How would our lives be different with less information bombarding us? Or, how would your life be different if you only devoted time to the things - hopefully people - that really matter? How would our lives be different if one of the sources of information bombarding us was actually God? This isn't to say that He's not communicating; it is to say that we're not listening. How different would your life be if you actually had more time to hear God's word and then had more time and energy to actually listen to it?

I don't participate in many of the informational avenues mentioned above; remember that my phone is still dumb. I don't respond to work emails past 9 p.m. I barely text. I make a point to connect with my wife and daughters every day. I don't watch TV. And, I don't make or take enough time to hear and listen to God's word. I already feel saturated.

So, again, I feel it is ironic that I have potentially saturated the lives of those who have been with me over the past 40 blogs with just another noisy gong banging for their attention and doing nothing more than numbing their heads. I am sorry if my musings have done anything except point you to God. I hope they have been life giving. I hope that they have been insightful. I hope and pray that even one of them has caused you to reflect more, pray more, laugh more, cry more, love more, live more.

But, I hope that they haven't just added to the clutter.

Despite the extra burden of writing a blog a day (more or less), I feel that this exercise really has brought me closer to Jesus. Taking the time to create as opposed to just receive has kept a lot of unwelcome information away. It has forced me to search for sources of inspiration. It has challenged me to live with the eyes, ears and heart of faith straining my senses and my sensibilities to see, hear and accept God's messages.

I have tried, in my incredibly limited way, to pass these messages along.

So here is one final message: It is finished; it's also time to begin.

Soon and very soon there won't be any more crying and there won't be any more dying; we are going to see the King.

My Lenten journey is just about over. Yours is, too. In the spirit of this blog post I plan to go off line for at least a few days. But, true to the spirit of this message, I won't stop blogging. Lent is over. Easter, however, is about to begin.

Don't be fooled by the messages - He's in the tomb, the stone is too large for anyone to move, there is no hope, He is dead. In this way, be careful and purposeful about what gets your time and attention. Both are precious and valuable and worthy of your intentionality as to how they are allotted.

Give them to God. Give everything to God.

Seek Him. Find Him. Hear Him. Listen to Him. Follow Him.

You won't find Him or His messages in the tomb. The stone is rolled away...Sunday's coming.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

Elizabeth and Catherine visited Disney World for the first time today. Please know that I'm somewhat ashamed to have taken my family to the happiest place on earth on such an important day within the liturgical calendar. My conscience definitely reminded me more than once of the juxtaposition between this Friday and Good Friday.

For anyone who has been to the park over what Disney terms "Spring Break" (the weeks before and after Easter), you will know that the crowds offer some semblance of penance, though. It was packed. Also, trying to keep kids from melting down at this superlatively happy place presents, at times, a huge challenge.

Of course these reasons for justifying this trip are absurd and I offer them in jest. But, I did seriously reflect on Good Friday, despite being surrounded by such festivity. 

First and perhaps most obviously, I think that part of what makes Disney so successful, at perhaps what is a subconscious level, is that its stories touch on archetypal themes of good vs. evil and that everyone - no matter their origin - has an important part to play within this battle. These types of stories resonate with us. They give allow us to believe that there is something magical about our lives, something at work that we cannot quite explain. While I doubt that they would admit it, and I feel almost sacrilegious claiming it, but Disney's story is ultimately a Christian story.

The goodness of their unfailingly optimistic leader, Mickey Mouse, is downright saccharine at times. How can someone continuously be so darn happy, especially when Pluto hides the keys to his Mickey Mobile or when Donald gets the gang into a bind with Pete? The overall positivity of all cast members (Disney speak for employees) as well as any Disney story is parallel to the Christian message. Good will win. It will always win. 

This connection goes even deeper. The Disney story, unexpectedly because of this emphasis on being happy, does not discount the real presence of evil within the world. Even their parking lots are separated and labeled as heroes and villains. Evil is present and real. Life can be hard. People can be mean. Bad things happen. Good, however, will still win. Good, however, will always win. 

Christ, the real Incarnate of goodness, can be condemned. He can be betrayed. He can be whipped, humiliated, tortured, mocked and even killed. But good will win. Good will always win. 

Today is called Good Friday because we know the story doesn't end today. It doesn't end in death. Evil doesn't triumph. Good has to win. The story has to have a happy ending. Sunday has to come. Sunday will come. Sunday will always come.

Today was a good Friday; however, it pales in comparison to Good Friday. Good - Christ - will always win, even over the memories created at the happiest place on earth. 

Today. Tomorrow. Sunday. Always.

Christ will always win.  


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Call Me Michael

My dad's full name was Robert Michael Zelenka. My name is Michael Robert Zelenka.

Call me Michael.

I love my name. I love that my first name was my dad's middle name. And as his middle name it is a part of his name that wasn't shortened. Some people knew my dad as Bob and some from his childhood even continued to call him Bobby even up to the point of his funeral. But Michael was never adulterated. It was always Michael.

Call me Michael.

I love that my name means "He who is like God." I know that I am the furthest thing from being like God. Like St. John the Baptist and St. Paul, I, too, am unfit to even touch Christ's sandal. But, when I think about God as our Father, especially when I consider my own father in relation to the Father, I love the symbolism behind my name - I am like my fathers.

I turned 34 today. Back when my father first passed away I had many and various ideas about how I would like the death of my father to be marked in my life. I still have a list of ways that I want to be sure that I'm different, forever changed because of his death. One of those ways was to use my full name - Michael.

I have other ideas - I want to communicate with people, especially those I love, more and more effectively. I want to pray more often. I want to ensure that I set aside even more time to strengthen my marriage to the most wonderful woman in the world (I love you, Emily). I want to schedule out my time so as to create a healthy balance between work, home, and my personal life that tips in favor of my family.

I wanted to ensure that I was a better man because of the fact that my dad was my dad. I wanted to accomplish, in typical fashion for me, all of this by March 28. Be done with grieving. Be a better dad, more loving husband, more loyal friend. In less than four months. New life isn't even created that quickly.

But, transformations are possible with God. Tomorrow may be Friday. It may be the end of the story for characters like Pilate and Judas, but it isn't for Peter and Joseph of Arimathea and Mary and the other women and disciples and it isn't the end for Jesus either. Sunday and the Resurrection are coming. Jesus is transformed. Peter is transformed. We can be transformed. Made new. Given new life. Given new purpose. Given a new name.

Paul was knocked off of a horse. Peter received his call in a boat. My father died.

It may be Friday, but Sunday's coming. Let this Sunday not only start a new week and a new liturgical season but may it also start a new you, a better you, the you that you were created to be.

The story doesn't end in death. Yours doesn't either. Neither does mine.

Call me Michael.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Failure is Not Only an Option

"Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes. You must look into that storm and shout as you did in Rome. Do your worst, for I will do mine! Then the fates will know you as we know you: as Albert Mondego, the man!"
-from the movie adaptation of the novel, "The Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexander Dumas

As we listen to the story of the Last Supper and the ensuing Passion and death of our Lord over the course of the Triduum and leading up to the Easter Vigil and eventual season, I have always been struck by the stark contrast between Peter and Judas. Both men fail. Both men betray Jesus. Both men show their humanity in such dark and troubling ways within the span of a few hours. We can also assume that both men would receive the same type of forgiveness if they had been willing to receive it.

Peter sought forgiveness; Judas did not. Peter allowed Easter to transform him; Judas did not. The difference between a sinner and a saint isn't that the saint never sins. It's that the saint, after falling, picks himself back up and tries once more to live a good life. Peter, as he is painted throughout the Gospels, is the epitome of this mantra. 

Get back up. Get back up. Get back up. 

In a sense, Peter is the ideal student. He tries. Goodness, does Peter try. He's not afraid to make mistakes like trying to set up tents for Jesus, Elijah and Moses during the Transfiguration. Mistakes like trying to walk on water - which he actually does for a few steps. Mistakes like being so brash as to say that he won't betray Jesus - which he actually does, three times. But, Peter doesn't give up. Despite some major failures, some big falls, Peter always gets back up. He keeps trying. 

Get back up. Get back up. 

Jesus, his Teacher, tells Peter that there will be a test, "Behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like 
wheat." Jesus knows that it will be a difficult one, especially for Peter. Jesus continues, "But I have prayed that your own faith may not fail." Finally, Jesus encourages Peter and even if the test doesn't go well, that all will be well if he just remains faithful, "And once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers" (Luke 22:32)

Peter doesn't pass. But, luckily for Peter, his education doesn't end with Jesus's death. There is more to learn and the Teacher comes back to continue teaching. Luckily, Peter comes back to continue learning. Peter's education receives new life in Easter. He doesn't let an "F" keep him from taking another test. 

Get back up. 

Peter was resilient. He was a rock. He was the rock. 

Failure is not only an option for me, you, our students, Peter, Judas and everyone it is a guarantee. We will fail. We will make mistakes. We will fall. What we do after that failure, though, is what makes us who we are. Will you wallow face down in the mud or get back up? 

It may be close to Friday, but Sunday's coming...get back up.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Stones Will Cry Out!

It's nice to know that I don't actually have to write this blog. As we heard this past weekend:
As he rode along, the people were spreading their cloaks on the road;  and now as he was approaching the slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of his disciples began to praise God aloud with joy for all the mighty deeds they had seen. They proclaimed: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He said in reply, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19: 36-40).
Even if I were to stop writing about the Good News, His glory would not be diminished. I don't add anything to Jesus by writing. I don't make Him better, or holier, or mightier, or more praiseworthy. He doesn't need me; I could stop and He could easily replace me with a stone.

But, I need Him. I need to write about Him, talk about Him, live for Him.

The purpose of our praying, fasting and almsgiving during Lent is to strip away all that keeps us from Jesus and to allow us the ability to recognize our yearning for earthly things as a reminder that all of this is in vain; we need Christ and Christ alone.

Even though Jesus doesn't need me, He still loves me. He cares for me. He is committed to me, concerned about me, captivated by me, supportive of me, and hopeful for me. He does all of these things in a perfect way. A superlative doesn't even do justice to the desire that Jesus has for me. His love for me surpasses all of the love that any other human has or ever has had for me.

He loves me. He could substitute me with a rock and yet I am worthy of His love.

You are worthy of His love. Our students are worthy of His love. The person who cuts you off in traffic is worthy of It. The classmate causing problems in school is worthy of It. Your best friend. Your worst enemy. Peter. Judas. Pilate. James and John. Mary. Martha. Herod. Me. You. Everyone.

And there is nothing we can do to deserve His love. We cannot merit It. We can't earn It. We can only be willing to accept It and then be willing to cry out and sing His praise because of how He loves us!

Oh, how He loves us.

Oh, how He loves us.

Cry out! Oh, how He loves us!

Sunday, March 24, 2013


"He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground."
-Luke 22: 44

Drops of blood. His sweat became like drops of blood. Luke uses fantastic imagery here. Sweat can be oppressive at times. To imagine it as blood instead of perspiration takes this oppression to another level.  Sweat can be the product of excessive effort or heat or a combination of both. It is a sign of our bodies being under some sort of intense pressure. Blood, however, is our life force. It is what gives our bodies life. Take away our blood, stop it from flowing, infect it with something and we die. We associate blood with warmth. We associate it with health. We obviously associate it with life. 

We do not associate it with sweat. 

So what does it mean to connect the two? It is worth noting that some Biblical footnotes mention that verses 43 (where an angel comes to Jesus's side to strengthen him) and 44 of Luke's 22nd chapter were not part of Luke's original writings but that these details had been added to the story later. It could be the result of good story telling and incorporate a small sense of a tall tale. With each telling, for effect, the yearning with which Jesus prayed that evening took on even greater detail. 

So, assuming that it is not historical fact but rather, just like it is written, a simile it is intended to help us understand Christ's passion at this moment during his Passion. He was praying with such intensity (think of the effort that you must expend in order to start sweating) that his sweat was so great, so profuse, so draining that it was as if blood were flowing out of his pores. 

This gives a whole new meaning to full, conscious and active participation. It also puts into perspective our prayer lives. God's only Son was praying so "fervently" that he was sweating like it was drops of blood. Jesus doubted. Jesus felt that he wasn't up for the task. He wanted something else to happen. These feelings of doubt, insufficiency and desire were so strong that his sweat was like blood. 

What's more is that he was expressing these feelings to his Father. 

First, following God's will for our lives is anything but easy; but it is worth it. Second, God wants to know our heart's greatest and deepest desires. Third, praying gives us strength to do God's will for our lives.

The last thing the world needs is another lukewarm Christian. Jesus himself said that he has "come to set the earth on fire" (Luke 12: 49). God needs us to find our passion. He needs us to discern His will for our lives. He needs us to pray to Him - bring Him everything. He will give us strength.

He will set our sparks of passion into raging fires, burning brightly in the light of His glory. He will animate us. He will enliven us. He will give purpose to each beat of our heart, each surge of blood flowing through our veins. 

He will fill us with passion.

Pray for it.     

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Teacher Edition

I love popcorn. My love for popcorn, though, has turned me into a popcorn snob. I really only enjoy homemade popcorn. For that matter, I really only enjoy my homemade popcorn. I'll eat other kinds. The convenience of a microwaved bag at times weakens my resolve and I'll plod my way through a batch. I'll tolerate gourmet brands and often find inspiration in their flavors, textures and ingredients.

I have a homemade popper. I also have a few popcorn recipe books. I often get gourmet kernels and seasonings as gifts. Over the course of hundreds of batches, though, I have tweaked recipes, ingredients and techniques to meet my particular tastes and desires. My first batch was not nearly as good as the one I made today. Hopefully tomorrow's batch will be even better.

Too often in education we see the textbook as source and summit of all that happens in our classrooms. Start on page 1. Continue, in order, all the way up to page 376. Be sure to use all of the book worksheets, question ideas, chapter tests, concept extenders and any and all other content and technique given. Too often do those outside of education (and mediocre to marginal teachers) diminish the role of the teacher and the artistry needed to be a good one down to merely following, word for word, the script in the teacher's edition of a textbook.

Teachers - good ones - are smarter than the textbook. They take into consideration their students and their particular needs, strengths and interests and incorporate these into their planning, instruction and assessment. Teachers - good ones - do not blindly follow a script from "". They don't even follow the same script as the one that worked last year or last class period.

Teaching, for as scientific as it is, is also an art form. It requires looking at various sources and taking the best from each. It entails designing the content in such a way that connections are made to other subjects and topics, allowing students to construct new knowledge based on their understanding of prior knowledge. It requires organizing the curriculum in such a way that concepts build upon each other and that they also align with similar topics in other classes. It demands that assessments be engaging and challenging and something much more creative than the test found at the end of the chapter. There is a certain aspect of theatrical performance in teaching. Delivery can enhance and supplement a well designed lesson. Approaches with particular students must vary and be differentiated. Concepts must be retaught, sometimes within a given class period.

Ultimately, teaching is so much more than just following a recipe.

I would also say the same about life. Even though the Bible can be understood as "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth" there are so many variables to consider, so many things that can happen that you can't just turn to the 3rd chapter of St. Paul's letter to Timothy and find out what to do to discipline a child (I'm sure there is some wisdom in this particular part of Scripture, but no matter how wise, it won't  follow a strict if-this-then-that format).

Living well, in God's eyes, can't be plugged into a formula either. There isn't a ceiling on the number of good deeds you should perform in a day, week, month or lifetime. There isn't an instruction booklet for every situation of our lives.

But we  do have a Teacher - Jesus. He is the Teacher and He is the most skilled artist ever. He can take the curriculum we need to learn and adapt and mold it into the most engaging and dynamic lessons. He can pull from any source and help direct us. Our teacher editions are filled with mediocre suggestions and ideas; His is filled with omniscience and omnipotence. He can help any of us, all of us, each of us.

You. Me. Everyone.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Active Participation

Today, as part of Incarnation Catholic School's preparation for Easter, students in grades 4 and 5 received the Sacrament of Reconciliation. As such, they used the Church, which meant that the rest of the school would not be able to gather there to participate in another Lenten practice: the Stations of the Cross. 

Instead of just scrapping it, though, the school decided to pray the 14 stations on the classroom level. In other words, instead of the entire school praying the Stations of the Cross, each Homeroom (with the exception of 4th and 5th grade) participated in this exercise as a small group. They did it in their classrooms. They took turns leading the prayers and reading about the stations. Some went outside. Others utilized technology. All were engaged. 
We experience great solidarity when we have done the stations as a whole school. We have still enabled students to lead the prayers while the rest of the students respond, genuflect, sing and pray as part of the congregation. This was the first time that classes were afforded a uniform time to participate in the Stations of the Cross on a classroom level. Prior to this afternoon, we had always gathered as an entire school. 

In walking around the school during this time, though, I felt that today students experienced solidarity in a different yet familiar way. Much like when we as Catholics gather in our local parishes to Celebrate the Eucharist on Sundays, students were praying the same prayers at the same time for the same purpose. In a sense, there is even greater universality in this approach than when large groups get together in one location. Not that I've ever attended a "mega-church" but I can't imagine feeling much of a sense of connection. I can't surmise that the feeling of community is anywhere near as strong as the small prayer groups that walked with Jesus this afternoon along His Via Dolorosa.  

The early Church was comprised of small Churches. The Catholic Church actually still values this concept by promoting the domestic church. The propagation of the faith rests first and foremost with the parents and parents are the primary educators of their children - especially in matters of faith. 

Incarnation is not a big school. Incarnation Catholic Church, by some standards, is relatively average in size, too. Today, though, students gathered and prayed and supported each other in a way that was small in number but high in engagement, spirit and displays of faith. In doing so, additionally, students participated in a very intimate way in the universality of the Church - with their brothers and sisters in the literal room next door in addition to those half way across the world.  

The Church uses the terms full, conscious and active to describe the level of participation we should have during Mass. Universality is one of the marks of the Catholic Church. ICS students tapped into all of these traits and qualities today.

May we tap into it again tomorrow. And on Sunday and next Wednesday and on Easter Sunday and forever and ever.


Thursday, March 21, 2013


One of the fruitful parts of this silly Lenten experiment I started 6 weeks ago is that it has forced me to focus more heavily on things to write. I feel as though I've opened my eyes, ears and heart wider. I've searched for sources of inspiration. Most frequently this Lent, I have found them in my faith.

There is a little over 1 week left in Lent. I've taken advantage of Lent's "off days", but have persevered thus far in being on task to complete 40 blogs in "40" days. There is definitely something to be said for making a goal known to others; I may have gone directly against Jesus's words we heard on Ash Wednesday but the accountability I feel towards those who read this blog has helped propel me closer to the total allotment of posts. I'm not done and in many ways I feel that I may have traded quality for quantity, but I have rediscovered some small semblance of resilience in myself while on this journey.

As I've struggled to bear this literary load, I have reflected on how important developing resiliency in students is. We need to help students get smarter. We need to help them be better. We need to help them develop maturity, responsibility, compassion, a sense of self and a sense of their vocation. But, we also need to make them resilient. We need to temper them. We need to help them find some inner grit. We need to help students see that when life pushes them around - a difficult subject, trouble with their peers, frustrations over their self-image - that they need to push back. I'm not advocating violence. What I am advocating is giving our students the resolve needed to remain true to their beliefs, committed to those they love and undeterred from the work given to them to do.

Without heat and pressure there would be no diamond.

This concept of resiliency resurfaced in my faith life recently. In listening to a mission talk by Monsignor James Patrick Shae, the President of the University of Mary, I was struck by the stark contrast between both Peter and Pilate and Jesus. On the one hand we have Jesus and His constant forward movement born out of love, and built by faith. His resiliency is heroic. He stays true to Himself, true to His Father, true to His Mission. He heals one of the guards ears as He is being arrested. He testifies that He is Truth. He is beaten, bloodied and bruised. He carries his Cross willingly, lovingly. He falls but gets back up multiple times. He continues to teach and guide and forgive all the way up to His final breath. It is somewhat of an unfair comparison, but Jesus embodies resiliency - He even bounces back from death! - while both Peter and Pilate embody defeat.

We know Peter's story so well. How often are we Peter? How many times do we deny even knowing Jesus? We skip Mass. We don't have time to pray. We never mention our faith to those who don't believe. We acknowledge Jesus (maybe) with our lips, but deny Him with our hearts and minds. When pushed, we fall. When pressed, we crumble. Call me Peter.

Pilate's story, while known, may be met with more forgiveness than Peter's. Pilate tries to do just about everything and anything to keep Jesus alive. He sends Jesus to be scourged. He sends Jesus to Herod. He questions Jesus. He tries to have Jesus released. Surely Pilate was just keeping the peace, right? He washes his hands of the sentence, blaming it on the unruly crowd.

But, Pilate could have stopped it all. "I find this man guilty of no crime," Pilate says, but fails to finish the sentence in the way that he should. He crumbles under the power of his office, of keeping his position, of keeping the peace. Pilate, though, could have ordered the soldiers at his command to keep the peace. He could have demanded that Jesus be treated in the way that Pilate deemed. He gave in. He succumbed. He reasoned away this heinous crime, the most heinous in all of history. He did everything within his power except use his power.

When pushed, we fall. When pressed, we crumble. We have a false sense of strength. We have a false sense of our goodness. I already do service in my job - I work for the Church. I get paid so little anyways, and yet I still give. I have written almost 40 blogs. Call me Pilate, too.

We don't necessarily get to hear the end of Pilate's story. Perhaps he had some sort of conversion. Perhaps he learned a valuable lesson and started to use his power and authority to do good. Perhaps.

We do know Peter's end. The first Pope, Jesus entrusts Peter with the keys to the kingdom. Despite a failure, three of them actually, on the night that Jesus was condemned, Peter displays resiliency. Peter was a slow learner, but ultimately a resilient one, too.

Our story isn't complete. Lent isn't over.

There is still time. Time to become resilient. Time to be resilient.

Time to begin.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Primary Educator

Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Joseph. Jesus's earthly father, St. Joseph is the patron saint of fathers, carpenters, the Universal Church and social justice. St. Joseph appears in Sacred Scripture in just a few places. Two stand out: when the angel appears to Joseph to instruct him to take Mary as his wife, and when Joseph and Mary find Jesus preaching in the temple. He never utters a word in scripture. He obediently follows God's plan for his life. God entrusts him with Jesus and Mary, the Heavenly Father's most precious creations.

Joseph's blood line extends back to David and even to Abraham. In this way, St. Joseph represents Jesus's royally divine lineage.  St. Matthew, in composing his Gospel, describes St. Joseph as a righteous man meaning that he acted in moral, just and virtuous ways.

If God used Mary as the vessel to bring Jesus into the world, He used St. Joseph as 1/2 of the team of educators to bring Jesus up in the world. Joseph's wife was born without original sin. His earthly Son was similarly born. While afflicted with the same sickness as every other human, St. Joseph must have been impressive in many and various ways.

He must have been strong. Surely, as all young boys do, Jesus looked up to Joseph and desired to emulate him. St. Joseph must have modeled the strength in conviction, belief, duty and loyalty that Jesus would embody in the form of blood. St. Joseph must have had to shield Jesus and Mary from the publicity of such a unique birth and the shame and attention surrounding his unique marriage to Mary. St. Joseph must have, if he was worthy of being called "father" by Jesus, been a pretty-darn-near perfect man.

As a father myself, I pray for his strength, guidance, wisdom and protection to lead my family. As the leader of a Catholic school, I pray to St. Joseph for these same attributes to lead my school family as well. I pray that like St. Joseph I may one day be called a righteous man and that I, too, may be able to obediently follow God's will for my life, no matter where that may take me.

St. Joseph was one of Jesus's primary educators. May St. Joseph be one of mine - when it comes to fatherhood, principalship, leadership, manhood, marriage, brotherhood - as well.

St. Joseph, pray for us. Pray for me. Pray for fathers everywhere.    

Monday, March 18, 2013


How do you determine how valuable something is? How much it costs? How long it lasts? The entertainment it provides? The amount of people it services? How much one receives as a return on an investment? Does supply and demand determine the value of something? Is something valuable if it provides hope, life, love, comfort, peace?

Seeing value in simply monetary terms can lead to assessing things, services, or even people in light of how much they are worth from a simply monetary standpoint. The higher the cost, price, or salary the more worth that thing has.

In the world of Catholic education, I unfortunately have to continuously consider the price of the education offered to our students and families. I have to very carefully balance our school's budget, crunching numbers and weighing the number of students against the number of employees. I have to factor in the cost of tuition and the types of services and programs we hope to provide. Upgrades, enhancements, renovations, maintenance, memberships, and supplies make up some of the other costs associated with the education offered at the school.

All of these things create a very concrete cost. There is a limited amount of money coming in; the money going out, therefore, is similarly limited. As I have said before, factor in the philosophy that Catholic education must be for more than the wealthy, and funds become limited even more. Furthermore, factor in the real reason for a Catholic school's existence - promoting the Catholic faith in the context of a liberal arts education - and the value (and costs associated) take on a much different meaning.

If we can be instruments of the passing on of faith in addition to delivering curricular standards at a level as good as if not better than public or other private schools, then the value of Catholic schools shoots through the roof. It becomes something completely other than valuable from a monetary standpoint. It passes into the realm of eternity, infinity, forever, absolute, everlasting. It eclipses any price tag and it transcends this world and our earthly limits.

I do not make this claim as a way to get more families to buy into the tuition rate associated with attending Incarnation Catholic School. I don't write about this concept of value in Catholic schools as a pep talk to myself - I may not make a lot of money but I make a difference! 

I write about it because I truly believe that it is incumbent upon Catholic schools to ensure that our educational institutions offer this type of value. We must be just as good as public and other private schools who teach the same standards and benchmarks. We can't water down the curriculum and justify  that by offering religion as a substitute to being exemplar in all subjects. On the other hand, the value of our schools must be more than just strong academics. We must live out our Catholic faith in every interaction with every person in every moment of every day.

We must approach discipline differently - people are inherently good. We must approach physical education from a standpoint that sees our bodies as good and beautiful gifts worthy of our great care and concern. We must be good stewards of the earth. We must emphasize and afford opportunities for service. Music and the arts must be viewed as avenues to experience the beauty of our Creator. Parents and families must be established as the primary educators of their children and should be treated as true partners in their child(ren)'s education. The Celebration of the Eucharist must be the most important activity of each week.

Simply, our value as Catholic schools must extend beyond good academics, high discipline, dynamic liturgies, and service to the community.

It must extend, and in doing so extend our students, to eternity.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Importance of Imagination

Albert Einstein famously said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world." Lazy students should not adopt this as their rallying cry; although it would serve as a fairly good argument against things like homework and standardized tests. I do not cite it as a way to downplay the importance of gaining factual knowledge and fundamental skills. Students should and must obtain knowledge - how to read, the concept of photosynthesis, the causes of the Civil War. But, students must also be taught how to think, and perhaps the most powerful way to think is to imagine.

Elizabeth amazes me with her creativity. She uses voices for various characters that she dramatizes - Monkey, Meow-meow and Baby Spider all have distinct voices and have very distinct roles within her play. She pretends to be a doctor. She imagines that our back patio is really a playground. She uses anything remotely similar to a phone to make calls to people. At some point, she will gain the "knowledge" that her stuffed monkey doesn't really dance. She will think it silly to use anything but the appropriate name for her beloved "Meow". She will realize that spiders have eight legs while her hand only has five fingers, one of which serves as Baby Spider's head. She will learn addition yet she will lose her high pitched arachnid voice.

As she gets older she will gain knowledge; like almost everyone, though, her imagination will slowly decline.

Imagination is the stuff of great stories. It is the creativity that leads to new recipes. It is the muse of new art. It is the mother of invention. Imagination aids in problem solving. It provides hope. Imagination gives life not only to those who dream it, but also to those who witness the dream.

Imagine how dull the world would be without imagination.

Teachers must do more than merely present knowledge and the steps to certain skills. Teachers must inspire students to rise to higher order thinking skills and to use their knowledge in new, creative and meaningful ways. Teachers must supply the blank canvas on which students can paint, instead of offering the dark outline that must be filled with very specific colors. Teachers must find ways to allow students to play, imagine and create.

St. Ignatius argues that imagination also plays a role in the spiritual life as well. So, as Catholic educators, we must inspire students to use their imaginations in prayer, too. Called imaginative prayer, it involves reading a piece of Sacred Scripture in a way that activates imagination. Putting yourself in the role of one of the figures from the story - Peter, James, Pilate, Simon of Cryene, etc. - and then immersing yourself in the details. What did that scene look like? What feelings / emotions were present? What was said and how were those words delivered? What were the thoughts of your character? As another method, just putting yourself into the context of the story as a member of the crowd or as a witness to the event can also work. Imagining the story in this way, Ignatius argues, can lead to greater insights and a deeper understanding and appreciation for that particular piece of scripture.

As we near the end of Lent and hear the very familiar stories of Jesus's Passion, let us imagine ourselves as a part of the tale. Let us put ourselves in the context of this piece of history. Let us imagine that the whole story could have played out differently if we could actually imagine the love that Jesus has for us. Let us imagine that with God all things really are possible.

Then, let us work to make that which has been imagined a reality.

Imagine. Act. Love. Live.

Begin. It's time.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Time On Task

St. Augustine, in his famous work Confessions, theorizes that the only time that actually exists is the present moment. The past has already occurred and the future has not yet arrived; the only time we have is now. And now that it's not now anymore, there is a new now to take its place. This now, however, will quickly be replaced by yet another now, and another, and another.

To quote Blessed Mother Teresa, "Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin."

To paraphrase her, "We have only right now. Let us be present."

St. Augustine posed this theory of time as a way to encourage others against the temptation of sin. You can resist temptation, somewhat easily, for a single moment. If we make ourselves truly present in the present moment, we free ourselves from all of the memories of past mistakes and the anxieties of future failures. Being good for an entire lifetime, year, month or even day can be somewhat daunting. Being good for a moment is utterly manageable.

Be good now. Don't worry about how good you were yesterday or that you'll have to be good again later. Be good now. Right now. Focus on the present moment and making the most of it. The past means nothing and the future lacks a guarantee. Do good now.

As a dad, I try to take advantage of all of the moments I have with my kids. From the moment I arrive home until they go to bed, I do all that I can to be present to them. Play with them. Read to them. Interact with them. Change diapers. Make food. Clean up. I'll always have work, even if I worked all the time. My daughters will only be 2 and 4 months once. I'll never get back the opportunity to be with them at this age.

Besides, tomorrow lacks a guarantee.

As an educator, a direct correlation exists between students' time-on-task and their academic achievement. The more that a student is engaged, the more they are likely to learn. In schools there are three ways to consider time as it relates to learning: allocated time, engaged time, and academic time ( Allocated time refers to the amount of time set aside for particular subjects. Given that things like transitions, classroom management procedures and other lulls exist in a classroom, the allocated time is the largest amount of the three. Engaged time categorizes the time that students spend engaged in learning. Finally, academic time signals the amount of learning taking place. It considers both the quality of the active as well as its difficulty. To say that an 8th student engaged in a word search is actively engaged may be true. To say that they are actually learning anything is a stretch. There is little academic value here; furthermore, a word search lacks an appropriate amount of challenge to be classified as academic time. Academic time, therefore, ends up being the smallest time frame within schools. Maximize academic time and you maximize learning.

Every moment has value within a classroom. Every decision must be purposeful. Every action intentional. Every "now" used to its fullest potential.

To circle back to St. Augustine, the more that we are actively engaged in being good during the present moment, the more likely we are to be successful at being good. Your Lenten promise is only a burden when you consider the number of days still left until Easter. The spiritual life is only daunting when you consider the magnitude of eternity. Engage right now. Maximize every moment. Do good now.

Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. We have only right now.

Right now is the most important moment of our lives.

It's time to begin.

Friday, March 15, 2013


Catherine crawled today. Moving in inchworm fashion, she has gained mobility. She pushes up on her arms and legs and scoots forward in small increments. Quite effective, she sets her sights on a desired artifact - usually one of Elizabeth's toys - and goes toward it. Slowly. Steadily. Determinedly. Successfully. Suddenly, she seems to notice her other three family members' mobility and yearns to join as well. She has taken an interest in Elizabeth's toys, and now that Catherine can actually move to retrieve them, Elizabeth notices those deemed unworthy of Catherine's grasp. Luckily, for now, Elizabeth also notices that Catherine just wants something to hold and so she will go and offer a surrogate toy to her baby sister.

Elizabeth notices so much. The food eaten by other people. She makes connections between colors, books, toys, shows, words. She notices Catherine's cry (well before I do most of the time) and rushes to her aid. Her world has expanded drastically over the past few weeks.

I've noticed how much I love how rapidly she absorbs information right now. It is a blast experiencing her growth and development. I love being a dad.

Taking note of something, or noticing it, is a very useful skill. Unfortunately, though, it is one that we often fail to notice; it is often overlooked. For example, you typically notice those things for which you have been predisposed in some way to look. It may be temperament, prior experience, a news story, or even your own desire to find / support a particular answer. It is the old adage that seeing the glass as half full or half empty really impacts your outlook on life.

Beauty is everywhere if you have the eyes / disposition to see it. Ugliness is, too, again depending on your vision.

Schools try to teach the skill of noticing in many and various ways - taking notes, noticing patterns, noticing connections, noticing areas of strength and weakness, noticing aspects of understanding and misunderstanding, noticing the appropriate time and place to behave in certain ways, noticing when a classmate may need help or assistance or a friend. These skills must be taught; educators must notice the need to intentionally focus on them. They cannot be overlooked.

From a Catholic perspective, this noticing goes deeper than just academics and obviously extends to the faith life of students. Noticing the presence of Jesus, noticing the importance of discipline, noticing the call to help others, noticing the will that God has for their lives and noticing ways that they can minister to others are also skills that must be intentionally taught. They cannot be overlooked either.

As we near the final full week of Lent and as we continue to prepare for Passion Sunday and Holy Week and Easter Sunday, let us notice those ways in which we need to ask for God's assistance. Let us have the eyes and ears of faith to see and hear Jesus' voice. Let us not be blind to the miracles around us and the joy in the journey, not just the destination.

As he was being arrested, Jesus healed a soldier's ear that had been cut off by one of Jesus's disciples. Yet, we know that the story still ends in Jesus's condemnation, suffering and eventual death. The criminal on the Cross noticed Jesus and was promised paradise for his faith. The centurion at the foot of the Cross also noticed that Jesus was the Christ, albeit after Jesus's death.

Sometimes the answers are right in front of our eyes. Sometimes the answer is there if we use the right eyes to be able to see it. Sometimes we have to look a bit harder, using a strategy or two to find it.

But, if you haven't noticed, the Answer is always searching for you, enticing you, caring for you, loving you and hoping that you will notice Him.

It's not too late; it's time to begin to notice.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mission Driven

During my time in the University of Notre Dame's ACE Leadership Program, one of the enduring understandings that I gleamed was that everything done within a school should be driven by the school's mission statement. Fr. Ron Nuzzi, the Director of what's now called the Remick Leadership Program, reinforced this concept in making every facet of the program influenced by the ACE (Alliance for Catholic Education) Mission Statement:
The University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) sustains and strengthens under-resourced Catholic schools through leadership formation, research and professional service to ensure that all children, especially those from low-income families, have the opportunity to experience the gift of an excellent Catholic education.
We had to memorize these words during our first week in the program. Furthermore, even though it could not be found in the program's handbook (it's in the Bible), regular attendance at Mass and evening prayer was expected out of participants. The rigor and length of assignments and course loads forced participants into community, one of the program's pillars. The program places emphasis on Catholic identity (the curriculum includes a study of all Church documents on education), excellence in academics and adherence to a school's mission. Practically every class mentioned the importance of allowing the mission statement to drive the actions, decisions and day-to-day operations of the school.

As a result of my attendance in the program, I became a more committed Catholic. I also started to see my role within Catholic education as much more than a career path; I saw it as my vocation.

Dusting off Incarnation's Mission Statement, therefore, became one of my top priorities in 2010 - 11. In 2011 - 12 Incarnation received re-accrediation and as a result of that process refined that statement. It now includes the word "Catholic" and more precisely defines the school that we aspire to be. I have leaned on it as a way to direct decisions and decide directions. I have strived, and will continue to do so, to be mission driven in all that I do as a Catholic school leader.

Pope Francis I seems to invoke a similar mission driven approach. One of the most striking aspects of what will become his very public past is his commitment to living simply: he rode the bus to work, he cooked for himself, he embraced opportunities to be among common people and connect with them. Even his choice for a papal name, Francis, aligns with this spirit of humility; St. Francis of Assisi lived simply, humbly, compassionately, heroically.

Pope Francis I asked for the crowds in St. Peter's Square to pray for him before praying for them. He addressed the Church with humor, humility, grace and what seemed to me to be a healthy fear of his new vocation.

I am excited for our Church and for Pope Francis I's papacy. He is the first Jesuit to be named Pope. He is the first Pope from the Americas. He is the first pope to take the name Francis. He represents the fastest growing portion of the Catholic Church: Latinos. He is the successor of St. Peter. The 266th successor.

May he drive our Church with the same grace, humility, humor, courage and respect that he has shown within these early hours of his time as Pope.

May he continue to allow Christ to drive him.

May God bless Pope Francis I.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Digging Irrigation Ditches

A very wise Dominican Sister from the Nashville order once told me, "Praying the Psalms is like digging irrigation ditches for when the rains come."

Admittedly, I have a bit of writer's block. This silly Lenten experiment may have run out of steam. Unconditioned for this type of creation maybe I just don't have anything else to say (which many people would have said about 100 posts ago). My pre-Lent 2013 approach was to allow myself the time, circumstance, and grace to be inspired before writing. Now, to a certain extent, I feel as if I'm just putting down my sleep deprived musings in electronic form, with little to no real muse, forethought or even afterthought (there's another blog post to write tomorrow!). It would have been a noble attempt regardless, but as I thought about taking the night off from blogging, exercising, doing school work, or even praying, Sr. Anna Laura Karp's words rose over the horizon: "Praying the Psalms is like digging irrigation ditches for when the rains come."

Just start to write. In fact, just write about digging irrigation ditches.

Now, I do not believe that anything written here is preparing me for when rains will come. Nor do I feel that these words will be so poignant as to help a loyal reader (thanks Zelenka family!) when their fields become saturated. But, I do see writing this blog as a potential way to find inspiration for myself to help me stay faithful to my Lenten promise. I see it as a way to allow God to speak to me and potentially to allow God to speak to you through me.

Dig the ditch; have faith that it will rain. Write;  inspiration will follow.

I have been so busy and tired lately that working out has become, along with blogging, a late night / early morning activity.  I always feel better after a workout. My pre-workout feelings, though, can often keep me from exercising. It is during these times of disinterest that digging ditches can help to maintain a level of fitness so that I can more readily enjoy the moments of plentiful passion. It can also, through those feel good endorphins, change my mood mid-workout. Take the first step. Do the first push-up. Jump the first rope.


The same is true of staying current with work. Chipping away, especially during rare lulls or after wrapping up big projects, is so much more successful than procrastinating and eating the entire elephant in one sitting. How often do we give a similar message to students: study just a little bit each night and then you won't have to put in a large amount of studying the night before a test. We wouldn't tell our students this if it wasn't sage advice. We know it's true.

So, dig.

Finally, most importantly, and obviously most apparently, is how this applies to our faith lives. Jesus goes into the desert. We follow Him there. He thirsts. So do we. Our faith is not always the bountiful banquet or abundant harvest. Sometimes its dry. Barren. Deserted. Desolate. It is precisely during these times that we should pray. It is exactly during these times that we need to be digging irrigation ditches to either withstand the deluge or take advantage of the nourishment.

So, dig an irrigation ditch.

You never know when it's going to rain.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Chicken or the Egg?

What came first, the chicken or the egg?

If God is all powerful, can He make a rock He cannot lift?

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a noise?

In a school, specifically a Catholic School, what is more important: high academics or high climate?

In other words, is it better that a school stress academic excellence or climate / school culture / Catholic identity?

I pose this question about academics and climate in the same context as these brain teasers purposefully. Picking one of these school qualities over the other either: creates a high performing school that caters to point counting, GPA's, class rankings, perfect attendance, and potential burnout, academic dishonesty and unhealthy competition between and among students and teachers; or creates a school that participates in many non-academic activities and focuses on things like class parties, celebrations, incentives, rewards, field trips, guest speakers, dress down days, bake sales, school dances, pep rallies and other such "party-school" type events.

Catholic schools that wager on either side over the other do not fulfill their purpose: education and evangelization. Archbishop J. Michael Miller, C.S.B. states:
The specific purpose of a Catholic education is the formation of boys and girls who will be good citizens of this world, enriching society with the leaven of the Gospel, but who will also be citizens of the world to come.
Catholic schools must be founded and focused on Christ. His humanity elevates all that we do in schools.

Catholic schools must be more than institutions; they must be communities. Archbishop Miller cites a passage from The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School writing:
Elementary schools "should try to create a community school climate that reproduces, as far as possible, the warm and intimate atmosphere of family life. Those responsible for these schools will, therefore, do everything they can to promote a common spirit of trust and spontaneity."
Catholic schools should be places where educators, religious, parents, families and students join together to accomplish the mission of educating the whole child.

Catholic schools should do more than sprinkle in religion classes. They need to make their Catholic education more than the study of theology. They must be Sacramental. They must be intentional. They must focus on the whole person - mind, body, and spirit. They must allow this values infusion to permeate all aspects of the curriculum and seep into every moment of every school day.

Finally, and most importantly, Catholic schools recognize that while advances in technology, pedagogy, instruction, planning or assessment are important facets of their overall education, the teacher is still the heart of the school. Teachers make the delicate balance between high academics and high climate possible. They are models of a balanced lifestyle and challenge their students yet offer enough support, encouragement and correction to meet those lofty standards. Teachers are the ones that make incarnate the spirit of Christ within the walls of their school. They make the faith come alive. They make academic subjects worthwhile. They give life to a school.

They are the answer to the riddle: what came first the Catholic educator or the Catholic school?

*Please visit: for more on the marks of a Catholic school. 

*And, please pray for Catholic school teachers!

Sunday, March 10, 2013


Losing an hour stinks. It throws off sleep schedules, especially those of kids. Especially those of kids between the ages of 2 and 4 months. Especially my kids. According to all of the articles surrounding "springing forward", it doesn't even have all of the benefits of saving energy or boosting the economy, two of the reasons supposedly purported as its genesis.

Bottom line, why do we hold on to this tradition? Let's reclaim the hour and let's not fall back or spring forward anymore. This is one tradition I do not see the point in keeping.

Despite what I'm sure is part of my reputation as a leader, I am not against tradition. As a leader, I am an agent of change and part of invoking change in an organization involves looking at "the way things have always been done" and questioning why. It involves a realistic look at those things that are keeping us from being what and who we need to be. Max DePree states, "We cannot become what we need to be, by remaining what we are." The only thing that does not change is that everything changes.

Even some "traditions" that we hold dear - like daylight savings time changes.

The Church would still be Celebrating the Eucharist with the priest's back to the congregation. It would also still be in Latin. Papal conclaves could extend for months and even years based on factions and splits in nominees for the next Pope. The USA would still be a part of Great Britain. It would still have slavery and segregation and inequality between men and women.

But notice that these changes in what was surely billed as "tradition" did not change the essence of these groups. Fundamentally, the Catholic Church did not change because the priest turned toward the people and celebrated mass in the language of that group. If anything, it took a step closer to becoming what it needs to be, instead of remaining what it was. Forcing the voting Cardinals to choose a successor to St. Peter does not take away from the divine inspiration behind this process. God does not need our human, limited time (in this way, I'm pretty sure He doesn't need us to have daylight savings) to move. America more closely aligns itself to the words of the Founding Fathers as it did away with the traditions of ignorance, bigotry and sexism.

Traditions are intended to be symbolic. They are intended to convey messages, especially those most important to a group of people. The Catholic Church has them. Catholic Schools do as well. Many add so much to the identity of the organization. Many reveal the tenants of the school's mission statement and speak to the core of who and what the organization holds sacred.

But, these enduring traditions will have much more behind them than the argument: "because that's the way we've always done it."

It's time to do away with daylight savings time, and even though I personally won't get it, it's time to get back our lost hour of sleep.

It's time...well, what time is it really, anyways? 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Fully Alive

"The glory of God is a human being fully alive, and to be alive consists of beholding God."

-St. Irenaeus

Music is powerful. For me it has the power to excite, reminisce, soothe, and even spiritually enrich. I have mentioned the role that music plays in my life before in these posts. Growing up I was exposed to various types of music, especially classical thanks to my sister Mary's violin and piano passions, and as such developed an appreciation for its beauty and ability to move. As an educator, I truly believe in music's ability not only to more fully develop students into well rounded human beings, but also to help with things like math, problem solving and creativity. As a Catholic educator, I am often reminded of St. Augustine's words, "When you sing you pray twice;" I recognize the role that music plays in our worship, adding to our full, conscious and active participation in the Celebration of the Eucharist. 

Music, along with art, physical education, Spanish, media skills and computer, is part of what many schools deem special or elective classes. Outside of the core curriculum of Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies and Religion, these classes help to supplement the overall education of students.  For some students, they act as the motivator to go to school and make the other classes more tolerable. To me, they help to develop the entire person - mind, body and soul. 

Fr. Michael Himes states, "Whatever humanizes, divinizes." In other words, those things that make us more fully human, make us more like our Creator. Made in His image and likeness, the more that we separate ourselves from our fellow mammals, the closer we can get to God. The more musical we become, the more like God we also become. The more we come to know about art, the more we come to know about God. The more we develop our human bodies and do those activities that only humans can do, the more we develop into the creatures our Creator created us to be. The more we do anything that makes us more fully human, more fully alive, the more we become like Jesus. 

Jesus was fully human and fully divine. He divinized our humanity. He made holy those things that make us human - like cooking, like singing, like talking, like writing, like reading, like throwing a football, like typing on a computer, like learning a new language, like painting, like sculpting.

Every day is sacred. Every moment an opportunity to touch divinity. 

Sing. Laugh. Play. Pray. Read. Speak. Love. 


Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Light Is On For Me

One of the things that my dad always did for me once I was old enough to start driving and had a curfew to which I had to abide by myself was stay up for me. Whether the curfew was 11:00 or 12:00 or even later, my dad would always leave the outside light on for me, an inside light or two as well and he would always be sitting on the couch, most likely sound asleep and snoring loudly enough to wake the entire house upon my return. Sometimes he would actually be awake. Sometimes he would startle as I walked in the door and feign wakefulness. Many times he would stay up with me until I went to bed. He and I shared snacks, conversations, and late night television. His watchdog-esque approach did not end as I entered college, moved to Florida, got married or even had children.

My dad always left a light on for me. He always stayed up (or at least out of bed) to greet me upon my return. He always let me know, more through actions than words, that he loved me.

My dad was always there for me.

Today the Diocese of St. Petersburg offered its annual "The Light Is On For You" night, where every church in the diocese leaves its doors open from 5:00 - 7:00 p.m. and offers the Sacrament of Reconciliation to anyone desiring to celebrate it. Incarnation Catholic Church had a wonderful turnout. At various points throughout the night, there were as many as 20 people waiting to receive this Sacrament. Imagine if this was the norm throughout the diocese and its over 50 churches - this even potentially thousands of people felt an even deeper love than that conveyed by my father to me over the course of my young adult life. Our Heavenly Father was waiting for us this evening, hoping that His sons and daughters would return safely to Him. It is a beautiful image. It is a beautiful Sacrament.

Satan was dealt a beautiful blow this evening.

Isn't it great to play for a Winner?

As Catholic educators, it is important that we embrace this concept of 'leaving the light on' for our students. In the same way that my dad would leave it on for me and in the same way that our diocese left it on for Catholics across our area to celebrate Reconciliation, we need to be present to students in such a way that they know of our love, concern and support for and of them. We need to let them know that we will always have our lights on for them and that we truly care about their struggles, fears, anxieties and problems. 

Students in younger grades who come to us in what seems like a tattling fashion are looking for us to listen to them and then do something on their behalf (even if it is just to talk with the accused). They want to know that their voice was heard. They want to see that our light was on for them to approach us with their issue. 

Older students want adults to do what they say they will do. As they come to a greater sense of self and start to identify their identities, they are juxtaposing what they know of the world with both what they think it should be like as well as who they think they should become. They want adults to leave their lights on by being consistent, by being loyal, by being true to their word and by being noble in their actions. 

The pain of my father's passing is still raw; it is a huge salve to know that my Father's light, just like my father's light always was, is always on for me. Every day. Any time. Always. 

The light is on for me, for you, and it should be for our students. 


Wednesday, March 6, 2013


I have a dumbphone. The opposite of a smartphone, I received the phone I currently own in 2009, on the day of my graduation from the University of Notre Dame's ACE Leadership Program. In that sense, it holds a bit of nostalgia. In another sense, I am cheap. In yet another sense, I appreciate the fact that I cannot get email unless I'm on a computer or device with internet connection. It helps to limit, as if I couldn't put my own restraints on it, how accessible I am to the outside world.

I am somewhat proud of my dumbphone. I've had it for almost 4 years, and so I have grown somewhat attached to it. It still works. It may take me 29 times as long to draft a text than the average person gifted with smartphone capabilities, but it can send and receive text messages. It can take pictures and videos, and so long as I don't exceed my limit and end up paying what seems like over $1.00 per text, I can actually send and receive those, too. My phone, however, has no apps. It's dumb and not only lacks the knowledge to be able to do so, it also lacks the internal plumbing necessary to support this type of pipe flow.

And, since I'm one of the last people to still have a dinosaur that makes phone calls, maybe they'll put a picture of me and my phone in the dictionary; "dumbphone" was recently added to the Oxford's version as a new word, along with "cruft" (badly designed, unnecessarily complicated, or unwanted code or software), "touchless" (relating to or denoting technology that is operated by means of gestures rather than by touching a control or interface), and "tweetable" (suitable for posting on the social media site Twitter).

The genesis of a new word is fascinating. New words are formed all the time. Think of the circle of your closest friends and how you most likely have a set of vocabulary that an outsider would find incomprehensible or at least somewhat strange. Words are combined with others. They are shortened and used as different parts of speech. Words are given new meanings based on an experience, event or episode. The creation of new words is in many cases spontaneous. The process for a word to gain dictionary-worthy recognition, though, is long and involved and depends almost entirely on usage.

Things like magazines, newspapers, internet sites, and even blogs are checked for new words, new meanings, new spellings and / or inflections. Words are compiled by citations (the number of times it is used) and then those words that are used most often, most consistently and over a long period of time are brought into entry form in a dictionary (for more on the way a word enters a dictionary, click here: new words). 

So, while I may not get included in the dictionary for the possession of a dumbphone, I could potentially originate or at least contribute to a new word getting entered into this resource. One of the great things about language, though, is that even if a word does not appear in the dictionary, so long as it has some sort of contextual reference or basis in known words, an audience can determine its meaning. 

The same is true of "new" words that we encounter that actually are included in a dictionary. We can often decipher meaning through context clues, etymologies, prefixes, suffixes, or even content or genre. Just as skilled writers can manipulate Standard English Grammar to work in their favor, masterful scribes can create new words that a reader can understand with little to no effort.  

The new Common Core State Standards will help students to become better language artists and the emphasis on text will challenge students to communicate more effectively through words. It is an exciting shift that will most likely inspire the formation of many new words, and it will undoubtedly encourage students to enhance and improve their abilities to communicate. 

It may lead to people actually talking on the phone (it's just so hard to adequately communicate via text message). It may lead to people actually composing and sending letters (remember how excited you were the last time you got a handwritten note from someone in the mail). It may even lead to people actually engaging in relationship with each other.    

My dumbphone wonders when they'll make an app for that.  

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


In the Gospel from today's Celebration of the Eucharist, Peter asks Jesus how many times he is to forgive, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 

Jesus answers, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times." (Matthew 18: 21 - 22). 

Of course, Jesus responds this way so as to make a point: don't worry about the number, just do what is right. He isn't being literal but rather so over-exaggerated that he is telling Peter to forgive without counting the cost. 

Do what is right. Period. All the time. Every day. Always. All ways. Unremittingly. Unabashedly. 

It is an exhausting call. There is no chance to rest. There are no days off. Being good doesn't take a vacation. Go and make a big difference in the world today, or even in just someone's life, and do it all over again tomorrow. In fact, do even more. Do it even better. Do it for longer. Find another way to do good and do it to the best of your abilities.  You can't store up good deeds: I've met my quota today! Or, I've already done five good things today; I can be mean four times! 

The world of education is very similar. The end of a unit is followed by the beginning of another one. The close of a quarter is met by the opening of another. Even though there is a summer in between school years, the grade levels reset every August. Start all over. Do it again and do it better. Grade a set of papers just to have four more come across your desk. Call a parent just to have another show up at your door. Deal with a disciplinary problem only to have it repeated tomorrow. Look for  a dynamic way to present material only to have to figure out a way to have an absent student get caught up. Matriculate one group of students only to receive another. 

It is an exhausting call. There is no chance to rest. There are no days off (because there is still school even when you're not there). Being an educator doesn't take a vacation - you'll most likely run into one of your student's families! You are always an educator. You are always educating. 

Seven times? Seventy-seven times? Seventy-seven times seventy-seven times.? Try all the time. Every day. Always. All ways. Unremittingly. Unabashedly. 

Educate. Do good. Love. Live.

It's time to begin and continue and never stop.