Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Hide It Under a Bushel?

On Tuesday September 24, I was fortunate, blessed and honored to visit our state capital, Tallahassee, to receive one of 15 Shine Awards given to educators from across our state in recognition of their efforts in education. In honor of Incarnation Catholic School's work to partner with parents and families for the better of the children of ICS, Incarnation was selected to receive this prestigious award. I not only had the distinction to receive the award on behalf of ICS, I was also afforded the chance to address Governor Rick Scott and the members of his cabinet at Tuesday's meeting. The following is a copy of the address:

One of the main tenants of Catholic Social Teaching is to provide options for the poor and the vulnerable. Furthermore, the teachings of the Catholic Church promote that parents are the primary educators of children and that parents should be afforded the ability and opportunity to make the best educational choice possible for their children. Thanks to the grace of the state of Florida, and many of you here today, Incarnation Catholic School is able to serve over 70 Step Up for Students scholarship recipients who would otherwise be unable to afford the cost of education at our school. These students, and the 60,000 other scholarship students in Florida, wouldn’t have the opportunity to experience programs like the one at Incarnation and the other outstanding schools represented and recognized here today if it wasn’t for these scholarships.

As Americans we believe that all people are created equal and that everyone is guaranteed the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Offering children and families the chance to participate in the outstanding education offered at private schools throughout our state allows students the opportunity to pursue, with greater chances of success, these rights that make our nation so amazing.
Governor Scott, members of the cabinet and other distinguished leaders gathered here today, on behalf of my fellow educators and Shine Award recipients, I thank you for affording us the opportunity to give all children, regardless of race, regardless of religion, and regardless of economic status the education they so rightly deserve and the education our state and nation so desperately need its children to receive.
We, as educators, give our students roots to stand firm in the face of adversity and the courage to fight for peace and justice in our world. As educators, we give our students wings to reach new heights and to accomplish those things that right now remain nothing more than a distant dream.
As educators, we give our nation hope.
But today, we, as educators, give you, state officials, our thanks. Thank you for your work, thank you for your support for education and for Florida's Tax Credit Scholarship. May God bless you. May God bless the State of Florida. May God bless our children. And may God always bless America.

As educators, it is incumbent upon us to teach in such a way that the divine spark inside each of our students may receive the breath of God and be a source of light and warmth to the world. As educators, we must allow our light to shine so that our students are liberated to do so as well.

Let it shine. Let it shine. Let it SHINE!

Monday, September 16, 2013

“Let us begin building!”

Then I explained to them how God had shown his gracious favor to me, and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us begin building!” And they undertook the work with vigor.

-Nehemiah 2: 18

This past Thursday, I was fortunate enough to attend the dedication of the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle, the seat of the Bishop within the Diocese of St. Petersburg. On what I considered to be a closely related note, this past Thursday was also the first time that ICS Households met for their first ever Family Suppers / Irish Cup Activity sessions. The first reading from the dedication Mass came from Nehemiah; this was also the main book of  scripture used at our beginning of the year faculty retreat this past August.

Our school's efforts with Households (a division of students within Incarnation Catholic School that separates them into groups of all ages headed by one of the faculty members at the school) started as a complement to our school's theme, "HOME". Households are intended to help further establish, build and reveal community within our school. Households should afford students and teachers the opportunity to truly become a school family. 

Whereas most, if not all, Catholic schools would use the term "family" to describe the type of community harvested within their walls, few devote the intentional time ICS will give to fostering relationships this year. We will eat together. We will play together. We will pray together. We will afford Middle School students leadership opportunities within each Household. We will give each student a greater, deeper and another sense of belonging and identity within our school. We will give each student another adult to whom they will be connected. 

We will give students another "HOME"; we began building them on September 12, 2013. 

To say that it was coincidental that this was also the date that our diocese dedicated its Cathedral would greatly disregard the immense role played by Providence in each and every moment of our lives. I stumbled upon Nehemiah over the summer. I had been invited to the dedication months ago. ICS was supposed to start its Households a week prior, on September 5. 

Bishop Lynch's homily also struck a Providential chord. He unpacked the reading from Nehemiah and connected it not only to Paul's letter to the Corinthians but also the Gospel. He stated that Nehemiah is always read at dedications and that it is a wonderful story of Nehemiah and Ezra rebuilding the people prior to rebuilding the walls and temple of the city. Their focus on the law strengthened the people and gave them enough courage to rebuild the city with "vigor." Prior to rebuilding the structures, Ezra and Nehemiah rebuilt the people.

Paul furthers this paradigm shift in his letter to the Corinthians. He tells his readers that they are temples of the Holy Spirit and that the their foundation must be solid in the Lord. This metaphor emphasizes the grand importance of the Church being the Body of Christ and that the Body of Christ be made up of the people. 

Finally, Bishop Lynch talked about Zecchaeus and the story from Luke's Gospel in which Zecchaeus climbs up a tree to get a better view of Jesus only to be told to come down and take Jesus to his house. Because of Zecchaeus's faithfulness, Jesus tells him that, "Today salvation has come to this house." Zecchaeus brought the Lord not only into his home but more importantly into his heart. "Behold," Zecchaeus says, "half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor."

The most beautiful of buildings is nothing more than mortar and brick without people who have welcomed the Lord into the home of their hearts. 

The newly renovated Cathedral is breathtaking. The spectacle of the Dedication Mass was equally as captivating. Images of darkness and light, smells of both chrism oil and incense,  and music accompanied with trumpets and a full choir were only moving because of the faithful gathered within the walls of the Church, including 165 priests, 82 deacons, 32 seminarians and over 60 religious all from within our Diocese of St. Petersburg.

The Bishop's final words in his homily were, "We've only just begun." He intended it for the diocese and its pursuit of building the Kingdom of God within our five counties. He could have very easily, though, also intended to say the good work started earlier in the day at the School of the Incarnation. 

As for us and our HOUSEHOLDS, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15) and we've only just begun.



Wednesday, September 4, 2013