Tuesday, December 16, 2014

It's Not Too Late

Only 7 more shopping days left until Christmas! 

It's your last chance to qualify for free shipping / 50% off all double-priced items  / complimentary gift wrapping / an extra tote bag (for all of our stuff!) / $10 in-store credit so that you'll buy more stuff!

It's not too late! 

Truly, it isn't. 

It's not too late to push aside the message of our world that Santa's presents bring happiness and instead embrace the reality that God's presence ensures JOY!

It's not too late to reject the hectic pace - cards, cookies, decorations, parties, gifts, cleaning, wrapping - and instead reveal in the expectant JOY of Christ's coming into our world, into our hearts, and again at the end of all time. 

It's not too late to prepare for Christmas.


Truly, it isn't. 

I hope and pray that you have taken time to pray throughout Advent with more fervor and frequency. I hope and pray that in the midst of all of the snowmen and reindeer and jingle bells that you have found space in your homes for Advent wreaths and manger scenes. If you haven't, it's not too late - Consider attending a weekday Mass, or on the weekend if that isn't already a part of your Ordinary Time routine. Attend one of the many Reconciliation services planned throughout the diocese. Pray. Ask God for the strength, patience, guidance, wisdom to receive JOY that can only come from Him. 

It's not too late - pray.

I hope and pray that you have realized that more stuff doesn't lead to more happiness and that it is our extreme excess that deceives us into wanting more. In a world filled with choices, nothing satisfies. Consider embracing "Waste Not, Want Not" as a mantra during these last few days of Advent  - especially as it pertains to your consumption of food. Try it for a day. Try it for a meal. Vow to see even the most mundane of choices as the blessing that it truly is. Make a point to not waste food, or water, or time and watch how God blesses these efforts by making you feel more satisfied. 

It's not too late - waste not, want not. 

I hope and pray that you have sought out others to serve this holiday season. Perhaps it takes the form of direct service. Maybe it's more fully engaging your wife or husband or kids. Maybe it's cleaning out your closet. Maybe it's adopting a family who will go without this Christmas and making sure that they go with something. Out of your abundance, offer up just one gift to give to those in need. Offer up just one day of service to the less fortunate. Out of many, give one. Again, God will bless these efforts and you will have more space for Him, with less space being consumed by stuff.

It's not too late - serve.

I hope and pray that you can come to recognize that the best days of your lives had nothing to do with things and everything to do with people. Reflect on what the best days of your life have been. I hope that this simple reflection, which will most likely be incredibly easy, demonstrates to you the importance of relationships in your lives. I hope that during this season you may choose to give yourself to those whom you love, realizing that the memories of being together sustain much longer than the things purchased out of obligation. It's not too late, if you haven't already brainstormed ways to more fully connect with others, extend an invitation to a friend, co-worker or family member to GO do something together and be open to accepting that invitation to connect to someone else. God will bless this participation in the mystery of the Trinity - He is three persons in one! He is, by nature, relational!

It's not too late - engage. 

Finally, I hope and pray that you will, through these efforts, feel the true Spirit of Christmas. 

Be blessed. Be bold. Fight for JOY!

It's not too late...truly, it isn't. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Art of Celebration

The Art of Celebration
The night is always darkest before the dawn. When you think of epic adventure stories like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings or even fairy tales like Cinderella and Frozen, there is a sense that evil is not only gaining ground and getting the upper hand but also that its victory seems imminent. 

Image courtesy of Creative Commons.
It is precisely at this moment that light pierces the darkness - Luke withstands the temptation of Darth Vader, Aragorn takes on the role of leader, Cinderella is given a dress and ticket to the ball, and Anna is willing to give the ultimate gift.

Hope breaks through the despair. There is a sense that perhaps good can win. 

We realize that even the darkest dark is no match for the light.  

As our days get shorter and the nights grow longer, as we survive the hustle and bustle of this season and move toward Christmas, let us recognize that Christ entered the world - became Incarnate! - and that this event has present day significance and consequence. 

Good can win. There is reason for hope. 

Trust him with your sorrows. Cast aside your shadows. Fight for your joy.

This Advent, (re)discover the art of celebration! Maranatha - the Lord is coming! 

An Advent Prayer

This Christmas, may we have abundant Joy in Christ and may our Joy be complete.
He is the Song of our hearts.
He is the Joy of our lives.
He is the light of our souls.
Let us cast aside our shadows.
Let us trade in our sorrows.
Let us choose celebration.
Awaken our hearts to His Love – He is our Song!
Enliven our spirits to help others – He is our Joy!
Move in us and through us – He is our light!
This Christmas, may we have abundant Joy in Christ and may our Joy be complete.

-inspired by Rend Collective Experiment

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Truly Thankful

In a few short hours, Americans will gather around tables with family and friends and celebrate what had been one of the purest holidays we had left. While not religiously associated, Thanksgiving had had a stranglehold on authenticity that neither Easter or Christmas could rival. There were no presents exchanged. No silly character to steal the spotlight and take all of the glory. There was overeating (lots of overeating), but Americans gathered to give thanks - for family, for friends, for life, for health, for what we have and maybe even for faith.

We gave thanks. 

Many of these things, including the gluttonous overeating and the thanksgiving, will still occur. But, Thanksgiving has finally succumbed to defeat at the hands of the all powerful Consumerism. Stores will open on Thursday afternoon and evening, offering the best deals on all of the stuff without which we cannot live. The infant Christ was overthrown by Santa years ago. The Easter Bunny supplanted the risen Christ even more easily than the big guy in red. And now, Thanksgiving can join the ranks of another "holy-day" ruined by Consumerism. 

Consider the irony. We follow up the day on which we offer thanks and reaffirm just how blessed we are with a day where we fool ourselves into thinking that we might actually be more thankful next year by accumulating more things. 

Confession 1: I have participated in Black Friday shopping. I've bought items at incredible discounts for others and even for myself. 

Confession 2: I like things - music, shoes, clothing, movies - and can find it difficult not downloading something from iTunes or stockpiling another pair of workout or dress shoes or buying movies once released. 

But, I would give all of my things - all of it - away for more time with my wife or kids or mom or siblings. I would give up all of my possessions for just one more day with my dad. Regardless of the Black Friday deals that will be snatched this year, will any of them outweigh the blessing of other people? Would all of the stuff in the world mean anything to us if a loved one were to be snatched from us? Would any amount of belongings ease the pain of death? Do any of our things really bring us happiness? 

If we were truly thankful for the things - people - that really matter, we might be slower to buy into the lie of Consumerism that more things brings us more happiness (pssst...more things make us want more things). If we were truly thankful for people we might put more time into creating memories with them than buying things for them. If we were truly thankful for the blessings in our lives we might spend more time in actually thanking the One responsible for every good thing

I know that this post won't necessarily cause anyone to refrain from Black Friday madness. I know that it won't go viral and that most readers won't actually do much differently because of its words. It may spur reflection, but not much else. 

It definitely won't bring back Thanksgiving - may it rest in peace. 

And, actually, that's okay with me. I'm thankful for the gift of words and I'll glorify my God by writing. I'm thankful for the few readers - basically my family - who will hopefully see that they mean more to me than any thing in the entire world. I'm thankful for the gift of of my faith, without which I'd probably be out on Friday morning honoring the all powerful Consumerism with my offering of money. I'm thankful for my job, which allows me to the opportunity to humbly try to educate young people (and adults) in more than just academics. I'm thankful for my country and for the things that I do have - the computer that I'm writing this on, the running water that provided me hydration and sanitation all day long, the house that I'm sitting in, the heat that is keeping me warm (from sunny Ohio!) and all of the things that I own. I'm thankful for my wife, Emily. She is the most incredible woman in the world, taking on crusades like healthy eating and child rearing and family relations and she makes me want to be a better person and to do a better job at trying to change this world. I'm thankful for my daughters, Elizabeth and Catherine, who bring more joy into my life than they will ever know. I'm thankful for their health, for their laughter, for their ability to make me laugh, for their generous hearts, and for making me realize that the best part of any of my days is the time that I get to spend with them. I'm thankful for my mom and dad, Linda and Robert. I'm thankful for my brother and sister, Joe and Mary. I'm thankful for being a Zelenka and for my extended family. I'm thankful for the people in my life that I am privileged to consider friends (you definitely have the short end of that stick - sorry!). 

I'm thankful for love. I'm thankful for music. I'm thankful for food. I'm thankful for life. I'm thankful for sleep. I'm thankful for art, and shoes, and light, and freedom, and clothes, and garbage dumps, and mail carriers, and farmers, and glasses (corrective ones), and windows, and for the feeling swelling inside of me as I think about all of things for which I am thankful. 

I'm thankful. Truly thankful.

Thank You, God. Thank You.

Happy Thanksgiving. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

GO: Pray

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.”
Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name, your Kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.”


The Internet has changed the nature, scope and method of communicating information. Most specifically, the answer to just about any question rests at our fingertips. Want to know the answer to something?

Google it.

Want to know how to do something?

YouTube it.

Want to know something completely useless about your favorite celebrity?

Become a “Follower” on Twitter or “Like” them on Facebook.

A wealth of information and an entire team of experts wait patiently to be called into service by each and every one of us.

Despite the multitude of viral videos, though, and blog posts that rise from unknown to overnight Internet sensations, if we want to learn how to pray we should turn directly to Jesus. We should turn to God’s Word, the Bible.

God’s Word lives in the Bible. When the Gospel is proclaimed, we transcend time and participate in that moment alongside Jesus. He speaks to us through the Bible. It is, literally, His Word.

Want to know more about Jesus? He will speak to you through the Bible.

Want to come to know Jesus’s plan for your life? Meet Him in the Gospels.

Want to know how to pray? Jesus, the world’s foremost expert on prayer, tells us in today’s Gospel. He gives us the words, His Words, to use. That’s why we call it the Lord’s Prayer. We don’t need anything fancy. We don’t need anything cute or more poetic. We don’t need anything longer. We just need these words, His Words:

Father in heaven, your name is above all other names.

Your Kingdom reigns above all others; Your Will be done both on earth and in heaven.

Humbly we ask for food for our journey, physically and spiritually.

We are sorry for our sins and we forgive those who have sinned against us.

Please don’t let evil come to us, but when it does (because it will) give us Your Strength to overcome it.

GO: Pray.   

Monday, September 29, 2014

GO: Serve

Reading 2PHIL 2:1-11

Brothers and sisters:
If there is any encouragement in Christ,
any solace in love,
any participation in the Spirit,
any compassion and mercy,
complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love,
united in heart, thinking one thing.
Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory;
rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,
each looking out not for his own interests,
but also for those of others.

Have in you the same attitude
that is also in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

"Have in you the same attitude that is in Christ Jesus." Christ emptied Himself. He humbled Himself. He took the form of a slave. He became obedient even to death on a cross.

Have in you the same attitude that is in Christ Jesus. 

As ministers of His message, we have been deemed worthy of passing on the faith to the students entrusted to our care. We would do well to have the same attitude that is in Christ Jesus. We would do well to empty ourselves. We would do well to humble ourselves. We would do well to be servants. We would do well to be obedient to God's call. 

We would do well, considering our ministry, to be like Christ.

We would do well to put others, especially our students, their parents and our colleagues before ourselves. We would do well to humbly regard others as more important than ourselves. We would do well to look out not for our own interests but also for those of others. 

When we do this, when we give ourselves so completely, we participate in the Law of the Gift. In a sense, Jesus didn't fully "become" the Messiah, our Savior, until He completely gave of Himself in death on the cross. In this way, Jesus fully became who He was created to be upon giving Himself away completely, totally, wholly, lovingly, unconditionally. The Law of the Gift argues that we more fully become ourselves in direct proportion to how much we give of ourselves to others. 

As Catholic educators, we already give so much. So much time. So much effort. So much of our own resources and money. We feel drained. We feel emptied. We feel that we cannot possibly give anything else. 

In some cases and in many ways, I believe this is true. Undoubtedly there there are Catholic teachers who give of themselves as Jesus does: completely, totally, wholly, lovingly, unconditionally. They approach each day as an opportunity to serve and fully recognize the eternal importance of their vocation. 

Admittedly, I'm not one of them. Too often, I hope for the pat on the back. The acknowledgement of my sacrifice. The 'at a boy!' after a job well done. I roll out of bed most mornings unrested, late, and with too much to still accomplish before the start of the day. Frequently, my mind is bent on what have to do and how hope for little or no interruption so that can get it done. 

I still have a lot to learn about myself; I still have so much of myself that I need to give away - completely, totally, wholly, lovingly, unconditionally- to others and in service of the Lord. 

Have in me the same attitude that is in Christ Jesus? Not yet. 

Have in me the desire to find out just who I am and what I'm made of? You bet. 

My heart is yours, Jesus. Take it all - completely, totally, wholly, unconditionally, lovingly - so that I may come to know You and myself.

GO: Serve.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

GO: Embrace

GO: Embrace

Gospel MT 20:1-16A

Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.
After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage,
he sent them into his vineyard.
Going out about nine o’clock,
the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard,
and I will give you what is just.’
So they went off.
And he went out again around noon,
and around three o’clock, and did likewise.
Going out about five o’clock,
the landowner found others standing around, and said to them,
‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’
He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman,
‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay,
beginning with the last and ending with the first.’
When those who had started about five o’clock came,
each received the usual daily wage.
So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more,
but each of them also got the usual wage.
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,
‘These last ones worked only one hour,
and you have made them equal to us,
who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’
He said to one of them in reply,
‘My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”​

Last Sunday's Gospel passage is one that I worked with over the summer during our FaithICS series (this isn't the first time that this has happened this school year!). Providentially, it seems that it's contents contain a message God wanted me to hear and work with once again. 

As I continue to reflect on how to simplify my life, I continually fight the urge to compare aspects of who I am to others. It is tempting to see that the car I drive is 10 years old, that my grass is the tallest on my street and that other principals work less than I do. Similarly, it is easy to fall into the traps of jealousy and righteousness. I work so hard. I habitually bite my tongue instead of lashing back. I'm holier than _____________. 

It's easy to state, "that isn't fair" in response to a myriad of life situations. 

Like the laborers that work all day, it's easy to feel like we are entitled to something more in this life. Our rewards should be greater because of our decision to work in a Catholic school, remain committed to one spouse, put our kids first, volunteer for a committee, etc.! 

But, God's message to us is the same as those disgruntled workers: "My friend, I am not cheating you. Take what is yours and go." 

God loves us abundantly. He also loves everyone else with the same abundance. We would do well to embrace these two facts: God loves us and He loves others.

When we do that we can come to embrace our state in life, no matter what that may be. We can come to see that wherever we are is exactly where God can meet us. It may not be where He wants us to be but it is precisely where He can reach us. When we embrace God's love for us we embrace His will for us and follow it in the same way He loves us - unconditionally. 

Similarly, when we start to see that we are beloved in the same way that others are, not because of who we are or what we do but because of Him, we can start to embrace others more unconditionally as well. Everyone has a part to play. Everyone is called. Everyone is loved. Everyone is worthy. 

Take what is yours - you are worthy and what God has given you has much worth - and go.

GO: Embrace. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

GO: Transform

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. When we consider the atrocity of crucifixion, especially in light of the brutality happening in our world today, it is incredible that something intended to instill fear and reek of death was transformed into the symbol of our faith representing hope and life.
We adore You, Christ, and we bless You, because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world. 
Lift high the Cross!
What God has done with the Cross, He can do with any of the circumstances of our lives. No matter how bleak, horrible, hopeless, painful, unfair, unjust, evil - God can transform it to work for His good. He doesn't will these bad things to befall us; but He uses them, He transforms them, into something that can transform us. 
While I don't believe that it is God that brings us to these trials in our lives, I do wholeheartedly believe that He can give us strength and wisdom to endure them - whatever that endurance may entail.
Furthermore, Jesus asks us to take up our crosses and follow Him. He asks us to submit, as He did, to God's will for our lives. Truly, He leads us up the hill to Calvary and into complete servitude on the Cross. 
The Law of the Gift tells us that it is there - on that hill, on our cross, in total obedience - that we will find our true selves. 
God can transform one of the most cruel styles of execution into a beacon of hope, strength and life. Imagine what He can do for you, someone made in His image and likeness, if you will but follow Him.
Not just up a hill. Not just on a cross. But, all the way to new life in Him.
As educators, our entire enterprise involves transformation. We transform students from ignorance to intelligence. We transform them from misbehavior into virtue. We transform them, as Catholic educators, from disbelief into faith. 
We create lifelong habits of hard work, responsibility, kindness, and service that is inspired by belief in God and strengthened by academic wisdom.
As we transform our students, we push back the dark and transform the world.
In order to do either, though, we must first be transformed ourselves - by our God, because of our passion for what we do, and out of love for our students.

Don't underestimate the God you follow. 
GO: Transform. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

GO: Serve

Yesterday, I attended a meeting for our Diocesan Vocation Enrichment Team. Fr. Carl Melchior, the Director of Vocations, offered a reflection on 1 John Chapters 1 and 2 (here). Concerning ministry, Fr. Carl mentioned the importance of a relationship with Christ. Everything, Fr. Carl stated, about ourselves proclaims a message about who we are - our dress, our lifestyle, our mannerisms, our reactions, our body type, the food we eat, the music we listen to, our friends - everything. If our lives are void of a relationship with Christ, as ministers, the messages that we intend to send about Christ will get lost in our inauthenticity.

Without a relationship with Christ, our vocation as a teacher gets muddied from too much work, too little pay, stress, complaints, and confrontations. Without a relationship with Christ, our interactions with colleagues, students, and parents can easily be seen as annoyances as opposed to opportunities. Without a relationship with Christ, we fall prey to the attractive messages of the world - money, power, lust, immediacy, comfort, ease. 

We can't bring others to Christ if we aren't willing to follow Him, regardless of cost, ourselves.  

Our relationship with Christ must drive us to do what we do in ministry. In this way, we must have a relationship with Christ. We must talk with Him (prayer). We must get to know Him (read scripture). We must spend time listening to Him (prayer and celebration of the Sacraments). We must receive Communion in order to be in communion with not only Christ but also each other. 

Then, because of this relationship, we must be willing and desire to submit to Him.  

We must serve Him.

As Pope Francis writes in The Joy of the Gospel:
Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others.
Let us muster the trust to follow and serve Jesus, because of our relationship with Him, into the breach. When we are willing to go there with Him and because of Him, there is glory on the other side (see the video below for the genesis of this quote).

In fact, giving ourselves to Christ, completely, is the only way that we can come to be our true selves. Called the Law of the Gift​, we are our best selves when fully, consciously and actively engaged in loving service to another. 
Love Him. Follow Him. Find yourself. 

GO: Serve.

Monday, September 1, 2014

GO: Simplify

GO: Simplify
A recurring message that I feel God is sending me is to simplify. From my motivations as a principal to my efforts with my family, I feel that God has challenged me over the past few months to "get back to basics".

Yesterday's Gospel offered me another form of the same message - what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul? What are my motives for doing what I do? 

Gospel MT 16:21-27

Jesus began to show his disciples
that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly
from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised. 
Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him,
“God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” 
He turned and said to Peter,
“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. 
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me. 
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life? 
Or what can one give in exchange for his life? 
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory,
and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”
As teachers we are burdened with so many tasks, and many of those have little to do with the actual process of education. Furthermore, we so easily get caught up in maintaining control, winning an argument, saving face in front of a colleague / parent / student. We take ownership of our rooms, classes and students in a way that sometimes blind us to accepting advice, making changes, or admitting failure / a need for help. 
Remain true and committed to our internal motivations, our mission and our God. Allow ourselves and our efforts to be transformed by Him. 
Paul writes in his letter to the Romans (from the 2nd reading):

Reading 2 ROM 12:1-2

Do not conform yourselves to this age
but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that you may discern what is the will of God,
what is good and pleasing and perfect.
Offer ourselves as a sacrifice. See our work as prayer. Simplify our busyness so as to focus on what's most important - educating our students in the Catholic faith while also educating them in all of the other subjects. If we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, He will keep multiplying the effects of our efforts. 
Simply, make them better; make them smarter. Do these two things and it will be more than enough because it will be what He wants us to do. 
Do less, but do it so AMAZINGly well so that He can do more. 
GO: Simplify.