Sunday, August 24, 2014

GO: Teach

Today's Gospel happened to be part of one of the FaithICS passages that I worked with this past summer, and one that we used during our opening retreat on Monday August 11: 

Gospel MT 16:13-20

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and
he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. 
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. 
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. 
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 
Then he strictly ordered his disciples
to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Furthermore, the concept expressed at the end of this passage was another that providentially crossed my desk this summer - "tell no one that he was the Christ." 
Hearing these messages again, especially in such a short amount of time, leads me to believe that God wants me to hear them again. So, even though repetition can aid in memorization, I moved beyond my own reflections and went in search of another's thoughts. 
Enter Mark Hart, formerly known as the Bible Geek, and a short insight into this weekend's readings: 

Jesus didn't come to write a Bible, He came to build a Church. Additionally, He uses imperfect people, like Peter, and transforms them into the rocks upon which this Church has been and is continuing to be built. Like Peter, Jesus is calling us, the Faculty and Staff of Incarnation Catholic School, a group of imperfect people, to continue to build His Church here on earth. ​While empowering us to be rocks, He also galvanizes us to withstand even the gates of the netherworld.
As the honeymoon of the new school year slowly fades into the reality of the daily commitment of a relationship, let us continue to focus on Jesus and let us continue to lean on Him and turn to Him and be fed and led by Him. Let us rise up and proclaim in both word and deed as Peter did, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God." 
Evangelize. Catechize. Educate. 
Go: Teach. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014


FaithICS from August 20, 2014
Gospel MT 20:1-16
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,
he 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,
he 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.”

"Mies." My daughter Catherine, who either can't quite say the word "mine" or thinks that something is "mies" just like something is "yours" (add an "s" to the possessive pronoun...or in the case of my, change the y to an i and add es), frequently uses that word to proclaim her desire to take possession of something  It usually occurs as Elizabeth, her older sister, battles her for a toy. "Mies!" Catherine will respond, staking her claim for something she considers (or wants) to be hers. 
These interactions usually end with Elizabeth laughing, Catherine hitting and me yelling! At times I side with Elizabeth: the toy is actually hers and she shouldn't have to share everything with her younger sister. Typically, however, I'll side with Catherine: she is still so young and has so little and most of what she wants are things that Elizabeth no longer uses or desires (until, of course, Catherine starts to use it!). As the fight intensifies, my heart breaks for Catherine, my impatience with Elizabeth swells and I struggle to figure out any good solution. "People are more important than things" only makes so much headway with toddlers, especially toddlers consumed by an ownership dispute. I try not to play favorites; being the youngest sibling I relate with Catherine's plight. But, Elizabeth shouldn't have to share everything; her little sister gets into all of her stuff - how frustrating (sorry Mary and Joe)!
Jesus commands us to be humble and generous - loving others more than we love ourselves. Jesus challenges us to see all good things as gifts from Him, not as trinkets to which we are entitled or rewards for good behavior or privileged status. When we start to see all that we have as blessings and cherish every good thing as a gift, we can start to see that the thing itself isn't good, but rather it is God who is good who gives it. 
When we can see God as the source of all that is good in our lives, we stop worrying about who we think is His favorite and things like jealousy, greed and bitterness fade away.  We start to forget about whether or not something is "mine" and we take complete comfort and find total worth in knowing that we are "His". 
When we stop worrying about who God's favorite is - who's first - we start to understand that it's actually us. Each of us. All of us. 
Made worthy, elevated to the top of the winner's podium, given the highest salary, not for how long we work or how hard or how well (or even our birth order!), but because He loves us.
God doesn't give us what we deserve, He gives us what is just...and thank God for that. 

Loving Father, we are unworthy of all that you bestow upon us. Nothing we do can merits Your benevolence. May we see that every good thing comes from You and may we praise and glorify Your precious and most holy Name. Amen. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

GO: Faithfully

I continue to be AMAZED by the presence of God in my life. As if speaking directly to me, today's readings resound in my heart, as if God selected them specifically for me. Even the homily at Mass today seemed as if it was made for me...

It was. It always is.

Today's first reading, from Isaiah, talks about the universality of God's House. All are welcomed. All are accepted. Keep His commandments. Observe what is right, do what is just. His House is a House of prayer for all peoples. 

Our theme last school year, HOME, reinforced and galvanized the already strong message of community and family within our school. And like any good theme, even though we replaced it with something new and fresh, its message continues to ring true. Here, on the cusp of a new school year, we are reminded to continue to focus on making our school a HOME for our students - a place where "love can dwell and all can safely live. A place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive" (from All Are Welcome, by Marty Haugen).

Then, in the Gospel, Jesus rewards the faith of the Canaanite woman, healing her daughter from a chronic illness. Perhaps the most profound part of today's Gospel is how Jesus rewards faithfulness and how the woman in the story displays the type of faithfulness required to be rewarded. Jesus ignores her first request. She persists. She speaks to Jesus directly. He challenges her. She is not dismayed or discouraged, but remains faithful in her trust and belief that God can heal and restore all things, and she responds back to Jesus with a declaration of her faith. In turn, her daughter is restored to full health.

Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta reminds us, "God does not require that we be successful, only that we be faithful."

We have faced and overcome many challenges already this school year (and it has yet to begin with children!) and there are still others looming over us, distracting us, trying to get us to give in and give up. Let us not focus on the trappings of success but remain committed to a focus on God, reliance on each other and a faithfulness to living out our call as Catholic educators. 

Let us GO: excel, love, serve, learn, teach, pray, love, inspire, awaken, create, change, transform, empower, open, evolve, be, write, accept, breath, bloom, grow, reveal, challenge, courageously, relentlessly, proactively, loyally, with serenity, in gratitude, with strength, with purpose, now.

GO. Do what you believe and believe in what you do.  

Sunday, August 10, 2014

GO: Love

GO: Love

Even though the weather outside has been hot and humid, like any summer in Florida, the temperatures in the Zelenka household have been downright frigid. Gloves have been worn, along with hats, scarves and other items from the winter department.

Disney's movie Frozen set off an eternal – at least since the first viewing in June – winter in my house.  We listen to the songs, we reenact the scenes, we sing, we dress up as if in the tundra, and we watch the movie (albeit, in moderation on the last one, I think we’ve watched it 5 or 6 total times thus far).
Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.
And, I’m not ashamed to admit that I thoroughly enjoy the entire process, and that I can do a pretty decent Sven!

Despite how beautiful the animation, musical score and dialogue is, I have been most impressed by the themes. I’ve written before about how much I dislike the entire “Disney Princess” phenomenon, especially as the father of two young girls. As such, this is the first “princess” movie my girls have seen, and it’s not likely that we will convert anytime soon. But, of all of the movies that fit into the genre, I am glad that this was the one that resonated with my kids.

Love is an overarching theme throughout the movie and (SPOILER ALERT!) the anecdote to a “cold” heart. The best part is that, for once, it isn’t romantic love that is romanticized; rather, sacrificial love is promoted. Kristoff is willing to give up his love for Anna so that she can be saved, Olaf is willing to melt for Anna, and Anna is willing to die for her sister.

Olaf: “Some people are worth melting for.”

Olaf: “An act of true love will thaw a frozen heart.” 
Elsa: "Love will course."

Trolls (Fixer-Upper song): “We’re only saying that love’s a force that’s powerful and strange. People make bad choices if they’re mad, or scared, or stressed, but throw a little love their way and you’ll bring out their best.”

As we prepare to enter the 2014 – 15 school year, and undoubtedly await countless Annas and Elsas for Halloween, I pray that the messages of this movie can resonate with more than just my daughters. Imagine a school filled with teachers who choose sacrificial love in regard to all of their students. Consider the constructive conversations between parents and staff when love is exchanged across the table.  Reflect on a school of students who see the importance of putting the needs of others before their own.

Jesus commands us:

This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you (John 15: 12 –14).

A secular movie, to which my daughter Catherine refers as “Go” (because of the fact that she serves as a great back-up singer to Elizabeth and gets the last word of most lines of a song right), can offer a message that echoes this commandment and many others better most homilies, religious movies and blogs on Catholic education – especially this one.

Let us ensure that our school, because of the sacrificial love we show to each other, may just be worthy of the title “Catholic” this year and always.

GO: Love.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Like a Rock

August 7, 2014

Gospel MT 16:13-23

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi
and he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Then he strictly ordered his disciples
to tell no one that he was the Christ.

From that time on, 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.”

Poor Peter. As we see so often in the Gospels, Peter does something AMAZING only to flub it up by either saying or doing something stupid. It's probably why Peter is such a relatable figure in the Bible. We, too, are capable of extraordinary and shameful deeds at any moment. We walk on water one moment, only to stumble and get wet the next. We can stand in God's presence and yet completely miss His magnificence. We can state something profound with one breath and entirely ignorant the next. 

Well, at least I can do all of these things. Every day is a reminder of just how foolish, incompetent, weak and dumb headed I can be. 

So, what captivates me most about this passage isn't either Peter's moment of clarity about who Jesus is nor his foot-mouth moment later on. Instead, I am encouraged by who Jesus says Peter is - the rock - and then Jesus's reminder to Peter about just how much changing he needs to do to become that rock. 

Jesus sees right to the core of who we are and sees the immense good of which we are capable. Similarly, if our hearts have the ears to listen, He can also point us to ways in which we fall short of this call. 

The best part, Jesus will never give up on us. No matter how far or hard we fall, no matter how often or long we stumble, Jesus will always be there.

We know how Peter's story ends - not falling into water, not trying to build tents on a mountaintop, not on Good Friday - upon him our Church was built.

If we're anything like Peter, like I know I am, we should take heart that God's not finished with us yet either. 
Jesus, continue to create us into the people you fashioned us to be. Help us to realize that you're not finished with us yet. Amen. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Don't Tell Anyone

August 6, 2014
Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
Gospel MT 17:1-9
Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother, John,
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them;
his face shone like the sun
and his clothes became white as light.
And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them,
conversing with him.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
“Lord, it is good that we are here.
If you wish, I will make three tents here,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, behold,
a bright cloud cast a shadow over them,
then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased;
listen to him.”
When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate
and were very much afraid.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying,
“Rise, and do not be afraid.”
And when the disciples raised their eyes,
they saw no one else but Jesus alone.

As they were coming down from the mountain,
Jesus charged them,
“Do not tell the vision to anyone
until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
"Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."

I've always been intrigued by why Jesus would say this to His disciples. For years, I've figured (foolishly and incorrectly) it was some sort of reverse psychology - tell them not to say anything and they will instead spread it like wildfire! Similar to when I tell Elizabeth to stopping antagonizing her sister only to have her do it all the more, sometimes hearing not to do something inspires us to do that exact thing. 

But, Jesus isn't manipulative. He is completely authentic. He doesn't play psychological games with us, tricking us to get Him to do what He wants. His "yes" means "yes", His "no" means "no". 

So, why would Jesus say, "Do not tell the vision to anyone"? He utters similar phrases throughout the Gospels, particularly after performing some sort of miracle. 

After curing two blind men, Jesus commands them, “See that no one knows about this” (Mt. 9:30). 

Finally, Jesus allows the deaf man to hear and orders "them not to tell anyone" (Mk. 7:36). 

In each case, the more Jesus instructs people not to, the more they proclaim His wondrous deeds. 

So, once again, why tell people not to spread the Good News, until after "the Son of Man has been raised from the dead"? ​Simply, even though He was performing miracles, Jesus wasn't sent here to perform them. The miracles were a by-product, an outpouring and manifestation of His love. They weren't the purpose for His Incarnation, but they resulted because of His Incarnation. He came to teach. He came to love. He came to heal. He came to save. He did all of these things perfectly, authentically, organically. In doing so, His works were miraculous, wondrous, powerful, AMAZING. 

He wasn't a circus act. He wasn't a performer. Promoting Himself as such would have invalidated His purpose. Attracting crowds (which happened anyways) in a self-serving way would have gone directly against who He was and is. He came to die, not to rule and have His name proclaimed as the World's Greatest and Most Feared Magician. He came to serve, not to have zealous, star-struck followers tending to all of His needs and wants. He came to love, not to woo us with mysterious and mesmerizing acts or cause us to bow down trembling in fear.

​As His disciples let us love without price, let us serve no matter the cost, and let us teach with purity of heart and conviction in both our message and technique. And, when others see the good works that we do in His name, let our light not illuminate us but instead glorify our Father in heaven. 
Dear Lord, let us humbly walk in your path and follow You. May we remain committed to our mission as Catholic educators and may all that we do, in service of You, honor and glorify your heavenly and precious name. Amen.