Thursday, December 24, 2015

Can You Hear It?

Jingle bells.

Silver bells.

Carol of the bells.

Sleigh bells.

Salvation Army workers ringing bells.

The Polar Express bell.

In the movie, It's a Wonderful Life, Zuzu Bailey, the daughter of the main character famously quips upon hearing a bell, "Teacher says, 'Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.'" This concept is one that George and Clarence discuss earlier in the movie. The bell signals a celestial promotion.

Maybe, despite the secularization of Christmas, the symbol of the bell during this holy season really does signal a celestial promotion. But, instead of an angel earning wings, perhaps the abundance of bells during this season are meant to serve as reminders of something special, something magical, something divine.

Bells typically serve as alarms. They remind us of the passing of time and help us to keep better tabs on its swiftness. School bells. Alarm clocks. Egg timers. They all function to awaken us to something important - the end of the class period or school day, the end of sleep, the completion of a meal.

As a young child, I vividly remember sitting at mass and getting excited upon hearing the bells during the consecration. As a tactic to both focus my young mind as well as elicit a sense of mystery, my dad would tell me that the bells during mass signaled something special, something magical, something divine. It was the sound of angels reminding us that Jesus was present, my dad would say, and as such it was a moment for me to both anticipate and appreciate. It left such an impression on me and my sense of wonder about my faith that I've employed this tactic with my daughters as well. 

My hope is that it will awaken them to the gift of faith.

My hope is that the bells of the season, as well as those rung during mass, may do the same for you, too. 

Maybe the jingling silver bell that is caroling on a sleigh is meant to ascend our minds, hearts and lives into the divine. Maybe these bells, like those rung at mass to help my daughters recognize the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, are supposed to awaken us to the mystery of the Incarnation - God taking on human flesh and dwelling among us - so that we don't miss the next class, the start of the day, an exquisite meal, or the Way, the Truth or the Life.

Ding dong merrily on high, the celebration's starting!

Christ is born! Alleluia!

This Christmas, may the bells that you hear heighten your thoughts to our Lord Jesus Christ. May the bells of the season awaken you to a new way of life, unfailing mercy and unbounded joy.

The Christmas bell is ringing. Can you hear it?

Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Throughout my youth, my mom would always lament society’s urge to celebrate Christmas with no regard for the season of Advent. She would voice frustration over Christmas songs on the radio in November, Christmas trees up before December 1 and down by the 26, endless advertisements, and boundless pressure for the perfect holiday.

The messages of the world bombard us:

Read this quickly so you can catch the Cyber Monday deals!

Only 24 shopping days until Christmas remain!

Extended hours and Black Friday prices!  

Shop! Buy! Spend!

In our efforts to live up to these demands, we are consumed by shopping, parties, wrapping, cleaning, baking, mailing, decorating, and more shopping. We find ourselves filled with more debt, stress, exhaustion and stuff than hope, peace, and joy.

We celebrate Christmas without first celebrating Advent. We heed society’s demands and dismiss the call of Jesus, “Come after me!”

In today’s Gospel, on the feast of St. Andrew, the first apostle, we read Matthew’s account of the first summons:

As Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen.
He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
At once they left their nets and followed him. 
He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. 
He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father
and followed him (Matthew 4:18-22).

Like the first apostles, may we have the courage this Advent to leave aside the nets of the world that have caught us in the belief that more stuff leads to more joy. May we boldly jump out of the boats headed toward frustration and emptiness and into the waters that lead to Christ.

This Advent let’s prepare our hearts for the Incarnation instead of our homes for the holidays. Let’s spend more time praying and less money on gifts, more time creating memories with loved ones and less energy on the stress of the season.

He is in the Mass, not at the mall. He is in the Word, not in the worry. He is present in the Eucharist on the altar, not in the presents under the tree.

This Advent let’s fight for the space to hear His call, “Come after me.”

Leave everything behind, jump into the water, and follow Jesus!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Magic of Why

Recently, I came across the following tweet:

If your why is strong enough you will figure out how! 
–Bill Walsh

I retweeted it and included, "How is powerful. Why is magical." 

I first heard this concept as an Athletic Director at Bishop McLaughlin. In interviewing candidates for our head football coach, one prospect stated that his philosophy was based upon giving student-athletes not just the "power of how but also the magic of why." Why do we block with our hips and not our hands? Why do we run sprints at the end of practice? Why do we taper off throughout the course of each week? Why do we study film? The more that he talked about this approach, the more that it resonated with me. There were countless athletic maneuvers that I could perform and even teach to student-athletes, but I clearly understood the difference between getting players to follow my footsteps and having them understand why those footsteps are the correct ones to follow. 

Unfortunately and appropriately, this candidate took an internship with the NFL instead of the head coaching position at a brand new Catholic high school. But fortunately, I was left with this message. 

10 years later, Bill Walsh's statement reimagines this interplay between how and why for me and extends and refines my understanding of the relationship between these two important educational forces. Bill Walsh seems to start with why and argues that the how flows from this genesis. Furthermore, he iterates that the strength of the why has a direct correlation to the effectiveness of the how. Conviction matters. Faith is paramount. Hope is essential.

So, here's my why: to serve God and others. I'm trying to reorient my how and ensure that it flows from my starting point. For me it means a return to participating in the Celebration of the Eucharist on Friday mornings. It means putting my role as husband and father on higher footing than my ministry as a principal. It means staying up late on Saturday night so that I can uphold the Sabbath. It means stretching my pockets financially and inching closer to true tithing. 

I know that it won't mean working less but instead working more purposefully.

As a ad-minister of Catholic education, I see how easily I can fall into the trap of idolizing my ministry. Discovering the root belief behind my profession, though, definitely helps me to put what I do into proper perspective. I am not a slave to my role as principal. Instead, I am a slave to Jesus Christ and I serve others - my school, my teachers, my students, and most importantly my wife and kids - because I serve Him.

There is power in this conviction. There is magic in what the Spirit can do through us when we do it in service of the Gospel. 

May you discover why you do what you do and may you experience the power of a how that grows from this root belief. 

Unleash His power. 

Unlock His magic. 

Monday, October 12, 2015


I had the amazing opportunity the week before last to travel to Rome for the diaconate ordination of a former student of mine, Alex Padilla. My time at the Vatican offered me ample opportunity to pray, reflect and explore. Being in the home of our Church, seeing the head of our Church, and being in the Church for the Celebration of the Eucharist and an Ordination fed me in many ways. I went to Mass three times in four days. I received the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the Cathedral of St. John Lateran. 
At the same time, I ate too much and I slept too little. I worked too often and I missed my girls. 
Furthermore, I desired more time in Vatican City and Rome but longed to be back home almost immediately after the conclusion of the events of Thursday. I felt incredibly blessed to go while simultaneously feeling guilty about leaving work and my family. 

During our beginning of the year retreat, we focused on the concept of margin – the difference between our load and our limit. While I have definitely longed for more margin in my life and recognized the importance of fighting for it, I have also come to realize that the ideal space between these two concepts – or any two – must be met with a healthy tension. 

Like a rubber band, if it is too loose, it doesn’t hold. Too tight and it breaks. 

But, with an appropriate amount of tension it has purpose and strength. It holds together while still being able to adapt and adjust.

I once confided in a mentor my struggles with feeling like I'm always being pulled between home and work, between my family and my ministry. He advised that perhaps this tension was a good sign that I was keeping these two sides of my life in proper perspective and that maybe it indicated to me the importance of both. Lose that tension, he said, and it may mean either your marriage is in trouble or you need to find something else to do with your career. 

Too much margin and we may lose our way; too little and we snap. But, with an appropriate amount of tension between our load and our limit we can find strength and purpose. It is the space that allows us to engage in healthy risks that push us just beyond our capabilities. It is the balance between entitlement and despair that drive us to accomplish and help. It is the interplay between heaven and earth. It is the fight between who we are and who we are created to be. 

The homily from the Ordination, given by his Eminence Timothy Cardinal Donal, focused on the mystery of the contradictions of our lives of faith – the balance, tension, and margin between submission and freedom, fullness and being emptied, life and death, humility and salvation. St. Therese was a cloistered nun and yet she is now known throughout the world. St. Peter was a cowardly fisherman who was given the keys to the Kingdom of God. 

We, too, can find Christ in this balance, in these interplays and paradoxes. He turns water into wine. He turns sinners into saints. He brings life from even death. 

It is in these contradictions that He can transform us, too. There is grace in living in the balance, the tension, the margin.

Let Him turn your "life upside down, with your head on the ground and your feet aimed heavenward" (Cardinal Donal). Give and you will receive. Knock and the door will open. Fight for balance. Embrace tension. Seek margin. 

Leave everything behind and give Him every part of you. 

It is the safest risky move and the riskiest safe move you’ll ever make. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Right Battles

In light of all of the news about Syrian refugees over the past few weeks, I have been humbled by the fact that I consider my daily crosses to be difficult. My family is healthy. We have enough food to eat, a nice house, two cars, and many other blessings. While I may worry about a reckless driver or unstable person every now and again, I do not live in fear that I may lose my life.  

This video: speaks about the need for teachers to be strategic in the battles that they fight. Not everything is worthy of a battle. Maybe getting a student to follow directions is a great first step; worry about them putting in their best effort later. Maybe getting a parent in for a meeting is more important than getting them to stop sending candy for snack. 

We also need to recognize the truth behind the battles that we should be fighting. Perhaps one of the greatest tactics used by our enemy is for us to get so wrapped up in the things that don't really matter that we lose sight of the bigger picture. The enemy traps us into thinking and feeling that the battle is with a colleague, student, parent, administrator, wife, child instead of with him. The enemy preys upon us so that we argue and hold grudges and fill with resentment so that kids who are hurting inside don't get the love they need, so that cycles of poverty can continue, so that ignorance's roots grow deeper and so that the ranks of those in God's Kingdom do not increase. 

Like the deaf man from the Gospel a few weeks ago, we often cannot hear the cries that matter. Furthermore, we often remain mute to telling others the story of hope in Jesus Christ. May Jesus open our ears so that we can hear the voices in need of our help. May He open our lips so that we can speak the words of His Hope. May the Spirit move within ourselves and our school in such a stirring way that we cannot help but tell others about this Good News! 

We are Hope Spreaders.

We are Love Givers.

We are Truth Tellers.

We are World Changers.

We are Catholic educators.

We are Teachers.

We are Incarnational. 

We are ICS.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

And Continue to Walk Humbly With Your God!

As the father of two young daughters, we listen to a lot of Disney songs at the Zelenka house. We also sing along to many of these songs as well. One of my favorite is "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast. One of the lines in particular resonates with me deeply:

    Life is so unnerving
    For a servant who's not serving
    He's not whole without a soul to wait upon
    Ah, those good old days when we were useful...

I believe that we must approach all that we are doing within Catholic education from the standpoint of service. In this way, we no longer become disgruntled about things like returning phone calls, posting homework, staffing lunch duty, attending the school fundraiser, or completing commitment hours. We recognize that we have a desire to serve the school as ministers of the Catholic education provided here. There is no ulterior motive. There is no desire for reward or status or social clout. We serve ICS and our students because that is what we feel called to do. We serve ICS and our students because we believe in the mission of the school and we want to be faithful to that purpose. We serve because we are thankful. We serve filled with joy. We serve because like Lumiere it makes us more like who we are supposed to be. 

With this spirit of service in mind, we must inspire others with our energy. Passion is contagious and it doesn't matter if that passion is positive or negative - it inspires similar feelings in others. The wolf who wins, is the one we feed - positively or negatively. Show your enthusiasm for what you do! I want us to inspire a group that truly enjoys being in community with one another and is more than willing to do the work required to make the educational and ministerial opportunities at our school possible. We can do this by serving others joyfully and passionately. Be authentic. Be specific. Similar to the disciples who can't help but tell about Jesus (when told to tell His disciples to be quiet, Jesus says,“I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!” -Luke 19:40), share your joy about ICS in the same way people post pictures of a good cup of coffee or a decadent dessert or tell others about an outstanding new restaurant or movie. Go and proclaim the story of ICS!

Furthermore, we must push past settling for a conventional approach to education. We must strive for innovation and creativity in designing an educational model that sustains both rigor and fun. We must be open to the Holy Spirit who will lead us and guide us into making our school into something even more incredible than that we can currently imagine ("Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us,to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen." -Ephesians 3:20-21). Pray for His direction. Pray for His patience. Pray for His wisdom. Trust that He will make the work we are currently undertaking into something special...because He will.

Finally, we must orient ourselves toward two areas of focus: our faith and our children. 

This past school year, I set out to lay down my life in complete submission to what God wanted me to do with ICS. I reoriented my areas of focus to faith and academics. I put trust in God that He had called me to be faithful to the mission of the school, not necessarily successful from societal standards. 

This year, He has refined this spirit of service even further. I must serve Him and remain faithful to Him. The way in which I see him asking me to do this is through my ministry at ICS. I'm not serving ICS. I am serving Him at ICS. 

I would ask the same out of all components of our adult school community. Put God first and remove all that would keep you from following Him. Jesus tells us to do just this. What keeps you from Jesus? Even things that seem good? Cut them out of your life and follow Him!

Pray. Go to Mass. Recommit to your faith. Read scripture. Explore the catechism. Join a Bible study. Make Christ a priority in your life and in the life of your family. Just start by making the sign of the Cross. Be claimed as His.

From there, continue to focus on our children at ICS. They are the reason for our ministry of Catholic education.  Be inspired by the awesome young people we have at ICS. Recognize that there is no nobler cause or purpose to perform the service God is calling you to at our great school - our children. Look for those areas of our lives that keep us from being the Catholic educators - teachers or parents - that both He and our children need us to be. 

Jesus submitted completely to His Father's Will in service to you and me and everyone. Follow His lead - serve Him, your family, each other and our school. 

Be faithful. 

Be joyful. 

Be Incarnational. 

Hope Will Rise.   

Friday, June 19, 2015

And to Walk Humbly With Your God

"This is what Yahweh asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God."
-Micah 6:8

I recently came across the story of Ivan Fernandez Anaya, a middle-distance runner from Spain, and his act of sportsmanship. It occurred during an international event in late 2012. The short form of the act is this:

Ivan was in 2nd place heading into the end of the race. The 1st place runner, only a short distance away from the finish line but unaware of its actual location, slowed down thinking that he had already crossed it. Ivan, aware of the whereabouts of the finish line, signaled to the 1st place runner that the race's endpoint was still ahead. The 1st place runner sped back up and won the race. Ivan could have easily blown past the runner, capturing the victory in the final moments as a result of this logistical error. When asked about why he did this, Ivan responded,

He was the rightful winner, He created a gap that I couldn't have closed if he hadn't made a mistake. As soon as I saw he was stopping, I knew I wasn't going to pass him.

Anaya continued, "But even if they had told me that winning would have earned me a place in the Spanish team for the European championships, I wouldn’t have done it either. I also think that I have earned more of a name having done what I did than if I had won. And that is very important, because today, with the way things are in all circles, in soccer, in society, in politics, where it seems anything goes, a gesture of honesty goes down well."

It is unfortunate that more hasn't been said of the gesture. Maybe there is still hope that this act of humility can reach a broader audience. And, even though Ivan claims that he feels he has earned more of a name for himself having done this, I am sure that his desire for fame was not the motivating factor behind this act.

Run humbly with your God.

At our ICS graduation ceremony for the Class of 2015, another astounding act of humility occurred. Ian Stahley, in his Salutatorian speech to the rest of his class, acknowledged, congratulated and praised the Valedictorian, Max Hernandez. I was astounded. Ian is an incredible young man, and I was not surprised that he would be capable of such a strong act, but this was his moment to shine, his speech, his award. And, instead of basking in the glory, he paid authentic tribute to another. 

Speak humbly with your God. 

I had the great honor in early May to attend the wedding of Patrick Graff (former ICS ACE teacher) to Laura Miller at the University of Notre Dame. As most weddings are, this was a day filled with joy, happiness and blessings. The ceremony was beautiful, the reception lively. Even the weather, forecasted as a day of rain, cooperated with only a few sprinkles. It was a day filled with grace.
But, perhaps the most AMAZING moment of grace (outside of the transformative Sacrament of Marriage, of course!) took place at the reception. 

Unbeknownst to his bride and all but a few of his close friends who had helped orchestrate the necessary materials, Patrick ambushed the garter moment by taking the microphone and telling Laura and the entire group assembled that he had a gift he wanted to give her. He cited her family’s Holy Thursday tradition of washing each others’ feet  as he proceeded to procure a pitcher of water and basin and invited Laura to the middle of the dance floor to sit and allow him to wash her feet. She humbly agreed and what ensued was one of the most beautiful moments between any two people I have ever witnessed or even heard of. The room fell silent. People cried. Those who didn’t sat awestruck. Grace was abundantly present.

Laura followed Patrick’s lead and washed his feet. It was an AMAZING sign of their service and submission to God and to each other.

Serve humbly with our God. 

Imagine how different our world could be if these events replaced the common ones – where service supplants being served, where doing the right thing is commonplace and where love reigns supreme.

Imagine a world filled with people courageous enough to kneel down – humbly, lovingly, powerfully – and serve. 

Love one another, Jesus tells us, as I have loved you. Love one another, I tell you, as Patrick and Laura love, as Ian loves, as Ivan loves.

The Incarnation came through humble beginnings. The Incarnation lived humbly. The Incarnation ended in humility - in service, with love. 

May we, too, act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly - in service and with great love.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Divine Pick-Me-Up

Throughout the course of the Easter season, my prayer life took me on a journey into a deeper and more intimate understanding of the Holy Spirit. Admittedly, prior to this past Easter, I had only a nascent knowledge of the complexities of the Holy Spirit. While I cannot say that I've aspired to mastery, much of my prayer time throughout Easter afforded me time to study and contemplate the mystery of the Holy Spirit. 

Two weeks ago we celebrated the birthday of the Church - Pentecost Sunday - when Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to the disciples. It was at this moment that the disciples were infused with the gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. Perhaps one of the best resources I found unpacked these 7 gifts and allowed my feeble mind to more clearly differentiate between and among them:

Furthermore, I came to the awareness that living in with and in the Spirit allows for us to live almost as Christ would - responding as if by instinct to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. 

In many ways, recognizing the power of the Holy Spirit and living in accordance with it grants superhuman abilities. Wisdom gives us the desire to pursue the heart of the Lord. Understanding allows us to inch closer to mentally grasping that heart. Counsel gives us the ability to act in accordance with the heart of God. Fortitude gives us the strength to persevere in searching out His heart. Knowledge makes it possible for us to see our lives in the context of God's plan. Piety inspires us to worship Him (and be strengthened and enlivened by Him). Fear of the Lord confirms the virtue of hope - we live with conviction in a way that trusts in the promise of salvation and does whatever it takes to live in accordance with that covenant. 

Living with and in the Spirit, we come to realize that the only way to complete His mission, our mission in Him, is to spend time with Him in prayer. We have done this in beautiful ways this year. It has infused me with more energy than I thought possible, more hope than I thought realistic, and more joy than I thought feasible. 

In a passage from the importance of prayer is clearly articulated:

Our time for prayer is a sacred time that activates our spirit and our spiritual energy. It brings to life the apostolic character in every Christian. Do not turn to God only when you ask for something or you fear the unknown; do not turn to God just because you have time available and you don’t know what to do with it.
Prayer is essential for all human life, for the simple reason that God created human life and as Blessed Fr. Sopocko wrote, “out of His generosity, God wants to give us many gifts, but makes dependent His graces on our free will and on our prayer which is a key to His Mercy.
These graces are like a fountain, but to benefit from it, you need to bring a vessel to the fountain: this vessel is humble and confident prayer. Throw yourself on your knees before God and expose your heart to Him.”
We have to realize that without Him we cannot survive even for one minute. Without this “permanent link” to God, we cannot live life to its potential. The more active we are, the more we need to make time for prayer, otherwise it is very easy to burn-out both mentally and spiritually. When Cardinal Martini said to some young priests, that they needed at least half an hour a day for personal prayer, one of them replied, “Your Eminence, we get up early every morning, we celebrate Holy Mass, then we run to the school, then back again, we barely have time to eat breakfast and then we have to be back in the parish office, and you are asking us to spend half an hour adoration?” At this, the Cardinal thought for a moment then said, “Indeed, it seems this priest needs more than half an hour for prayer, maybe even one hour.”
This is a valid spiritual advice for all of us, the busier we are, the more we need time for prayer. But time for prayer won’t come by itself; you have to “take it back”. On a spiritual level, prayer is our “to be or not to be.” To find time for prayer, you need to know what are the most important thing in your life. Here you need a clear awareness of your priorities.

May we continue to activate this spiritual energy and may we continue to recognize the imperativeness of finding time for prayer - the spiritual cup from which we come to receive our daily Divine pick-me up. 

I guess it's the reason we call it "daily bread".

Give it to us this day and always.


Saturday, May 30, 2015


Congratulations to the Incarnation Catholic School Class of 2015. May God bless them everywhere they GO.

The following is the transcript of the address at their commencement ceremony from Saturday May 30, 2015:

The final line of the Mass, "Go in peace" has its basis, like many of the Mass parts, in Scripture.

The Deacon / Priest has three scripturally based options:

A Go in the peace of Christ. [Your faith has saved you; go in peace. (Luke 7:50)]
B The Mass is ended, go in peace. [Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. (John 14:27)]
C Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. [Serve now the LORD, your God, and his people Israel. (2 Chronicles 35:3)]

All contain the word "GO". At the end of Mass, we are sent out into the world - in peace to love and serve the Lord.

In the Latin rite, the words "Ite, missa est" are used. Literally, these words translate as "Go, she [the Church] has been sent". We derive the term Mass from this concluding rite - from missa comes missio, the root of the English word mission - an important assignment carried out for specific purposes.

So, we may paraphrase this concluding prayer as, "Go, you have been sent on a mission."

Or, more fitting for today, ICS Class of 2015:
"Go. Do what you believe and believe in what you do."
ICS Class of 2015, I want to speak to your hearts today. My message isn't for your parents. It's not for your teachers. It's not for me or Fr. Michael or Twitter feeds or Facebook posts or Snapchat messages.  It's for your hearts.

Because, you see, your hearts know something that no one else in this room knows - the mission that God has in store for you. I don't know it, your parents don't know it, Mrs. Gonzalez doesn't know it, Mrs. Stahl doesn't know it, your friends - despite knowing so much about you - don't know it.

It's in your hearts, placed there by our Creator, and it's longing to explode out into the world to make it a better place, to bring peace, to serve the Him.

If possible, I'd like for you to close your eyes. If possible, I'd like for you to listen with the ears of your heart. If possible, I'd like for you to allow yourself to forget that it is me that is delivering this message. Hear my heart, ICS Class of 2015. It is purer than I am. Truer. Stronger. It is more authentic, more organic, more genuine, more of the me that God created me to be than I am. Listen to my heart.

The first spoken words by Jesus in the Gospel of John are, "What are you looking for?" I believe, graduates, that it is the question He asks you today, "What are you looking for?" The interesting part of this question coming from Jesus is that He is both the question and the answer. If I were to ask it, it would have different meaning for you, as if you had lost something or as if you were in trouble - because if I'm talking to you you must be in trouble, right? But, when Jesus asks it, and when we allow His question to penetrate into our hearts, the answer becomes profoundly simple.

What are we looking for? We are looking for You, Jesus! We are looking for purpose. We are searching for passion. We are longing for clarity. We are craving conviction, to know that we can and will make a difference. When we allow His question into our hearts and we answer from the depths of who we are, we recognize that we seek that which can finally quench our thirst, satisfy our hunger, retire our restless hearts.

What are we looking for? Jesus, we are looking for You!

Fittingly, the disciples respond to Jesus's probing question by asking, "Teacher, where are you staying?" This was the collected way of answering, "We are searching for the Messiah! If you are Him, as John the Baptist says you are, we will leave all behind and follow you unconditionally, unabashedly, courageously."

Jesus, it is you who we seek. Where can we find you?

Jesus's response, "Come, and you will see."

Our hearts know where to find Jesus.

Here. Right here. At this altar. At His Table. In those pews. In His Holy Word. In the Eucharist. In the Sacraments.

You'll find Him in your hearts.

In the Eucharist, we become what we receive. We receive His grace - His life in us - through Holy Communion. We come into union with Him. We are given our "daily bread", our source of strength. We aspire and ascend to this summit, this mountaintop, upon which we come into intimate contact with the Risen Jesus. The Eucharist is how we become who we were born to be.

Jesus has a specific purpose for your lives, Class of 2015. Seek it. Find it. Live it. It's in your hearts. Listen to it. Pray for the courage to follow it. Receive the Eucharist; receive your mission. Then, explode out into the world and do what you believe and believe in what you do.

Go create. Paint. Write. Dance. Build. Innovate. Discover. Design. Make something wild and pure and beautiful and powerful because you are wild and pure and beautiful and powerful because you were made by a God who is wild and pure and beautiful and powerful.

Go learn. Never stop learning because life never stops teaching. Learn for your life and about life and to have more life.

Go awaken. Rouse our sleepwalking world with words of truth, with acts of peace, with deeds of justice. Bring to the light those evils silently suffocating our world and drive them out of our temples, our homes and our hearts.

Go inspire. Let your words speak life. Let your lives spread hope. Let your thoughts lift up and encourage and enliven and light-hearten and excite and elevate and consecrate. Let your light shine.

Go teach. Give to others what you have received. Help. Pass on knowledge, wisdom, perspective, experience, advice, assistance. Feed others for a lifetime, not just a day. Preach; use words if necessary.

Go excel. You were not made for mediocrity. You have a spirit of power and love and self-control. You were made in His image - fearfully, powerfully. You are a child of God, the One, True King, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, the Almighty. You have royal blood.

Go change. Don't settle for the way we do things around here, the status quo, the tradition, the stereotype, the pigeonhole. You're royalty! Be the change you wish to see in the world. Don't sit back and complain about your situation. Go and change your situation.

Go serve. Wash some feet. Lower yourself. Humble yourself. The Son of God took on our human flesh and became a slave and died for crimes He didn't commit. You can push a broom, clean a toilet, heal the sick, feed the hungry, free the oppressed, liberate the captives, put Jesus first, others second and yourselves last.

Go love. They will see our resemblance to Jesus not by our status or our fame or our power or our money or our religion or our righteousness but by our love. Love when you don't have to. Love when it's hard to do. Love those who don't love you. Love. Forgive. Love. Spread peace. Love. Unite. Love because you are loved. Love because you are beloved by God who is Love. Love.

Go pray. Often. Always. In all ways. For all of your days. For your daily bread. So that you can be leaven in His stead. To receive His grace. To make the world a better place. For the entire human race. To end up back in His embrace.

ICS Class of 2015, you have a mission to go do what you believe and to believe in what you do.

Go from ICS and out into the world in peace to love and serve the Lord.

You have been sent.

Congratulations, ICS Class of 2015!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


Last week at Mass, my family and I had the blessing of witnessing a baptism. The priest invited all children from the congregation to join him and the family around the baptismal font. Surprisingly, both Elizabeth and Catherine went for an up-close view. Luckily, this experience prompted a great catechetical opportunity throughout the course of the day - what is baptism, why did the priest pour water over the baby's head, can I look at my baptism pictures, can I wear my baptism gown, why can't we have our baby dolls wear our baptismal gowns all the time? Furthermore, it seemed to be an evangelical experience as well - both girls acted out baptisms of their own that day. 

You know you must be the principal of a Catholic school when your daughters incorporate elements of our faith into their creative play. What an immense blessing this was for me and Emily - we can see the roots of the gift of faith we are working so hard to give to our children. 

More importantly, we can see that God has truly claimed them as His own.

They, through their baptisms and lives of faith, have been branded as God's. They bear His mark. It is my hope and prayer that Emily and I and our Church community may be able to make this brand even more indelible as they age. 

The week after Easter I had the privilege of representing Incarnation Catholic School and the Diocese of St. Petersburg at the National Catholic Education Association Conference in Orlando. Two of the sessions I attended dealt with branding, something I believe our school desperately needs. I learned the difference between a brand and a logo / trademark. A logo or trademark is often just a symbol of the company or organization or, quite simply, its name. A brand, though, is the visual, emotional, rational and cultural image that you associate with a company or a product. While a logo or trademark supplies easy recognition of a company or "brand", a brand pulls on the heart strings of its consumers, instilling loyalty and even allegiance with the overall experience of the product. 

As Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, attests, "The most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart - if people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to a brand." 

As Catholic Schools, our brand is that we promise eternal significance. We work on the souls. We form students spiritually. We build future citizens of heaven. We educate and catechize and evangelize and socialize and emotionalize and exercise. 

You can't get this at your local public or charter or private school - only Catholic Schools are offering the Eucharist as the source and summit of its educational program.

Our brand, in order to be successful, must show that God has branded us, indelibly, as His. Consistency with our fonts and methods of communication and use of colors and logos is important. Paramount, however, is that we bear the mark of God in all that we do.

Be blessed. Be bold. Fight for JOY!

Be Incarnational.

Be His.  

Monday, April 13, 2015

Strengthen Your Hearts

I don't watch a whole lot of TV, especially not over the course of the past 5 years and definitely not over the course of this past one. But, one of my favorite shows was Friday Night Lights​. Not just a football highlight reel, this television drama touched on many themes and issues. 

One of the key mottos, repeated by one of the main characters, Coach Eric Taylor, and the teams that he coached was, "Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't lose."

As I watched the show during its run on air, this mantra resonated deeply with me. It was a rallying cry that united his teams. It was a message for them to (re)focus. It was an attitude that he instilled into his student-athletes. 

We focused on our hearts over the course of Lent, and as such this motto resurfaced from the depths of my heart. The importance of strengthening our hearts, and in turn the hearts of our students, struck me in a revelatory fashion. We want kids to grow their capacities. We desire our students to persevere through difficult tasks. We hope that they will develop morally. We would like for them to see past the pain of the temporary for the joy of the future / long-term / something else. 

No matter what we want students to do, though, they will be unable without firm hearts. 

They will give up. They will give in. They will stay put. They will decline. Academically, behaviorally, emotionally, socially, spiritually. 

A strong heart entails grit. Grit leads to growth. Growth leads to success. Add God into the mix and this success becomes heavenly.

We challenged students to complete a Crossfit exercise (Stations of Cross coupled with light physical exercises) as part of our Lenten journeys. I reflected on those students, regardless of age, who could not complete various parts of the program. Maybe they talked. Maybe they ran. Maybe they sat. Maybe they needed water (after every lap) or the bathroom. Maybe they stopped doing the physical exercises. The students who struggled in any or all of these ways did not come as a surprise (again, regardless of age). It may have stemmed from a lack of prompting prior to beginning (expectations were unclear) or perhaps outward signs beguiled an inward focus (even though the student appeared to be off-task, they were actually quite attuned to the spiritual exercise).

But, it may be that it indicated weak hearts - hearts that have received too little love, and have had too little support, and have endured too much hardship, and have not had enough structure. 

Hearts that have been beat up and bruised and hurt in ways that no one should endure. 

So the challenge as educators is how we get our students to have "clear eyes" and "full hearts" so that, no matter the situation, they "can't lose"? 

Lent offered great perspective and insights on a solution: pray, fast, give. The more opportunities we can afford to our students to do these three spiritual habits, not just during this liturgical season but all year long, the stronger their hearts will become. Of course, we must realize that in order for students to grow the capacity of their hearts through these practices, we will need to both chunk / scaffold their prayer, fasting and giving, and also train them in how to do these things as well. 

We must teach students to enter into relationship with God through prayer. We must teach them how to pray. We must give them opportunities to pray. We can't love what / who we don't know. We come to know God through prayer.
We must give students opportunities to fast. These must be intentional and they must be incremental. Explicitly mentioning the connection between their sacrifice and their improvement will motivate more sacrificial behavior. Furthermore, celebrating the effort of students to grow in this domain will also inspire more progress. Challenge students to be silent for increasing amounts of time. Push them to read independently for greater lengths incrementally. Encourage them to develop their grit - their internal resolve - and draw attention to those times when it actually happens.

We must give students chances to give. Social interactions are incredibly important. We must teach and train our students how to speak and act with each other. Typically this happens almost naturally with younger children. We give them the words to say and the times that they should say them. But, as students get older we stop instructing and coaching them on what to say and how to talk with others, especially in difficult situations. It is one thing to serve in an anonymous way; it is true love to serve those in front of you. 

As Catholic educators we must believe in our ability to strengthen the hearts of our students and in turn give them the grit to follow God's will for their lives. 

We must believe that our time spent instructing them academically, spiritually, socially and emotionally can help to clear their eyes to focus on all that is truly important. 

We must believe that we can strengthen the hearts of our students through opportunities to pray, fast and give. 

We must believe that we can get kids to believe that with a committed focus on God and a heart full of grit they can't lose.

Strong hearts. Strong minds. Strong Catholics. 

Can't lose.