Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Keep Moving. Be Strong. Focus on What's Ahead.

“With eyes of faith consider the greatness of your mission and the wonderful amount of good which you can accomplish.” 

-Bl. Basil Moreau, Christian Education

My daughter Elizabeth has been trying to ride a bike, with pedals and without training wheels, for about the past year. On a steady program of balance bikes since she was about 3, we spent copious amounts of time outside throughout the spring, summer and fall of this past year on a pedal bike trying to help her master the steering, balance, movement and stopping required to ride without the steady hand of myself or my wife.

There were moments. She would get a few pedal revolutions and a bit of coasting before she would either push off with a grounded foot or stop altogether.

My main advice throughout this process was simple: moving forward helps you to stay balanced, be strong with your arms, and keep your head up so that your eyes focus just a bit out in front of you.

Keep moving, be strong, keep your head up, and look at where you’re going.

Movement will help you stay balanced. While the other pieces of advice made sense, this one is counterintuitive. It seems that going slowly would provide more safety. However, this actually makes riding that much harder, if not impossible. As part of a faculty retreat, I had teachers try to ride a bike as slowly as possible the length of our basketball court without putting down a foot. No one was able to do it. Going slowly inhibited their ability to move forward.

Vision is the movement which can help us stay balanced and continuing to move forward. It can help propel us into the future by focusing not on what something currently is, but rather by unleashing the hope of what something can become.

You can’t ride a bike by just sitting on it. You have to start moving. You have to begin and believe that you will keep moving. You must have vision. You must have faith. You must have hope.

Hope has immense power. Imagine trying to learn how to ride a bike without the hope that one day you will be able to ride it? Without the vision and hope of actually being able to ride, you wouldn’t even try. Howard Hendricks, a long-time professor at the Dallas Theological Seminary, stated, “Discouragement is the anesthetic the devil uses on a person before he reaches in and carves out his heart.”

Hope, on the other hand, sustains and fuels the vision of what something, or someone can become. It is the power of “yet” in growth mindset theory. It is the belief that students can improve and learn anything through deliberate practice. It is the trust that formative discipline can create disciples. It is the conviction that there is no progress without struggle; death must proceed the Resurrection.

As a principal I had the blessing of working closely with a student who struggled both academically and behaviorally. In severe danger of either failing as an 8th grader and/or facing expulsion before the end of the year, I began working with this student on a daily basis. At one point, after about two weeks of making progress toward academic proficiency and behavioral stability, the student looked at me and with a seriousness I hadn’t witnessed before and asked, “Do you really think this will work? Do you really think I can do this?”

To which I responded, “Of course I do. You just need to keep moving forward. Be strong and keep focusing on what you can become.”

Hope is the fuel that propels vision.

It is the necessary ingredient to passing 8th grade.

It is the way that we can, on Christmas morning after months of wobbles and falls, successfully ride a bike.

It is the movement that can enable us to accomplish the God-sized dreams He has planted inside of our hearts.

Keep hoping.

Keep dreaming.

Keep moving and be strong, with your head up and eyes focused on what lies ahead.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

We Are in a Fight

We are in a fight.

There’s a powerful moment in the first book of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, when Frodo meets Aragorn (at this point known as Strider) for the first time. This is after Frodo puts the One Ring on for the first time, vanishes, and draws the attention of the Ringwraiths. Strider grabs Frodo and takes him into closed quarters.

Strider asks Frodo, “Are you frightened?”

Frodo responds, “Yes.”

Strider continues, “Not nearly frightened enough. I know what hunts you.”

Up until this point in the story, Frodo doesn’t quite understand the magnitude of the Ring or the danger involved in carrying it. While he definitely senses his task to take the Ring to Rivendell is important, this is the first moment that his journey changes. His quest takes on new urgency, his travels become more treacherous. Carrying the Ring will be a battle.

We are in a fight.

Up until the early 1900s, Notre Dame’s athletic teams were known as the Catholics, Rovers or Ramblers.

The origin behind Notre Dame’s current nickname, the Fighting Irish, is debatable. Some claim that it came from irate opposing fans, others that it was part of a player’s halftime pep talk, while a few credit a newspaper reporter with coining the title.

Regardless of the exact origin, the association between being Catholic and Irish was laden with negative stereotypes, bigotry and oppression. Fr. Charles Carey, a Holy Cross priest, eloquently spoke about the history of our University’s mascot in a religious bulletin on the eve of St. Patrick’s day in 1953, writing:
“Fighting Irish! It’s more than a name; more than a people. It is the Faith! In narrow, little New England, it began as a slur -- a term of opprobrium. But we took it up and made of it a badge of honor -- a symbol of fidelity and courage to everyone who suffers from discrimination; to everyone who has an uphill fight for the elemental decencies, and the basic Christian principles woven into the texture of our nation. Preserving this tradition, and this meaning of Irish at Notre Dame does honor to everyone of us.”
Fr. Carey, C.S.C. continues,
“Tomorrow you can take this one lesson from the Irish: they were never so poor in all their wanderings and sufferings that they bartered their Faith for the comforts of this life. They had little to take with them wherever they went; but the Faith was always the most precious of their paltry possessions. Their spirit has made it easier for you to practice your Faith here in America today. May the Fighting Irish always be with us!”
Even our University’s current mascot, the Leprechaun, was modeled after racist cartoons that depicted Irish and Catholics as apes.

Like the Holy Cross of Jesus, the nickname of Our Lady’s University and the iteration of its mascot are transformed symbols of pride, unity and hope. What were intended to be messages of inferiority and oppression now at the University of Notre Dame stand for an unwavering spirit - a fight - to make God known, loved and served.  
Our University gained respect and national notoriety through the athletic efforts of the Four Horsemen, Knute Rockne and Moose Krause, but also academically through the work of Frs. Zahm and Newland, and the legendary progress achieved by the late former President of the University, Fr. Ted Hesburgh. Infused with the spirit of Fr. Edward Sorin, the University of Notre Dame truly is a force for good in our world today.

We are the Fighting Irish and we are in a fight.

As Catholic educators, those holy men and women that came before us and built the foundation for Catholic education in our world faced bitter hatred, violence, unjust laws and oppression all aimed at removing Catholic schools from our country. The pioneers in Catholic education in America had to fight to preserve our faith and maintain the existence of Catholic schools. Catholic immigrants in America wanted to ensure that the education offered by common or public schools upheld Church teaching and when it didn’t bishops, priests, religious sisters and parents fought for the right to establish schools that would pass on the Catholic faith to their children.

As such, Bishops mandated that all Churches have Catholic schools and that all Catholic families send their children there. The Church vehemently encouraged heroic support from parents and parishioners as schools were built, curriculum was designed, and the tenets of Catholic education were developed.

Some battles have lingered into our current times almost two centuries later. Others were fought for and won, allowing us to enjoy some rights and freedoms as Catholic educators that our forerunners did not.

Make no mistake: our ancestors in Catholic education were in a fight and this fight continues today.

May we, the Fighting Irish, embody the zeal of our University’s founder and may this spirit - this fight - enliven our hearts and elevate our minds for the work set out before us.

We are fighting to make God known, loved and served.

We are fighting to educate children and young people through the inspiration of our Catholic faith.

We are fighting to get our students to and through college.

We are fighting to get our students into heaven.  

We are fighting to change the world.

We are the Fighting Irish.


Sunday, January 21, 2018

From Humble Beginnings...

In the 13th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed. “It is the smallest of all the seeds,” Jesus teaches, “yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches’” (Matthew 13:31-32).

A mustard seed, something small, can take root and grow and bloom into something much, much larger.

From humble beginnings...

The Log Chapel at the University of Notre Dame is a recreation of the first building planted here at Our Lady’s University. 175 years ago, Fr. Sorin and a group of his companions had the zeal, vision and hunger to turn their work - this University - into
“one of the most powerful means for doing good in this country.”
The University started as a trade school. Its first students were orphans who were trained as apprentices to help assist manual laborers in the area.

Fr. Sorin and other members of the Congregation of the Holy Cross endured a fair amount of hardship. Cruel winters. Impossible deadlines. Fires that decimated their work. A scarcity of workers and support.

Yet, Fr. Sorin was able to see the large bush in the small seed. He possessed absolute faith in his work, utter dependence on the Eucharist, and unwavering trust in the protection of Mary. During a particularly discouraging period of the first winter here, Fr. Sorin found hope in the light of the sanctuary lamp. He even states, “They tell us we won’t be able to afford to keep it burning. But we have a little olive oil and it will burn while it lasts...We can see it through the woods and it lights the humble home where our Master dwells. We tell each other that we are not alone, that Jesus Christ lives among us. It gives us courage.”

From humble beginnings…

As educators within Catholic Schools, our story, too, has humble beginnings. Countless men and women, priests and nuns, parents and students dedicated their entire lives - like Fr. Sorin - to the establishment and building up of Catholic schools within our country. And yet, despite hardship, despite oppression, despite financial challenges, despite humble beginnings, our Catholic schools continue to be one of the most powerful means for doing good in this country and in our world.

In 1977 the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, in a document titled, The Catholic School, affirms the importance of Catholic schools:
It is when the Catholic school adds its weight, consciously and overtly, to the liberating power of grace, that it becomes the Christian leaven in the world (#84).
Leaven, like a mustard seed, is small. Like a mustard seed that grows into something much bigger, leaven - or yeast - is the quickening agent, the animating ingredient in bread that makes it rise.

I hope this metaphor offers you encouragement and inspiration to know that your work within Catholic education is the leaven that is causing hope to rise up in our world.

I hope that you understand that your work within Catholic education is building up the Kingdom of God. I hope that you understand your work within Catholic education is erasing ignorance, reversing poverty, and inspiring the hearts and minds of others.

I hope you know you are affecting eternity.  

I hope you know that you are literally changing the world.

And while you’re too humble to believe that this is true, be humble enough to believe that with the liberating power of grace something amazing can come from humble beginnings.