Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Keys to the Kingdom

In the movie, The Sandlot, the main character, Smalls, makes a pretty big mistake. Unknowingly, he uses a baseball autographed by Babe Ruth so that he and his friends can continue to play their games of sandlot baseball. It’s not that he doesn’t know that someone signed it, he just doesn’t realize that Babe Ruth is the Sultan of Swat, the King of Crash, the Colossus of Clout, the Great Bambino. 

And, in what ends up triggering the rising action of the movie, Smalls actually hits a homerun with this autographed ball, sending it into the yard of Mr. Mertle and the clutches of his dog, the Beast. The rest of the movie centers around the gang scheming ways to get this ball back and out of one of the greatest pickles ever.

Sometimes we can go about our work within Catholic education like Smalls did with this autographed ball: we fail to recognize the magnitude of what’s in our hands. 

As Catholic school educators, we know that our goals are twofold: get our students to and through college and, more importantly, into heaven. We do all that we can to make our students not only smarter but also better. We work tirelessly to ensure that we simultaneously train students’ intellects and spirits so that they can take their knowledge and their conviction out into the world to make it a better place. 

But, the work is hard. Demands are many. We get worn out. The zeal we have on day one becomes a grind at some point in the fall or winter, maybe the spring. We can get so lost in the weeds of our days that we can lose sight of the fact that we have a Babe Ruth autographed baseball in our hands. Our patience wears thin. Prayer might take a back seat. We begrudge parents, colleagues, students or administrators that demand and deserve our best. We casually play with the ball and it can get lost in the clutches of the beast. 

In a 1988 Church document written by the Congregation for Catholic Education, entitled The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School:
From the first moment that a student sets foot in a Catholic school, he or she ought to have the impression of entering a new environment, one illumined by the light of faith, having its own unique characteristics...an environment permeated with the Gospel spirit of love and freedom. In a Catholic school, everyone should be aware of the living presence of Jesus the “Master” who, today as always, is with us in our journey through life as the one genuine “Teacher”, the perfect Man in whom all human values find their fullest perfection (#25).
Friends, it’s not just that every minute matters, every moment is Incarnational. Every moment is an opportunity to heal, to transform, to mend, to lift up, to direct, to form. Every interaction, every discussion, every email, every duty, every game, every lesson - every moment - is the moment that could forever change a life. Every moment within our ministry is an opportunity to make God incarnate - to make Him known, loved, and served. 

Every moment is a moment that could change the world. 

Fr. Pedro Ribadeneira, a Jesuit priest, said, “All the well-being of Christianity and of the whole world” rests on the work of Catholic school teachers. 

As a ministry within the Catholic Church, you’ve been given the keys to the Kingdom. There is a direct line emanating from you and linking you all the way back to Peter and in turn Jesus Christ Himself. 

And all of it matters. This isn’t a message to turn your schools into full-time catechesis programs. Our Church recognizes that those things that make us more distinctly human, those things that make us more like the perfect human - Jesus Christ - are the things that makes us become who God created us to be. Fr. Michael Himes, another Jesuit priest, says, “Whatever humanizes, divinizes.” Therefore, our work in science or math or English or music - whatever makes us advance in human endeavors - can bring us closer to God. 

Pretty amazing, huh? 

Catholic schools play an important role in the mission of the Church; the Church baptizes academic content as well as extra-curricular activities.

All of it matters. Everything is an entry-point into the divine. 

I had been working at the University of Notre Dame for about a month and I was walking with colleagues from the ACE building to a meeting across campus. At one point I lagged a bit behind the group so that I could get a glimpse of Mary on the Dome. When it seemed as if I was headed in the wrong direction I had to confess - I was making sure that I was aware of the amazing opportunity I have to work under the watchful protection of Our Heavenly Mother Mary at her University. 

It was my way of reminding myself that I’m honored and humbled to be working on something more valuable and important than a baseball autographed by a baseball legend. 

Catholic educators, that you, too, have something more valuable than sports memorabilia at your fingertips. You’ve been given the keys to the Kingdom. 

You’re world-changers.

You’re saint-makers.

You’re Catholic school educators. 

Don’t forget it.