Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Debate, Archangels, and Mr. Rogers

Over the course of the first eight weeks of the Fall semester at the University of Notre Dame, President Fr. John Jenkins, C.S.C. has issued two apologies to the school community. 

Both have centered around lapses in adhering to the strict COVID-19 restrictions in place for members of Notre Dame. In both cases, I could see myself or anyone making a similar mistake. 

The first apology occurred after stopping to take a selfie with a group of students on one of the quads. All were in masks. Social distancing, though, was not maintained. 

The second apology took place more recently and under the watchful eye of the nation. At the White House for the nomination of a Notre Dame faculty member to the United States Supreme Court, Fr. Jenkins attended the ceremony without a mask and without maintaining social distancing. Attendees were supposedly tested for COVID-19 and only allowed in after testing negative. The event was outdoors and wearing a mask was not mandated. Regardless, Fr. Jenkins felt compelled to send a note of apology to the Notre Dame community and take appropriate precautions after having been potentially exposed to the virus. 

I find these admissions of falling short of the expectations in place for the University to be powerful examples of leading with humility. 

I also find that a bit of humility from people in positions of leadership - and from all of us - could go a long way right now. 

Last night's Presidential Debate was appalling in many ways. One of the many things I find shocking about the fallout from those 90 minutes is how much flack moderator Chris Wallace has taken for the way that the debate spiraled out of control. Was it his fault that humility and grace were in short measure? Was it his fault that the two people poised to be the President of the United States of America interrupted each other incessantly? What other tactics did he have at his disposal outside of the many that he tried? In Mr. Wallace's defense, I do not believe there is another person alive that could have made the atmosphere even remotely civil. 

What we need right now as a country is more heart and less attack. What we need is a large dose of humility. 

As I reflected on this idea, it was not lost on me that yesterday was the Feast of the Archangels, Sts. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. These archangels are famous for defending, announcing, and healing, respectively. Their humility, in comparison to a fallen angel who's pride resulted in a rebellion against God, is worth imitating. 

Humility is a key ingredient in performing all three of these arch-angelic tasks. 

To defend, we must use our power not for ourselves, but for others. 

To announce, we must be willing to use our voice to proclaim the goodness of God and recognize that all good things come from Him - not us. 

To heal, we must acknowledge the hurt we have caused, and work toward making reparations. 

To round out this incredibly random post, in lieu of finishing the debate last night and instead putting it off until this morning to finish, my wife and I watched the documentary of Mr. Fred Rogers, "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" (2018). What an incredibly shocking contrast that Mr. Rogers was and still is, even posthumously, to the debacle debate last night. 

I was transported back to my 4-year old self as I watched clips of his shows and found myself mesmerized by his grace, his compassion, his intentionality, his humility, and his immense - albeit quiet and reserved - strength. To watch Mr. Rogers deliver testimony at a Senate hearing about funding public television was inspiring. To be reminded of the way that Mr. Rogers tackled issues of racism, death, loss, assassination, and tragedy was galvanizing. To hear the words that he uttered in a PSA after 9/11, "We all are called to be tikkun olam, repairers of creation. Thank you for whatever you do, wherever you are, to bring joy and light and hope and faith and pardon and love to your neighbor and to yourself" left me hoping and praying for our country and world.

Admit when you've done something wrong and hurt others. 

Defend truth and goodness. 

Announce that truth and goodness in others. 

Heal: repair the part of creation given to us to tend. 

Lead with humility.   

And, if it helps, think of these words from Mr. Rogers (or listen to it here:, the next time you're mad:

What do you do with the mad that you feel, when you feel so mad you could bite?
When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong...And nothing you do seems very right?
What do you do? Do you punch a bag? Do you pound some clay or some dough? 
Do you round up friends for a game of tag? Or see how fast you go? 
It's great to be able to stop when you've planned a thing that's wrong,
And be able to do something else instead and think this song:
I can stop when I want to
Can stop when I wish
I can stop, stop, stop any time.
And what a good feeling to feel like this
And know that the feeling is really mine.
Know that there's something deep inside
That helps us become what we can.
For a girl can be someday a woman
And a boy can be someday a man.

There's something deep inside of all of us that can help us all become what we can. 

May we have the humility to recognize it in ourselves and our neighbors. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

We Are Stronger

This past January, I joined a men's basketball league through my church. Figuring that my window to do something like this shrinks with every passing day, and assuming that since I exercise with regularity I would be okay physically, I played. 

Before the first game I missed the chance to warm-up adequately or really even at all. "I'll be okay," I thought. 

And, throughout the game, I was. No injuries. No needing a sub out of exhaustion. No needing to sit out because I couldn't contribute. Playing the first game of semi-organized sports in over five years, I ended up playing a good amount of the game. 

I went home, stretched out, squeezed in a workout, got ready for bed and went to sleep. 

The next morning, however, I could barely walk. My calves burned. My thighs and hamstrings revolted and refused to bend much at all. I had to hold onto the railing of the stairwell at work. Well, actually I had to pull myself up by it to get up the stairs. Each step was a reminder of my age. 

It was also a reminder of the need to more adequately prepare.

It also made me realize that while I was in good or at least decent physical shape, I had fallen into the trap of working out to break a sweat. Over the course of time, I had stopped pushing myself. Seldom did I find myself out of breath while working out. Sore the day after a workout? Hardly, if ever. 

I had stopped pushing myself.

Throughout the course of the week after that first game, another realization hit me. For however old I was getting, my body started to heal. Even though it hurt, I could walk. By the end of the week, I was able to go for a run. 

My body was strong and it was made to get stronger in response to it being pushed to and beyond its limits.

The next week, despite being able to complete an appropriate warm-up, followed a similar progression. I made it through the game, albeit with game-time pain and soreness. Waking up the next morning, my legs once again resisted movement. 

I realized, however, that the pain didn't last as long. I was also inspired to work out with more fervor, pushing myself to exhaustion as a way to prep for the explosive nature of competitive basketball. 

The rest of the season brought about more typical day-after soreness, a strained groin, and a trip to urgent-care to get a gouge above my right eye repaired. 

Otherwise, with each game I could feel myself adapting more and more to the long-forgotten demands of competitive sports. I once again cherished the opportunity to push myself, whether in games or by myself in my basement, in my driveway, or out on a run. Out of breath. Exhausted. 

To, and over the edge of, my limits. All in. 

Two weeks before the end of the season, COVID-19 caused it to stop early. Despite this abrupt ending, the lessons gleaned from this experience have remained. 

So has the scar above my right eye. 

First, it is foolish to push beyond your limits if you haven't adequately prepared. Preparation is essential in all things. 

Excellence happens on purpose and as the result of intentional preparation. 

Second, it is equally foolish to not push to your limits and potentially past them if you have taken the time to get ready. While there might be reason to hold back at times, if you have put in the work, holding back prevents us and others from attaining the greatness for which we have been created and called and what the present moment needs. Ask the question. Make the statement. Stand up for your beliefs or get down on your knees for them. Or both. Offer the proposal. Sing with all that you have within you. Read with expression. Fire that pigskin. Take the risk. Go all in. We get out of something what we put into it. Focus on doing everything, even the small things like warming up, extraordinarily well. 

Excellence happens as the result of a whole bunch of hard work. 

And third, we are strong. Soreness - within reason - could be viewed as weakness leaving the body. We were made to function well under pressure and, when we prepare and push hard, we are capable of amazing things. Stress is your body's way of preparing you for the task ahead. You have more energy, you have more focus, you have an innate desire to connect with other people. We can see these effects of stress as negatives, or we can accept these responses as God's way of preparing us for the great works He has in store for us to do. 

Excellence happens because we were created to be excellent.  

2020 has been filled with countless pressure filled, stagnation inducing, painful events. More are most likely on the horizon. Sorry. 

Keep preparing as best you can. Push hard. Trust that you were created for greatness, built for holiness, and destined for sainthood. We are capable of so much more than what we think is possible. 

We can do hard things. Amazing things. Excellent things. 

Believe that perhaps we were put here for a time such as this (Esther 4:14). 

And, believe that for as hard as this time is, that we are stronger. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Divine Teacher - Divini Illius Magistri

Pope Pius XI wrote Divini Illius Magistri (translated as The Divine Teacher), an encyclical on Christian education, in 1929. Written between the two world wars and at the beginnings of modernity, the document tackles various topics about Catholic education. Pius XI states that the document aims to: "to summarize its main principles, throw full light on its important conclusions, and point out its practical applications" (#3).

To use a popular 21st Century approach to organizations, Sinek's Golden Circle, the document focuses on WHY Catholic education is needed and important, HOW to go about carrying out this mission, and WHAT Catholic schools produce in their students as they accomplish this mission.


Anchored in Scripture, Pope Pius XI begins with the words of Jesus from Mark's Gospel (10:14), "Suffer the little children to come unto me" (#1). 

An encounter with Christ, who is the "way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6) is an essential component of an education that is meant to "(prepare humans) for what (we) must be and for what (we) must do here below, in order to attain the sublime end for which (we were) created" (#7). 

Pius XI continues in paragraph 16 with more commands from our Divine Teacher, "All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world" (Mt. 28:18-20). So as to fight against an elitist or insular mentality, Pius XI uses this same mandate from Jesus to remind us that Catholic education isn't just for Catholics or the wealthy or certain people. We are called to embrace "every nation" (#25) extending the Church's mission to educate "equally to those outside the Fold, seeing that all men (and women) are called to enter the kingdom of God and reach eternal salvation" (#26). 

Catholic schools form one of the many ministerial arms of the Church, helping to bring people to fullness of life through an encounter with Jesus Christ. Simply, the mission- Christ's mission - has a Church and schools...and hospitals and universities and shelters and countless other ministries all aimed at establishing the Kingdom of God here on earth while also advancing it in heaven. Pius XI positions Catholic education in step with Christ's mission for the salvation of all souls. 

In this way, Pius XI argues that our means - our HOW - must be as pure as this noble end.  


It is appropriate then, that Pius XI spends most of the document describing how Catholic schools are to execute Christ's commission to us all. Expertly explaining the interplay between the family, the state and the Church, Pius XI leans on natural law often in this text, clearly making the case that the child belongs first to the family, declaring, "existence does not come from the State, but from the parents" (#35). Parents and families, therefore, "are under a grave obligation to see to the religious and moral education of their children, as well as to their physical and civic training, as far as they can, and moreover to provide for their temporal well-being" (Codex of Canon Law, 1917, #1113).  

Pius XI cites the 1925 Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Sisters of the Society of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary when they fought the state of Oregon against compulsory public school education. In a sense, this made possible many of the school choice options enjoyed across our country. 

Yet another reason to celebrate the heroic efforts of women, especially religious women. 

Parents and families turn to both the Church and the state for help with this education. The state, granted its authority from divine law, supports the common good (#42). The state then creates schools and other civic services to help members of society in all matters, including education. The Church, because of the authority She has rooted in divine law, is compelled to ensure that the family's rights are protected and that there are suitable means for the full education of its child(ren). 

And, everything is under the Church's maternal supervision: 

Therefore with full right the Church promotes letters, science, art in so far as necessary or helpful to Christian education, in addition to her work for the salvation of souls: founding and maintaining schools and institutions adapted to every branch of learning and degree of culture.[13] Nor may even physical culture, as it is called, be considered outside the range of her maternal supervision, for the reason that it also is a means which may help or harm Christian education. (#21)

Moreover, this synthesis of faith and reason leads to a synthesis of faith, culture, and life. This important approach to Catholic education will be carried throughout many subsequent documents. 

Combatting the rising tide of nationalism at the time, Pius XI demonstrates that good Christians make good citizens, posing that the Church has contributed to the world in myriad ways: arts, literature, science, education, government. Quoting St. Augustine, the Pope writes:

Let those who declare the teaching of Christ to be opposed to the welfare of the State, furnish us with an army of soldiers such as Christ says soldiers ought to be; let them give us subjects, husbands, wives, parents, children, masters, servants, kings, judges, taxpayers and tax gatherers who live up to the teachings of Christ; and then let them dare assert that Christian doctrine is harmful to the State. (#53)

At multiple points in this encyclical, Pius XI reminds us that grace elevates nature. 

In what might be considered an outdated fashion, Pius XI tackles sex education (#65 - 67) and co-education (#68). 

He also addresses the media - theaters, cinema, books, periodicals and radio! - and how we must safeguard children from being exposed to "the dangers to morals and religion that are often cunningly disguised" therein (#91). While we might once again consider this protection archaic, there is something to be said for keeping our kids sheltered from the rampant violence, sex, and overall disrespect found in the media until they are mature enough to navigate these waters successfully. Even Pius XI advocates for being in the world "forewarned and forearmed as Christians against the seductions and the errors of this world" (#92).  

Pius XI celebrates the important work of the teacher. In the teacher we should find the synthesis of faith, culture, and life. We should find the "bee, which takes the choicest part of the flower and leaves the rest" (#87) as the teacher brings students to fullness of life in Jesus Christ. Teachers will allow the school to accomplish its mission, "Perfect schools are the result not so much of good methods as of good teachers" (#88). 


In closing, Pope Pius XI gives us a poetic description of the product of Catholic education: 

Hence the true Christian, product of Christian education, is the supernatural (person) who thinks, judges and acts constantly and consistently in accordance with right reason illumined by the supernatural light of the example and teaching of Christ; in other words, to use the current term, the true and finished (person) of character. (#96)

He continues, that this true Christian, this person of character, the product of Catholic education: 

(D)oes not renounce the activities of this life, (he/she) does not stunt (his/her) natural faculties; but (he/she) develops and perfects them, by coordinating them with the supernatural. (He/She) thus ennobles what is merely natural in life and secures for it new strength in the material and temporal order, no less then in the spiritual and eternal. (#98)

In other words, as we go about trying to accomplish our mission for the salvation of all souls, we will create outstanding Christians who use their intellect and their will to honor God by building up earthly society to make it more just, more humane, more loving, more patient, more beautiful, more of a reflection of the world our Divine Teacher intended it to be.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Amazing Grace and Us

"Amazing Grace and Chuck" was a 1987 film about a little league baseball pitcher, Chuck, who decides to stop playing baseball - his self-professed "best thing" - until the disarming of all nuclear weapons. What seems like a childish stunt or phase catches the attention of the nation when a fictional professional basketball player, "Amazing" Grace Smith of the Boston Celtics decides to join Chuck in sitting out of the season until the world is rid of nuclear weapons. 

The President visits the family, other professional athletes join in the cause, children around the world stop talking in protest, leaders from around the world join in the conversation and eventually, nuclear disarmament occurs around the world. 

The closing scene of the movie is Amazing Grace's response to a reporter's question about whether or not he thinks these protests are really going to bring an end to nuclear weapons: 

I don't know, but wouldn't it be nice.

The movie is a fantastical fairy tale - albeit one that reinforces racial stereotypes - but seeing it as a young child, it made me ponder the power of sports and the responsibility that all of us have to work toward a better world. 

All of us committed to a better world. Wouldn't it be nice. 

The NBA and other professional sports leagues sat out of their contests the for two days last week in an effort to draw attention to law enforcement's excessive use of force towards blacks, most recently the shooting of Jacob Blake. There were discussions among the NBA players and stakeholders about boycotting the rest of this COVID-affected season. As people everywhere - myself included - pondered the impact that a potential boycott could have, I was reminded of Amazing Grace and Chuck. 

Can sports really affect societal change? 

I don't know, but wouldn't it be nice.

Money talks and perhaps nothing talks as loudly across America, and potentially even the world, as multi-billion dollar sports leagues. How much would our country listen if sports weren't forced to cancel because of the threat and realities of a global pandemic but rather because of the choices of athletes to draw attention to the threat and realities of the evils of racism? 

There is something, even in the money driven worlds of professional and collegiate athletics, that is pure in sports. There is something about sports, when it is played at the highest levels of competition and with the purest of intentions, that draws us out of ourselves. Similar to the power of art, sports can remind us of the true, the good, and the beautiful. 

Sports can demonstrate to us the power of a group of people united in purpose. Sports can give us glimpses of what humans are capable of - amazing feats of strength, speed, agility, endurance, balance, explosiveness - when inspired to stretch beyond their known limits. 

Sports, when done right, can form us in the virtues of humility and courage, among others. Despite the many ways that athletes and coaches try to gain advantages over opponents within the confines of the rules of the game, sporting participants and their accomplishments are tarnished when they violate the spirit of the game (i.e. deflate-gate, stealing signs, steroids/PED/doping usage). 

Sports, when done right, can bring out the best in us. 

People have yearned for sports since their sudden stoppage in March because sports in their entertainment can act as a diversion. In the midst of the trials and tribulations of our lives, sports can draw us out of our circumstances, and elevate us - even if just for duration of the game - to something higher, something better.

In ancient Greek and Roman literature, sports acted as a recess from war. The Iliad spends countless pages detailing the funeral games held between the Trojans and the Greeks after the death of Patroclus. In the Aeneid, sporting events honor the memory of Aeneas's father. 

In modern times, sports can act as a universal language where groups of seemingly different people come together and compete alongside of and against each other. 

Sports, when properly directed, also pause at various times, like last week, to draw attention to more important matters. To grieve. To heal. 

Yes, there are more important matters than sports. 

Sports, like all facets of life, are impacted by the current trends in society and our world. But, sports also have the immense power to impact our society. When done right, sports can affect society and the world in positive ways.  

Can a two day stoppage of play reverse centuries old systems of racism? What about a season of protest? 

In a word: no. But, that wasn't necessarily the point.  

The solutions leading to a better world will require sustained hard work, innovation, forgiveness and hope.  Athletes will have an ongoing part to play, potentially with more missed games. Politicians are essential. So are police officers, and health care professionals and teachers and lawyers and engineers and construction workers and office personnel and priests and counselors and techies and business owners and actors and farmers and...


You. Me. Us. 

A better world won't come easily, or quickly, or through the actions of one person, or one law, or one movement. 

But when it does come, won't it be nice.