Sunday, January 31, 2021

The Apostolate

Perhaps one of my favorite quotes regarding the mission of Catholic education is from Fr. Ron Nuzzi, "Catholic schools do not have missions; the mission has schools."

While Fr. Nuzzi's words are both poignant and poetic, the Congregation for Catholic Education articulated the essence of this message about the mission of Catholic education in 1977 in a document titled, The Catholic School:  

To carry out her saving mission, the Church uses, above all, the means which Jesus Christ has given her...She establishes her own schools because she considers them as a privileged means of promoting the formation of the whole (person), since the school is a centre in which a specific concept of the world, of (humanity), and of history is developed and conveyed. (#8) 

The Church, according to the Congregation for Catholic Education, views her schools as instruments of evangelization. Catholic schools, in the eyes of the Church, serve as tools for salvation. "The Catholic school," the Congregation writes, "forms part of the saving mission of the Church, especially for education in the faith" (#9).

Responding to the call that Jesus issued to the first apostles, and following the mission Christ give to them - and all of us who would follow as His disciples - right before the Ascension, Catholic schools strive to bring all people to fullness of life in Jesus Christ. Catholic schools, as stated above, are privileged environments where this type of formation can occur. Not only can they impart instruction in the faith, they can do so in an environment where faith, culture, and life are synthesized in a synergistic way (The Catholic School, #37). Faith elevates and perfects reason and reason gives wings to faith.  

Last Sunday, the Gospel reading retold the call of Andrew and Simon Peter, and James and John. In both cases, these sets of brothers jump out of their boats, leave everything behind and start fishing for people. Last Monday, on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, we listened to the story of Paul getting knocked off of his horse, both literally and figuratively, blinded by the light of Christ, only to regain his sight as He began to see Christ as the Son of God. The Gospel reading for Monday jumped from Jesus's first words to His apostles to His last ones, as He sent them out on mission, 

Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover. (Mark 16:15-18)

The word "apostle" in Greek means "person sent" and applies specifically to the original group of twelve followers of Christ before His death, and eleven afterward. Paul also receives the title apostle after his encounter with Christ and subsequent conversion. But, in apostolic succession, the term also applies to those down through the centuries who perform a "unique and invaluable work for the Church". It is "(i)n this way the Catholic school performs 'an authentic apostolate'" (The Catholic School, #63). 

Catholic school teachers, responding to the call of Christ and accepting His mission to save souls, form an apostolate in the Church. 

Catholic educators take on the mantle of apostle and are sent out, like the first apostles, to fish for people. 

Teachers, staff and leaders within Catholic schools, being sent on mission, drive out demons by authentically witnessing to and instructing others in the faith. They also drive out demons with every warm greeting, patient and humble response, and every other effort they make to connect with students, families and each other. 

Catholic educators speak new languages every time they speak words of love, forgiveness, mercy, acceptance, and redemption in a world growing ever more forgetful of these ideals and others. 

Catholic school workers pick up serpents with their hands as they form students as disciples of Christ, walking alongside students and families and guiding them through moments of darkness and despair. 

Catholic school faculties and staff drink deadly things and escape unharmed every time they lovingly and mercifully allow an angry family member to advocate for their child before responding with love, compassion, understanding and a clear path forward. 

Teachers, staff members, and administrators lay hands on the sick with each lesson, each lunch duty, each afternoon carline, each study hall, each paper graded, each forgotten lunch brought to the cafeteria, each lunch period missed to meet with a family member, each sleepless night worrying about a student who struggles, each socially distant and face-masked air-five and disguised smile. 

Catholic school teachers, thank you for accepting the call and for being sent on mission by Christ. 

You, along with Christ, are changing the world. 

Happy Catholic Schools Week 2021. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Stand Up

One of the most important persons in a bullying situation is the bystander. Whereas the bully can control her/his actions, and the victim could take some action to advocate for her/himself, it is the bystander who can put a stop to the abusive behavior. 

Bystanders can deflect the attention to something else, injecting humor, distraction or even just moving on to another topic. They could distance the interaction by helping the victim to move away from the conflict. Finally, they could defend the victim by calling out the misbehavior and aligning themselves with the person being bullied. 

Bystanders can create significant change if they stand up. 

All of us can create significant change in any situation, if we just stand up. 

Stand up. 

As Catholics, our Church calls us to a preferential option for the poor, vulnerable and marginalized. Christ calls us to give voice to the voiceless, hands and feet to the powerless, and sustenance to the disadvantaged. 

Jesus calls us to stand up. 

Our world needs our action. Our country needs our action. Our neighbors need our action. Our brothers and sisters need our action. 

Stand up. 

All of us must be willing to set aside our status to do what is right. All of us must be willing to deflect, delay, and defend as necessary. We must be willing to stand up to the bullies of politics, power, racism, classism, sexism, and countless other injustices plaguing our world. 

As we stand up, we must take comfort in and be emboldened by the fact that while we cannot, as individuals, correct all of the evils we face. But, we can do something. All of us can, in our own way, stand up for something. We can all stand up for someone. 

Stand up. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. framed standing up in many and various ways. The following are words delivered by Dr. King at the 11th Convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967:
Now, we got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. (Yes) Power at its best [applause], power at its best is love (Yes) implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. (Speak) And this is what we must see as we move on. (
Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. And against everything that stands against love we must be willing to stand up. 

This is what we must see as we move on. 

Stand up. 

*The following is a "found poem" inspired by an address by Senator Corey Booker in the summer of 2003 and the text from the novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance by Steven Pressfield (1995):

Life is action
We cannot do otherwise than act
Even in choosing not to act we do.
We act.
Therefore, act with vigor.
Act without attachment.
Hold nothing back.
Strike and act without fear or forethought.
Do honor to yourself and to your station.
Simply act.
Stand up
And act.
Stand up and allow the destiny you once chose to choose you.
Chip away all that is inauthentic.
Allow its purity to emerge.
Let it reek of life- something wild and pure.
Fly with winged sandals on your feet and enter the spirit.
Stand now!
Take your place amidst something ancient and noble
Where great armies once clashed in battle
Blows thundering heavenward with ringing steel
Horses and men crying out in victory and defeat.
Simply act. 
Simply do. 
Simply be. 
Stand up!
Stand and let all that you are shine in His magnificence
Let yourself burst forth from this stone
Let it come from that place deep inside yourself
That place that was there before you ever were
and will remain once you are no more. 
He was with you on that ancient battlefield and He is with you now.
You are never alone.  
No sin, no lapse, no crime can make Him desert you.
He will never abandon you.  
For you never were then, nor will you be now, alone.
He is always with you.
Even when it seems as though you are drowning, in that hour remember Him.
He will preserve you.
Therefore, stand up!
Stand now!
And live! 

Monday, January 11, 2021

You Have Purpose

We concluded the Christmas season yesterday with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Today, as we enter "ordinary" time, the Gospel recounts Jesus's call of the first apostles

May the words from the Gospels both yesterday and today seep into our bones and marrow and sinews and may we come to understand two fundamental truths about ourselves and each person: 
  1. We are God's beloved with whom He is well pleased. 
  2. God has a purpose for each of us and He invites us into His mission. 
Let this sink in. The Creator of the universe loves you. He cares about you and so desires a relationship with you that He will never stop pursuing your heart. You are loved. 

And, being His beloved gives all of us eternal worth. We aren't loved because we did anything or could do anything to earn it. Rather, we have value because we are loved. Because we are loved, we have purpose. Each person matters. 

You matter. 

Breathe this in. 

You are loved. You have purpose. 

God rent the heavens to come to earth to communicate these truths. He took on our sinfulness, our brokenness, our mess, our frailty, and our death to show us that we are loved, and because we are loved we have a role to play in His mission to bring others into relationship with Him. 

There is nothing you did or can do to merit this love or to strip it away. You are loved. 

But, once we accept and acknowledge that we are His beloved, we must "be love" to others. You are beloved. So, go "be love." 

You are loved. And, you have a purpose: love. 

Love your family. Love your friends. Love your coworkers and classmates and community members. Love your enemies. 

Accept that you are loved and then go fish for people to share it with. 

God's love is so big and amazing and infinite and merciful and transformative that it is meant to be given away. 

You can't go back to the nets and boats. Leave them on the shore. 

Come and follow Him. 

He loves you, and you have a purpose. 

Monday, January 4, 2021


In mid-2020, I composed a blog titled, "Rivers in the Wasteland." Inspired by the name of a 2014 Needtobreathe album and song, I declared that in many ways, 2020 could adequately be described as a wasteland. Division along political, racial, and societal lines. Unemployment. A global pandemic. Wildfires. Hurricanes. Death. 

A wasteland. 

Yet, in the midst of all of this mess, there are - however small they may be - rivers. 

Rivers in the wasteland. 

I know I speak from a place of privilege to have the space to reflect on my rivers throughout 2020. That, in and of itself, is a river. 

There are countless others. 

Since March, I've been able to connect to my extended family with almost weekly Zoom calls. I've called my 96 year-old grandfather who lives by himself close to weekly as well. Sadly, these are practices that did not exist in my life prior to the pandemic. They are practices that I'm committing to maintaining in all circumstances moving forward. 

The slower pace and stay-at-home orders and opportunities allowed for my immediate family to eat three meals a day together, go on walks and bike rides, play boardgames, experiment with recipes, and invent front yard games. While all of this may not be possible in a post-pandemic world, I plan to hold fast to the essence of this time spent together: my wife and three children are the most important people in my world; I need to make sure my actions, words, and choices demonstrate that they are my priority.

The virtual celebrations of the Eucharist have re-ignited in me a hunger for the reception of the Eucharist in deep and intense ways. To be clear, watching Mass online stinks; but, as Fr. Lou Delfra declared shortly before Christmas, attending Mass via Zoom/online is like lighting a candle in the darkness. Forced distance has made my heart yearn for Christ and rejoice at the moments when I have been able to receive Him. I want to feast as often as I can at this Heavenly Banquet as life returns to normal: give me more than once a week our daily bread.

This isolation and distancing have forced me to consider and evaluate my purpose within Catholic education. At a time when Catholic schools and all organizations and businesses scrambled to move to an on-line reality, I merely started to work from home. My workload and activities remained about the same; only my location was significantly different. I had ample time to prepare to teach online over the summer, much more than the weekend that most Catholic schools received when the world shut down in March. 

It made me wonder, what is the purpose of my current role? How am I positioned to help Catholic education? I work with aspiring Catholic school leaders and am honored to work with such amazing, kingdom-oriented humans. But, 2020 made me question whether that is enough.

As we move into 2021, I would say that it isn't. I would say that this is too limited in scope and depth.

My purpose can't be to just help form transformational Catholic school leaders, however noble this work is. This is what I do.

But, why do I do this? What's my purpose?

My purpose is and always has been to bring people to fullness of life through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

This is my why, and when your why is strong enough you can overcome any obstacle to how you go about accomplishing it. It can offer clarity of next steps. It can offer energy, determination, and grit. 

Why write this blog? Answer: to bring people to fullness of life through a relationship with Jesus Christ. 

Why work in a Catholic school leadership formation program: to bring people to fullness of life through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

What I do - form transformational Catholic school leaders - is one of many things that I could do to accomplish my purpose, one of the many ways that I could accomplish my why.

This time of isolation has refocused my purpose and proposed a vision for moving into this year and beyond.

I started this blog about ten years ago as a way to communicate ideas about my vision for Catholic education at Incarnation Catholic School and more broadly. Aptly titled, Catholic Education, I never stayed within the confines of PreK-8 Catholic education and/or happenings at ICS. Instead, I broached all sorts of topics meant to touch upon an aspect of educating people - bringing them to fullness of life through an encounter with Jesus Christ - in the Catholic faith. It's about time to once again start writing with purpose and regularity.

The river in this wasteland, for me, is springing forth something new - my family, my faith, my focus, and my future, and it's time to race into 2021 with a face mask; courage - "the mean between a rashness that is heedless of danger and a timidity that is paralyzed by it" (Fr. John Jenkins); and hope.

Hang on!