Monday, February 15, 2021

The Heart

"God does not see as a mortal, who sees the appearance. The LORD looks into the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). 

One of my Dad's favorite television shows was a British comedy known as "Keeping Up Appearances." The show centered on the antics of Hyacinth, a character who clumsily tries to do everything possible to appear to be civilized, cultured, and a person of high status. This usually resulted in Hyacinth falling incredibly short of putting on a show and revealing her true status of low rank instead. 

Spend any time on any social media platform and it is easy to see that many of us do all that we can to "keep up" with the Kardashians, Joneses, and/or whatever society deems to be in fashion. 

In a Gospel from last week, Jesus told the Pharisees that His disciples disregard traditional practices of washing and considering certain foods unclean because God cares more about our hearts than He does our outward practices and appearances (Mark 71:13).

How often do we hold onto practices to keep up appearances? While there is something to be said about the effectiveness of "fake it until you make it", it would be well worth our time to consider why we do certain things and uproot those behaviors that don't align with our true purposes.  

As people and institutions, how often do we do things without knowing why? How often do we cling to traditions only to betray our hearts? 

Busyness is worn as a badge of honor. But, are we busy doing things that would bring us and others new life and closer to God? 

The accumulation of material wealth is sold and bought to us on what is practically a continuous basis. But, nothing that we own will last and we can't take any of it with us. Where our treasure is, according to Jesus, is where our hearts are (Matthew 6:19-21). 

In Catholic schools, how often do we cling to the traditions of stringent admissions policies, punitive discipline, and traditional grading, despite the call of our Church to a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable:
This Sacred Council of the Church earnestly entreats pastors and all the faithful to spare no sacrifice in helping Catholic schools fulfill their function in a continually more perfect way, and especially in caring for the needs of those who are poor in the goods of this world or who are deprived of the assistance and affection of a family or who are strangers to the gift of Faith. (Second Vatican Council, 1965, #9)

and the latest research and more Gospel-centered approaches to character formation and learning? We often say that Catholic schools are like "families" yet still hold onto a business and factory-line model of education. 

Do our budgets reflect our beliefs? Can we say that our pursuit of the latest technology and athletic accomplishments are done in the service of the Spirit? 

Jesus warns against this keeping up with appearances. He encourages us to guard against disregarding "God's commandment to cling to human tradition" (Mark 7:8). 

Instead, we must look to our hearts. We must look to our beliefs about Jesus and teaching and learning and formation and live from them. These beliefs are what must inspire the actions within our Catholic schools and our lives. 

Sr. Helen Prejean famously said, "I watch what I do to see what I really believe.

And when we allow ourselves to see what our actions truly unveil about what we believe, may we have the courage - which comes from the Latin cor meaning heart - to more closely align ourselves and our schools with God's best plan for both.

For that, aligning our hearts and beliefs and therefore our actions to God's heart, is the heart of the matter.  

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Catholic School Milieu Moment - 2

Today we take a brief look at the four underlying beliefs or assumptions that should inform the culture of our Catholic schools: the Trinity, Incarnation, Paschal Mystery, and the Eucharist.

Catholicity: the character of being in conformity with the Catholic Church (Merriam-Webster)

Catholic Identity: from the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools:

  • rooted in Gospel values, centered on the Eucharist, and committed to faith formation, academic excellence and service

  • rigorous academic program for religious studies and catechesis in the Catholic faith, set within a total academic curriculum that integrates faith, culture, and life

  • opportunities outside the classroom for student faith formation, participation in liturgical and communal prayer, and action in service of social justice

  • adult faith formation and action in service of social justice

Next week we will focus on a more in-depth look at the Trinity and how it should inform the culture of our Catholic schools. Stay tuned!

Monday, February 8, 2021

The Universal Call to Holiness and Mission

"Every Christian, and therefore also every lay person, has been made a sharer in 'the priestly, prophetic, and kingly functions of Christ', and their apostolate 'is a participation in the saving mission of the Church itself... All are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself'. This call to personal holiness and to apostolic mission is common to all believers" (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, 1982, #6-7). 

All of us are made for holiness, built for greatness, and destined for sainthood. 

Regardless of any personal characteristics that make us individual and unique, we are - everyone - wonderfully made in God's image and likeness. We are not loved because we have value. Rather, we have value because God loves us as His own beloved children.

And, as children of God, we take part in the work of Our Father: to build up the Kingdom in heaven and establish it here on earth. 

For those of us baptized as Christians, we share in Christ's priestly, prophetic, and kingly functions. In short, this means that at our baptisms we were anointed with the Spirit of Christ. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, explained it this way (homily given at a Chrism Mass at Saint Peter’s on April 1, 2010): 

The word “Christians,” in fact, by which Christ’s disciples were known in the earliest days of Gentile Christianity, is derived from the word “Christ” (Acts 11:20-21) – the Greek translation of the word “Messiah,” which means “anointed one”. To be a Christian is to come from Christ, to belong to Christ, to the anointed one of God, to whom God granted kingship and priesthood. It means belonging to him whom God himself anointed – not with material oil, but with the One whom the oil represents: with his Holy Spirit.

With the Holy Spirit coursing through our veins, we are, like the apostles, sent on mission in the name of Jesus Christ. No matter our profession or level of work, every Christian is called to make the world align more closely to the principles of the Gospel. 

Those of us in direct ministry like Catholic education are called to this work in explicit and overt ways. We must move beyond merely suspecting or assuming that Catholic school educators understand the true nature of their work: it is a vocation and it makes up an apostolate within our Church: 

Lay Catholic educators in schools...must never have any doubts about the fact that they constitute an element of great hope for the Church. The Church puts its trust in them entrusting them with the task of gradually bringing about an integration of temporal reality with the Gospel, so that the Gospel can thus reach into the lives of all men and women. (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, 1982, #81) 

But, all of the baptized are called to make the world's "structures more conformed to the principles of the Gospel" (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, 1982, #19). All Christians are called to commit to improving business, government, medicine, and all areas of life so that they more faithfully uphold and enact the Gospel values. 

All Christians are called to make "human society more peaceful, fraternal, and communitarian" and "the 'civilization of love' a reality" (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, 1982, #19).

As such, we must show that we "are His co-workers in the various forms and methods of the Church's one apostolate, which must be constantly adapted to the new needs of the times. May (we) always abound in the works of God, knowing that (we) will not labor in vain when (our labor) is for Him (1 Corinthians 15:58)" (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, 1982, #82).

We have been called, anointed, and sent by our Father.

"Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."  

This is our baptismal rite. This is the mission. 

His mission. 

Our mission. 


Sacred Congregation of Catholic Education. (1982, October). Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to faith. Retrieved from:

Saturday, February 6, 2021

A Prayer to Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton

Painting by Zack Okello

The following prayer is adapted from the biography of Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton from the Archdiocese of Chicago:

It is intended to be used by Catholic school faculty and staff members, though it could be adapted for use by students and/or Catholic.

+As we pray for the intercession of Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton, the first black priest born in America, we look forward to the day when our world will see an end to racial and gender firsts. May our work today and always help break down systems of oppression while simultaneously building up systems that support and enhance equity and justice. 

  • Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton, pray for us. 

Venerable Fr. Tolton, you were born into slavery and your baptism was the result of this injustice, as the family who enslaved yours mandated all who they oppressed receive this sacrament. 

  • May we work to dismantle systems and structures that perpetuate cycles of oppression that bind families to certain ways and statuses of life. Instead, may we create liberating pathways that afford all the opportunity for and support necessary to obtain a Catholic education and a better life. 
  • Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton, pray for us.

Venerable Fr. Augustus, your father enlisted in the Union Army and gave his life in service to ending slavery in our country. Your widowed mother risked everything for a life of liberation, escaping slave quarters and traveling over 40 miles from Missouri to Illinois with three young children - your brother Charley, age 8; you, age 7; and your sister Anne, 20 months old. Union soldiers came to your family’s aid, supplying your mother with a dilapidated rowboat that she used to cross the Mississippi River - under gunfire from Confederate soldiers - to Illinois. 

  • May we support all dreamers and may we break down barriers that keep people trapped in states of oppression. We pray for everyone in our world risking their lives for the hope of a better future. May we become entrepreneurs - people who can innovatively design and implement new ways to attract, enroll, and support Catholic education for all.  
  • Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton, pray for us. 

Venerable Fr. Gus, as you were affectionately called, you were the first black student to attend your Catholic elementary school. Despite the efforts of the pastor and teachers to prepare the community and welcome you and your family to the school, you faced ridicule, other students mocked your accent, made fun of your inability to read, and called you insulting names referencing both the color of your skin and that you came from a single parent home. 

  • May our work with anti-racism help create shepherds among our communities. May we become and form faith-filled Catholics who will protect, guide, empower, and love the most vulnerable and those from minoritized groups within our communities.
  • Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton, pray for us. 

Venerable Fr. Tolton, you desired to become a priest and fought for the opportunity to pursue this vocation. When no seminary in the United States would take you, despite the support of many priests and bishops, you found a way across the ocean to be formed in Rome at the Propaganda Seminary. Here you were formed as a missionary priest, and it was your suspicion, and hope, that you would be sent to Africa. However, Cardinal Simeoni overruled the committee on appointments, announcing: “America has been called the most enlightened nation in the world. We shall see whether it deserves that honor. If the United States has never before seen a black priest, it must see one now.” Despite your disappointment, you humbly accepted this mission and returned to serve in the place that had rejected you. 

  • May we become and create mentors who can help all of those within their communities come to discover and follow their vocation. May our work help foster an increase to vocations to the priesthood and religious life and may Catholic schools everywhere spark a revival of faith within the Catholic Church, a revival similar to the types you fostered in both Quincy and Chicago.
  • Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton, pray for us.  

Venerable Fr. Augustus, your priestly ministry was relatively short; you served as a priest for 11 years before you passed into eternal life at the age of 43. In that time, you ministered to blacks and whites alike and were esteemed by many. You were a talented homilist and you gave yourself wholeheartedly to your ministry. You served at altars in the corners and basements of churches and you dreamed of building a church that would serve black Catholics in both Quincy and Chicago. Despite seeing the beginning of construction of a church in Chicago, you did not see its completion. You ultimately gave your life in loving service to your congregation, working zealously to provide masses, catechism classes, schools, and other forms of ministry so that others would come to know, love, and serve God. 

  • May we become and develop visionaries who can carry out your dream to build a church where its members would grow closer to God. May we work zealously, as you did, in loving service of our communities in order to bring this vision to life.  
  • Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton, pray for us. 

Verable Fr. Gus, you were surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who helped form and support you throughout your life. From your loving parents, especially your mother, Martha Jane; to Sr. Chrysologus, one of your first teachers, who would help tutor you after school to give you special lessons and also to protect you from the other students; to Fr. Peter McGirr, the pastor of St. Lawrence who befriended you and your family and helped you discern and supported you throughout your vocation; to St. Katharine Drexel who donated money to the cause of building the church of which you dreamed and later sent Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to serve in the school of your parish, this cloud of witnesses allowed you to run the race marked out for you, keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2). 

  • May our work in anti-racism move from forming allies in our Catholic schools and world to instead forming accomplices - people who are completely invested in and walking alongside those whom we serve. May we become and raise up a new generation of Catholics who will actively work to make our world more conformed to the principles of the Gospel.  
  • Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton, pray for us. 


Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Catholic School Milieu Moment - 1

"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, and having its own unique characteristics. The Council summed this up by speaking of an environment permeated with the Gospel spirit of love and freedom" (Congregation for Catholic Education, 1988, #25).

The milieu, or culture, of our Catholic schools should be permeated with the Gospel spirit of love and freedom and our norms should be based upon Gospel principles.

For more details about The Catholic School (1977), go here:

For more details about The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School (1988), go here:

Check back next week for another edition with another tip about building a distinctly Catholic school culture.