Monday, January 26, 2015

The Promise of Catholic Education

St. Thomas Aquinas, Patron of Catholic Universities, Colleges and Schools

The annual celebration of Catholic Schools Week in the U.S. typically serves as an important marketing moment.  It's a chance to share the good news about Catholic education, to spread the word about specific schools, and to build the enrollment base for the next year.

But, given Pope Francis' persistent emphasis on the Lord's call to "to go forth" from our comfort zones, perhaps Catholic Schools Week should become an occasion to envision just what the missionary transformation of our educational communities might look like:  What would it mean for Catholic schools to be "centers of the New Evangelization," for example?  What would it mean for Catholic colleges and universities to be places of intellectual, spiritual and cultural inquiry regarding the True, the Good, and the Beautiful?

Here are three couplets for consideration about Catholic education; they are not the only qualities that ought to set Catholic school communities apart, but they are among the necessary conditions for the possibility of an ongoing missionary transformation:
  • Grace and Mercy.  Grace is a gift--freely given and completely unearned.  Mercy is merciful precisely because it is undeserved.  Catholic school students and families should understand that existence itself is ours on loan; they should know that life is meant be received and revered, not manipulated according to our personal whims.  Grace means that we are never alone, although we will feel very lonely if we choose to refuse the gift.  Mercy means that we are never cut off, even if we have abused God's grace and abdicated our responsibility for his gift.  Grace and mercy mean that we look at one another differently, in a healed and holy way.
  • Encounter and Conversion.  Encounter is the stuff of life--it's about those whom we meet along the journey of life, as well as the One whom we long to know more fully.  Conversion is the ongoing invitation to a fresh start; it is the basic requirement of becoming the better person we know God wants us to be.  Encounter is never a one-way street, of course, since the infinite Lord of love has an eternity of time to spend with each of his children.  Every day, the Father reaches out to us, the Son knocks at the door or our heart, and the Holy Spirit prompts us to a deeper life of self-giving love.  Catholic school students and families should have the wisdom to sense these subtle spiritual movements and the courage to admit when they have ignored or rejected them in favor of some worldly idol.  Encounter and conversion mean that we live in a real, personal relationship with the One who is really real and perfectly personal.
  • Communion and Solidarity. Communion is both the Eucharist we receive and the life we live with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Solidarity is standing with and for others, in the Other. We can experience Jesus' real presence in the Blessed Sacrament, if our minds can see through the myth that the consecrated bread is simply symbolic.  Catholic school students and families need to receive the Eucharist as if from the hands of Jesus, who identified himself as the "Bread of Life," in order to live a deeper union with others.  If our hearts are open, we can experience communion and solidarity with others by meeting them where they are, as they are, and who they are--especially those who are marginalized.  Communion and solidarity change us even as they change the world.
This is at least part of the promise of Catholic education.  Its peril, of course, lies in failing to make the journey required by the call for a missionary transformation.  Will Catholic schools find an authentically counter-cultural voice, and thereby position themselves to help save souls and renew the culture?  Or will they serve as mere private-school mirrors to the culture at large, and thereby lose their most authentic identity and unique mission?

To ignore, deny or trivialize Jesus is the ultimate peril of Catholic education.  Its ultimate promise is to ensure that the Lord is at the center of every Catholic institution.  After all, Christ himself asks us to teach others to "observe all that I have commanded you," even as he promises to remain with us always, "until the end of the age" (Mt 28:20). 

The choice is ours.  The educated choice is obvious.

Monday, January 19, 2015


9 Days of Prayer, Penance and Pilgrimage

Who would have foreseen such a linking of novenas, pilgrimages, and hashtags?! 

Creating a culture of life clearly depends more on winning hearts than on winning arguments.  And, like a good teacher who brings forth both the old and the new, Mother Church has seized this moment to invite her children to rediscover the path of spiritual transformation.

Changing hearts and minds always begins "at home," of course.  It is always a matter of you and I loving more selflessly, rather than just demanding that others do so.  It is always a matter of you and I embracing each human life as a gift--not only the unexpected baby but also the unprepared mother, not only the victims but also the perpetrators of our incessant cultural violence, not only our "allies" but also our "enemies" in the waning culture wars.

With this in mind, the U.S. Bishops are encouraging Catholics around the country to recommit themselves to a classic combination from the Church's treasury of resources:  prayer and penance.  The question thus becomes:  Am I willing to pray for friends or family members who do not see Life as the real civil rights issue of our day?  Am I willing to fast--from my dependence on food or drink; from my reliance on creature comforts or conveniences, from my insistence on my plans or my way every day--in order to create a new space where my will is more interdependent on God's?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Jesus, Mohammed, or the World?

Is it ever justifiable to use violence as the means of achieving some allegedly noble end or goal?  Is it ever morally licit to will the death of an enemy?

Jesus remains the only voice who utters a consistent and resounding "No" to such questions.  For Jesus alone offers a deeper "Yes."  His Yes provides a path beyond all rationalizations regarding post-modern "warfare" or "liberty" run amok as license. 

So what is Jesus' deeper Yes?  It is the in-breaking of divine Love.  This divine Love transcends any categories which mere human thought could have devised:  It is a Love which demands forgiveness, rather than encouraging righteous vengeance; it is a Love which requires self-sacrifice, rather than sacrificing others--typically the most vulnerable; it is a Love which embraces enemies, rather than eliminating them. 

Most radically, perhaps, it is a Love which is resolutely non-violent.  The following "hard sayings" are clear evidence that Jesus actually rose from the dead, that he is seated at the right hand of his Father, and that he acts as head of his body on earth, the Church.  After all, why would his disciples record such seemingly impossible teachings, which they clearly did not understand, and why would the Church maintain such impossible standards for her members, if not for the reality of divine Love revealed in the crucified and risen Lord?

Monday, January 5, 2015

A Joyful Resolution for '15


Will 2015 be a year of newness, or of "more of the same"?  If the situations or relationships or routines which dragged us down last year threaten to cast a shadow over the so-called new year, then how can we resolve to have a fresh start in '15?


I think joy is the answer.  Joy opens us to the light.  Joy brings us that peace which the world cannot give. 

When I allow myself to be surprised by joy, I am reminded that the worries and regrets and anxieties which may be haunting me are largely out of my control.  I cannot change them, although moments of joy remind me that I can change myself.  Thanks to the gratuitous gift of God's grace, of course, I know that real change is possible.  I've seen and touched such joy.

Indeed, if I open myself to living out of a place of joy rather than of discontent, I suddenly find myself appreciating the quirky twists of divine providence and the oft-overlooked humor of the Holy Spirit.  So if 2015 is going to be a year of newness, I need to live out these simple strategies:
  • To identify the people and places and activities that foster joy in my life--maximizing my time in these zones.
  • To admit that doing God's will brings me great joy--even if it is challenging--, whereas merely doing my own will leaves me with that "more of the same" feeling.
  • To etch out more silence each day, since embracing joy requires listening to my heart, rather than living inside my head or my busybody-ways.

Monday, December 29, 2014

More Like Mary

We live in the age of "likes."  So, wouldn't the world be a better place if more people started "liking" the Virgin Mother Mary? 

What if Mary started "trending"?!  The world might start to notice why God chose her for such a singular place in human history:
  • Humility triumphs over triviality:  As flawed and fallen human beings, many of us are tempted to think that the world revolves around our little selves--or that our little selves are so insignificant that nothing we do really matters.  When the Angel Gabriel announces the plan of salvation to Mary, the "favored one" (Lk 1:28), she neither demands ("what took you so long?!") nor demurs ("you must have the wrong person...").  Rather, the one conceived without sin sees herself neither as perfect nor as useless, but as the faithful servant of God--"I am the handmaid of the Lord" (Lk 1:38).  Mary's life is not all about herself, but is always centered on the will of the heavenly Father, on the life of her Son, and on the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

  • Solitude silences fear.  The scene of the Annunciation concludes with a potentially chilling line: "Then the angel departed from her" (Lk 1:38).  The Angel has just delivered world-shattering news; the drama of God's covenantal love will now play out in human history.  The "bomb" has been dropped, and now Mary is alone.  She has no blueprint to follow, no predetermined course of action on which to rely.  Yet her time alone yields not to loneliness or isolation.  Rather, this solitude sends her forth fearlessly to visit Elizabeth.