Monday, January 30, 2012

Why I Love Being a Catholic Teacher

I absolutely love being a Catholic educator and I cannot imagine teaching in any other realm, or in any other light than that of the Sanctuary Lamp, nestled near the Altar of God.

For me, it means Jesus is close at hand. It means the Master is just a heartbeat away, and He is the heart of my classroom. For me, being a Catholic educator means exactly the opposite of what some might imagine teaching religion to be (religio means "binding"). I AM FREE.

I am free to think, to question, to seek and to explore the universe God made and to find the truth of things and the inexhaustible mystery of things. I can live and move and have my being in a relationship that God has joined and no one can tear asunder: the marriage of faith and reason, biology and theology, heaven and earth, at once the mathematically measurable and the mysterious. 

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and science... It is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute a truly religious attitude.” 

- Albert Einstein
As a Catholic teacher... 

I am free to inject into my words the beliefs of my heart. I can let the light of the name through Whom all things were made, JESUS, shine throughout the work of my classroom and not fearfully hide it under a basket. My Catholic faith takes me out of the present Dark Ages that divorce God and Science. In the world of Catholic education, they are still happily married.

In a noisy age full of distortion and media deception, my work can be a subtle kind of inceptionLike Leonardo DiCaprio in the film Inception, I am planting the seed of a thought into all of my students that they are called to greatness. A greatness not only in this world... in any field they choose, but beyond the rim of this world, in everlasting relationships expanding towards an eternal horizon.

I can tell you without hindrance that life is not just about acquiring facts but more importantly friendships. We are destined to be a communion of saints burning with the desire to know not only the world in which we live but the Word in Whom and through Whom all things were made.

I can be holistic in this call to holiness, weaving the threads of all things sacred and secular into the tapestry of my classroom, never divorcing what God has joined. Since the WORD became flesh and dwells among us.... everything is holy now.

I love being a Catholic educator because here I can “speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth..." so thank You, God.

But there are many false images of what Catholic education looks like in the media. Played to death is the idea that the Church hates and fears science, that it is outdated, antiquated, and always belated when it comes to new discoveries. This is a lie pure and simple. 

The Catholic vision is not to be confused with a rigid, fundamentalist, creationist view of the world so often ridiculed in the media. I’d like to shine some light on the lies and dispel the shadows:

Science was actually born in the Church, as was the concept of education as we know it today, the idea of the university.

Some Fun Facts (taken from the work of Ben Wiker and Jonathan Wright)

Fr. Giambattista Riccioli was the first person to measure the rate of acceleration of a freely falling body. 

Fr. Athanasius Kircher has been called the father of Egyptology. 

Fr. Roger Boscovich has been called the father of modern atomic theory. Copernicus the astronomer was a Catholic, and later in life it is thought that he was ordained a priest and actually administered a diocese. 

Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian monk, is hailed as the father of modern genetics.

 Lazzaro Spallanzani, one of the greatest biologists of the eighteenth century, was a Catholic priest.

In the sciences it was the Jesuit order in particular who stand out as pioneers; there are some 35 craters on the moon named after Jesuit scientists and mathematicians.

 By the eighteenth century, they had contributed "to the development of pendulum clocks, pantographs, barometers, reflecting telescopes and microscopes, to scientific fields as various as magnetism, optics and electricity. They observed, in some cases before anyone else, the colored bands on Jupiter's surface, the Andromeda nebula and Saturn's rings. 

They theorized about the circulation of the blood, the theoretical possibility of flight, the way the moon effected the tides, and the wave-like nature of light. Star maps of the southern hemisphere, symbolic logic, flood-control measures on the Po and Adige rivers, introducing plus and minus signs into Italian mathematics..." - Jonathan Wright, The Jesuits, 2004, p. 189

"In January 1933, the Belgian mathematician and Catholic priest Georges Lemaitre traveled with Albert Einstein to California for a series of seminars. After the Belgian detailed his Big Bang theory, Einstein stood up applauded, and said, “This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened.”

 (from this excellent article)
During this Catholic Schools Week, I want to invite all of us to meditate on a quote from Blessed John Paul II that I’ve often shared with my own students: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth - in a word, to know himself - so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Illuminated Scripture Project 2012

Just a little teaser trailer for the Illuminated Scripture Project my freshmen do each year. A look back to the beauty and brilliance of the so called "Dark Ages" when words were Light and Treasure, and well worth our time illuminating. This is a great project for teenage boys, especially the freshmen level. They are bursting with the desire to excel and impress, they have incredible energy flowing through them, and they love to doodle. It's a match made in Heaven! Doodling for the Divine! I'll post their work in a subsequent video.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Clarity of Clare

Every parent should consider their child a gift and a miracle, because every human life is an unrepeatable, absolutely incredible, physical manifestation of God's image and His love in this world. Our daughter Clare is a miracle because of that truth; but there's something even more miraculous about her story that merits repeating. In this month of January, when hundreds of thousands will travel to our nation's capitol, mourning 39 years of the legality of abortion in America, we need the clarity and light Clare brings us even more. Clare is an abortion holocaust survivor.

Before we knew she existed, our future adopted daughter was in a Planned Parenthood, in utero, having her life scheduled to be “terminated.” Through a miracle of grace, a technician let the sound of baby Clare's heartbeat resound in that clinical room of torture (This is not the current practice of Planned Parenthood, but there appears to be some current legislation urging this form of prenatal monitoring to be law). On hearing the rapid and muffled tones of that little heartbeat, Clare's birth mother changed her mind about the abortion, got up, and left America's leading abortion provider.

Walking across the street, she found a similar place for all intents and purposes; a crisis pregnancy center for women offering help and resources. But rather than a place of sacrilege against new life, this was a sanctuary for life. A tapestry of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of the Unborn, greets the women as they enter. They are offered the truth about their options as well as support systems to see them through their pregnancy and beyond.

Having already adopted our beautiful son with a slightly similar story of survival, my wife and I received a call and a question from our friends at the center: “There's another baby whose mother wants to form an adoption plan. The story is complicated. Are you open?” We took about 4 seconds to make our decision. Thought process: You said baby. We're open.

We were on pins and needles the whole pregnancy. We prayed for the health and stability of the birth mother, knowing she was a soul in difficult straits. At one point in the pregnancy, Clare's birth mom threatened to break her water. She was nearly undone by anxiety and from an attempt to hide her pregnancy from everyone. We felt deeply the vulnerability and fragility of our future daughter's life. As Pope Benedict XVI once said, “How can it be that the most wondrous and sacred human space - the womb - has become a place of unutterable violence?” And all the while little Clare was forming in the warm darkness of the womb, oblivious to how close she came to never seeing the light of day.

And then the day came.

Our friend from the pregnancy center who took over support for Clare and her birth mother was at the mother's bedside at the hospital. There were complications; the labor wasn't progressing and the possibility of a c-section was looming. The birth mother was rejecting this plan, angry and eager to leave quickly after birth. It was at this moment that our friend, nearby and whispering the Divine Mercy chaplet just at the hour of Mercy, saw things turn around. Clare was born in the normal course, healthy and strong. Perhaps overwhelmed by the power this precious life would have over her heart, or simply in an anguished attempt to return to the life she knew before, the birth mother refused to know the sex of the baby she had just brought into the world. As was her stated desire, she never held or even looked upon Clare. Instead, our friend cradled her, singing Hail Mary's to her and telling her how much she was already loved, already so cherished by Jesus and by a mommy and daddy close by. She said over and over again, “You are full of grace.”

On the third day of her life, she came to us. It was Sunday, August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady. An uncommon and soft rain was falling that summer day (just another sign of grace) and it commingled with our tears of joy. Holding her was unreal. Miracle of miracles! We chose the name Clare, a name that means bright or clear, and for the year and half she has been with us, she has been just that. Quick to laugh, to smile, to let wonder and awe at little things overwhelm her. She has been capturing hearts just like ours with her sweet charms - at church, the mall, the grocery store. With every compliment on her beauty, like the Ancient Mariner, we feel compelled to tell her tale. We still thank God for her birth mother, and continue to pray for her - she chose Life and we are forever blessed by her choice. As for Clare, she is living proof that Life is good, and that Life will win. That clarity and light breaks into this world for us every time she smiles, and with every precious beat of her heart. The heart that, in fact, saved her.

The YouTube video of her story is here:

Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Way: Its Truth and Its Life

Now there's a way and I know that I have to go away. I know I have to go.
- Cat Stevens, from the song Father and Son

The story line was richly textured, the cinematography was beautiful, and the acting refreshing and inspired. The only change would be to add another great tune to the already excellent soundtrack of this “journey” film; Cat Steven’s Father and Son. For that is what lies at the heart of The Way.

The path one must take to discover the meaning of life takes literal form in this new movie written and directed by Emilio Estevez. It stars himself as Daniel, the son, in brief flashes throughout the film, and his father, Martin Sheen, who plays Tom, Daniel’s father. Filmed entirely in Spain and France along the Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James, The Way tells the tale of their falling out as a father and son, and ultimately their reconciliation via Tom’s epic walk. The path he takes has been walked for 1000 years, ending at the very cathedral where it’s believed the body of St. James, the Apostle, rests. The journey is multi-layered. It is spiritual, emotional, physical.

Early on we see the tension that exists between Tom’s character and his son’s. It's a cool relationship, and one given distance by the fathers's desire for security, stability, and control. His son, as is often the case, rebels against all these steadies and seeks a life on the edge. His desire to experience the world and to travel and learn wisdom more than knowledge for a profession taps into the deepest desires of the heart.

Tom has trouble letting his son go, letting him move through the world without, seemingly, a plan. And what parent doesn’t struggle with that? “Be safe kid,” I can still her my own father say. But life to be lived must have that precariousness, that vulnerability, and that risk that when taken can make a person whole. The risk, however, might mean leaving just that - a hole in the heart.

A phone call brings Tom the tragic news; Daniel’s pilgrimage in Spain was cut short even as it began. So he finds himself (through a series of events) walking the Way of St. James himself! The adventure begins. The Father becomes the son, and the son becomes the father (mentoring dad in apparitions along the way, through smiles, nods and encouragement). Tom must face his own fears and inadequacies. His own philosophy of life too must come into question, and he must learn that the journey itself has much to teach us. As Shakespeare once wrote, the attentive man “finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.” (As You Like It, II.i.1–17)

Tom is joined along the way by a cast of characters each bearing their own crosses through the crossroads of the Camino. A tall and lovable Dutchman by the name of Joost remains Tom’s sidekick throughout the Way, his own story being one of reclaimed self-worth and self-confidence. His comic relief gives a wonderful spirit to the movie. A woman appears at a hostel where Tom stays overnight; Sarah is bitter and sardonic towards him, having assumed by his physical appearance that she knows him and can neatly box him up and put him on a shelf with all of the “baby boomers” of his time. But after a stretch of miles, and on hearing of Tom’s deep wounds, she unpacks her heart too. She had an abortion years ago, and still she says “I think I can her my baby’s voice.” She thirsts for a peace that men stole from her, and owns the fact now that she made a deeper valley of pain by her choice. But the Camino and the companionship it affords has become a healer for her. (We found it so powerful that the tragedy of abortion was revealed for what it is in this film, and that the child was seen as such... a voice silenced, but which we can still hear, and will hear again in eternity).

And finally the Poet, an Irishman named Jack who is nearly losing his mind in an attempt to capture life in a novel. He has writer’s block and has taken to the Camino for inspiration. He learns along the way, however, that life first must be experienced. Words will come only after the heart listens and allows itself to be filled.
Watching The Way was a pure delight, and each step drew our hearts more and more into the stories of these souls. In the words of St. Columban, “A life unlike your own can be your teacher.” A timeless truth ran through it all and was quickly identified as we watched; Life itself is the Way, and walking  it patiently can bring the answers we seek. If we try to plan too much, if we latch onto control or cling to the past we’re doomed to stagnate, wither, and fade. We must move, we must climb, we must ascend. 
We see a moment of catharsis in the end, as the walkers enter the cathedral of St. James. The massive and legendary thurible, filled with incense, swings to and fro, lifted and spun by nearly half a dozen men. It fills the sanctuary and wraps the travelers in a holy silence. The film ends with the sea, beckoning them to lay down their burdens, each of a different size and shape in the mind and heart. The sea with its salty tears washes over the cold, hard rocks and makes them smooth. This is the effect of water on everything, just as this is the effect of grace on everything. All they ever had to do was be open to it, and let it wash them clean. This surrender in effect is the Way. And it remains for us just the same; it’s the only way!

Originally published in Phaith Magazine, Archdiocese of Philadelphia

Talking to Your Little Ones About the Big Topic of Sex

A much repeated sentence we hear at our Theology of the Body retreats and courses is "I wish I heard this when I was younger!" ...