Today was a long day, so this will be a short post. In conclusion, I work at the greatest high school in the universe.
The very first thing our incoming freshmen (among whom is my daughter Olivia) heard from the president-rector of the school was this: “Our goal for you at Saint Mary’s is that every one of you will leave this school having come into a loving relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Very. First. Thing.
I have friends who would argue that this approach is too on the nose, that evangelizing kids requires more subtlety, etc. They’re wrong. Everybody needs to know they are loved, full stop.
One of my favorite passages in scripture is Acts 17 where Saint Paul addresses the Athenians and tries to win them over by telling them all about the unnamed God they worship. (“In him we move,we live, and have our being. ..”) I have always liked this passage because Paul uses Greek culture to evangelize the Greeks. Their pagan poetry is now Christian poetry. That’s cool.
BUT, he didn’t get any converts doing this. It wasn’t until he started preaching Christ and Him crucified that the conversions began pouring in.
When I went in for my “pre-” screening for my former position at Saint Mary’s (TGHSITU) I was asked all kinds of questions about what I, as a woefully inexperienced administrator, would do to strengthen the school’s Catholic identity if the faculty and staff were resistant to change. I said, “I will lift up Jesus Christ and He will draw men to himself.”
This is what we did and Jesus never disappoints. We have attracted the finest teachers and students you can imagine. It’s unbelievable to work in a place where every one is pulling in the same direction and that direction is toward Jesus, the love of my life.
God is so, so good.
Yesterday was our faculty retreat. The topic of the day was acedia. You don’t know that you know what acedia is, but you do: it’s the unnamed demon that you didn’t even know you’ve been struggling against.
The medieval monks who first applied this term to the Christian spiritual life associated all of the evil thoughts / temptations with which they struggled with demons. From the Wikipedia article linked above:
The demon of acedia holds an important place in early monastic demonology and proto-psychology. In the late fourth century Evagrius of Pontus, for example, characterizes it as “the most troublesome of all” of the eight genera of evil thoughts.
Now, it might seem quaint to us to talk about acedia as a demon, but I’d like you to ask yourself if that’s because it’s a childish notion or because we’ve tacitly accepted the materialist, scientistic worldview that pervades our culture?
Medieval cosmologists believed the stars and planets were moved about by angels. What if that is true? I for one much prefer living in a world where “the heavens” are filled with wonderful things to living in a world where the night sky is simply “space.”
Anyway, acedia. Now that you know the name of the demon you can go about exorcizing it. More on that soon.
Bread from Heaven
My one and only published poem. It goes with today’s mass readings.
p.s. I won the heroic moment today, butit was close.
This morning I was reminded how important it is to have a routine. When I rely on inspiration to get things done, nothing gets done. When I follow a set routine, I’m a champ. Maybe some people are disciplined enough to do what needs to be done without a routine, but my fallen nature makes it very easy to fall back asleep and very hard to do the opposite.
I’ve labeled the alarm on my phone, “Serviam” as a reminder that, unlike Lucifer, I want to serve, but I’ve been bad about winning the heroic moment (the moment you first wake up). I’ll start being intentional about it again tomorrow. Pray that I can keep this promise. I’ll pray for you, too.
One thing that should definitely be a part of everyone’s routine is prayer and scripture reading. I’ll share my routine in another post, but I’ll say now that the daily mass readings are easy to find and short enough to read with your morning joe (or your morning go).
When we pray, we tend to talk a lot. When we read the scriptures, God talks back. I find He’s often funny. Once when I was belly aching about how poor I am, the psalm of the day was, “The LORD hears the cry of the poor.” When I was recently diagnosed with diabetes, the reading said, “You will surely die.” Cute, Lord.
I’m pleasantly surprised by how often God speaks to me in that winking manner. I’m glad for it. There are some people who are more religious than God who might think God doesn’t wink. I don’t want to be one of them. I want to be a merry Christian, and a merry Christian to all, ho, ho, ho.
Not much to write about today. I saw a movie yesterday called Criminal starring Kevin Costner, Ryan Reynolds, and the new Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot. It was basically a cross between Flowers for Algernon and The Bourne Identity. It was pretty good for a rental. Costner plays a crazy, foul-mouthed bad guy pretty well. It had some pretty gory moments, but thankfully, no May-December romance.
I’ve just used the word pretty three times in rapid succession. I’ve either become a horrible writer or my subconscious is coming up to periscope depth. Fine. Gal Gado is pretty.
Well, pretty pretty.
Travel day today and, yesterday, Amy and I walked through Chicago. Happy to be home, but wish we could’ve brought the tree-lined streets and lovely houses /churches/brick buildings-of-any-kind of Evanston, IL home with us. Our church buildings in Phoenix are tragedies. Thank God the living stones are of such high quality here.
That not very clear image is of the Chicago skyline as seen from a private beach on Northwestern University’s campus. Amy and I are here picking our daughter Sophia up from an intensive summer drama program for high school students. She has had an amazing experience and has really enjoyed herself. She has also become beloved by everyone who has met her.
What a blessing to have someone you love so much be recognized as lovely. What a joy to share in someone else’s great joy.
While we were here, we took advantage of the opportunity to take a tour of the university. We were very impressed. Our tour guide Eli was fantastic. He was exactly the kind of confident, well-spoken, charming young man you want representing your organization. He spoke to us like we were people, not prospects. He made us feel like this massive research university was a tight-knit community of friends. They are doing something right at Northwestern.
They are not a classical liberal arts school, but they do emphasize the liberal arts. If I wasn’t so lazy, I’d elaborate on that, but long story short, if Sophia decided to go here, we’d be thrilled. It seems like a great fit for a kid who loves drama and is naturally and broadly curious. Plus, like Amy’s and my alma mater, they’re Wildcats.
One last thing about what I said earlier. The recent news of Father Jacques Hamel’s martyrdom in France was so shocking, but how beautiful that the Lord he loved and served is drawing his murderers’ co-religionists to him?
p.s. If any of you are keeping track, I wrote and attempted to post this entry last night, but I’m having issues with the WordPress interface. It’s can be pretty frustrating.
Shortly after I started working as Dean of Academics at the greatest Catholic high school in the universe I attended a presentation on disruptive innovations that was supposed to till the soil for a diocesan-wide push towards adopting some non-traditional educational models (e.g. online classes, flipped classrooms, hybrid courses). The Catholic Schools Office felt that these educational approaches were worth pursuing because they deemed them the best way to meet the needs and expectations of both students and parents.
The presentation basically argued that the times they are a’changing and, if we wanted to keep pace with other schools, we would accept that the field of education was being disrupted and start making the switch to the new way of doing things. If you don’t know what it means to say an industry or field is being disrupted, I’ll explain.
In any given field conventional wisdom and standard operating procedures work together to maintain the status quo. So for example, before transistor radios, the status quo in the radio industry was R2-D2-sized radios powered by vacuum tubes. Naturally, industry leaders like RCA and Magnavox poured all their R&D money into creating better, more efficient vacuum tubes.
When the first transistor radios came on the scene, they were utterly dismissable. They had crappy reception, tinny sound, and zero aesthetic appeal. BUT they were cheap and portable, which meant that Joanie and Chachi could neck to their rock-n-roll music without Mrs. Cunningham walking in on them. These cheap radios sold like crazy which allowed their manufacturers to produce more of them and improve their quality. Eventually, the upstart radios surpassed the industry leaders in both sound quality and market share.The industry had been disrupted. Sic transit vacuum tube radios.
I find this idea of disruption fascinating, but I think the Catholic Schools Office has misread the signs of the times.
Last week I had the privilege of attending the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education’s annual conference with a few of my colleagues. Hearing about all the good work that is going on in Catholic classical schools around the country was inspiring. For those few days, I felt like I had climbed up out of a smoggy valley and my reward was the clarity that comes with being in an atmosphere of fresh, pure air. From that vantage point it was clear to me that the real disruptive force in Catholic education is not going to come from the future; it’s going to come from the past.
Chesterton says that sometimes to make progress you have to go in reverse (like when you’re running toward a cliff). I think this why I–and any Catholic who cares about their children–need to work without ceasing to return Catholic education to its classical roots. Otherwise, all of our efforts will simply be more efficient vacuum tubes.
When I was in college, one of my roommates had the old Nintendo Entertainment System. The game that we played the most was Punch Out. In that game, the first opponent you face is named Glass Joe. He’s pretty easy to defeat once you figure out that there’s a certain pattern of left crosses or right hooks or whatever that you have to do in order to hit him on the chin and knock him out. He has a glass jaw after all.
What has always stuck with me about the game is how it relates to the real world. The next opponent you face after Glass Joe is a guy (I don’t remember his name) who is immune to the attacks that worked against Joe. A person still giddy with victory after shattering Glass Joe inevitably employs the same punching pattern on his new opponent and he promptly has the win knocked out of him.
It seems to me that in our world we make the same mistake quite often.We need new approaches to the problems that we face. Things that used to work, don’t anymore.
Earlier today I read an article by R. R. Reno explaining why Ted Cruz’s Reagan-esque speech at the RNC didn’t resonate with the people. He argued that what we need right now politically is not a politic of freedom, but rather one of solidarity. Freedom rhetoric worked for Reagan, but doesn’t work now. Reno goes on to claim that only Trump is aware of this need for solidarity and so his rhetoric is really appealing to the American people at the moment. He claims Trump’s rhetoric is unifying because it creates solidarity among the Americans who are becoming more and more afraid of foreigners and “takers.”
I think what Reno said about freedom vs. solidarity is probably insightful and true, but I’m not sure that what conclusions you should draw from this.
Personally, I think Trump is an asshat and that the kind of unity he engenders and inspires is akin to that of Nazi Germany. I know it’s a foul to say things like that on the Internet, but I really don’t think he’s a good guy. I don’t think that America will be better off with him. I’m not really interested in debating whether America will be better off with Hillary. I don’t think she’s any good either, but I do think we live in a particularly troubling time. I don’t think the solution that we used to rely on (voting for the lesser of two evils) will work anymore. Consequently I think we need something new. Something along the lines of Nineveh’s response to Jonah’s message of repentance.
The times we live in are troubling–who would have ever dreamed that an 80-something-year-old priest would be beheaded at mass in France?–but they are the times we live in. I am heartened by Saint Thomas More who said “the times are never so bad that a good man can’t live in them.” I pray that I’ll be such a man and that whether a long, boring life or a sudden dramatic death is in store for me, I’ll be ready to go.
Sometime last year my friend Ryan and I started talking about doing something suggested by what I had read in my morning devotional reading. In that day’s passage the author of In Conversation with God suggested that when Catholic men greet each other they should ask one another, “How goes the watch?” He said this was how Roman soldiers used to greet a fellow soldier while he was on guard duty. The suggestion was that someone in one’s group of men should always be standing guard–praying and fasting–defending the others in the circle of friends. This idea resonated with me and with my friend.
We talked for a while about initiating this project, launching it here at the school where I work, St. Mary’s Catholic High School (the greatest High School in the universe) but we never really seemed to be able to get it off the ground.
Just before Lent started this year, I decided that I would do it on my own, and, since then, I have dedicated Mondays to praying and fasting for the men in my life. I made a list of all the men at the school, which expanded and eventually became all the men in my life, including my sons and my father and their friends.
I haven’t been exactly perfect at it for a while. I’ve been out of town and with my new dietary restrictions, I’ve been a little bit hesitant to fast for too long, but for the most part, I have been able to do this and have been happy to stand guard.
Of course, one has to be careful not to make others suffer while you’re mortifying yourself. It took me a few weeks to figure out that my kids weren’t being especially annoying on Monday nights. I was.
In case you’re wondering, Uncle Screwtape’s recipe for headless children is one part low blood sugar + a very long day.
Be on guard when you’re on guard!