Playing with Ideas

Over the summer, I read several books, articles, and other thought pieces that addressed the theme of social emotional learning (SEL). The increasing priority of SEL in schools is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which include meeting children where they are in their cognitive and moral development. Emerging from, or working within, a global pandemic only exacerbates this need.

The role of play in schools can sound childish (pun very much intended) upon first glance. In all schools, public and private, parents do not pay tuition or taxes for their child/ren to go down slides, climb ropes, and careen back and forth on the swings. If anything, play is framed as a break from the routinization of the school day; it’s a respite from adults teaching to them. But from a cognitive standpoint, it’s a chance to develop in ways even the latest app can’t deliver. Children learn how to navigate, negotiate, innovate, improvise, compromise, and organize. They begin the lifelong process of building relationships and planting the seeds of virtues that will inspire them to grow and reflect on what excites and motivates them. The physical, emotional, and social benefits of play are unparalleled. The social psychologist Jonathan Haidt is a proponent of letting kids play despite many of the fears that surround parents in today’s day and age. He argues that in overprotecting children, many parents unconsciously do more harm than good, projecting an image of fragility over resilience.

Playing with the idea of children getting outside more, letting go more as adults, and hoping we are making the best decisions for the safety and well-being of those entrusted in our care is no simple proposition. While we recognize the role of work in our lives this weekend during Labor Day, we should also honor the role of play in our lives and the lives of children. It’s an idea worth reconsidering again.

It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!

Catching Fireflies

On mild summer evenings, there is something blissful about catching glimpses of fireflies illuminate my front yard. The intermittent flickering of bioluminescence is a simple reminder to witness something relatively small, perhaps otherwise insignificant, but incredibly profound these days. This glimpse into nature’s light show affords us an opportunity to reflect on those episodes of joy in our lives. All too often we overemphasize the duration of bliss or relaxation during the lazy days of summer at the detriment of these experiences: How long am I going away? When do I have to return to reality? Can this last longer?

I was fortunate to have several of these moments with my family this summer as we took time to get away, as so many do during the season. And while we took our share of pictures and videos, I tried to be mindful of these “firefly moments” with my wife and boys, taking in the colors, smells, sounds, and emotions of experiences, even those some would consider mundane or not worthy of such attention like eating a meal together. The last couple of years have, if anything, provided us with the stark realization that such moments are graced moments. And so I think there are “four commandments” to consider as we embark on a new school year.

Be Mindful

Mindfulness has become potentially misunderstood in our culture as an psuedo-easy-going philosophy during difficult times, a zen-like mantra to relax. But mindfulness is much more than a mindset or a cognitive exercise in breathing; it is a way of being. Being mindful means cultivating a profound appreciation for all thoughts, experiences, and sense we encounter on a daily basis. It does not eschew pain or uncomfortable thoughts but rather recognizes them for what they are, giving gratitude, and letting them go. It is an embrace of the sum total of our world not a selective mental buffet. But it first requires us to allow these thoughts and experiences to permeate our lives.

Be Open

It is a true mindset to be open to growth but it comes with the inherent recognition that we may be wrong about our perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs. Openness is not psychological naivete but rather invites us to see our relationships and their settings for what they are, not what we desire them to be. Being open to people and ideas that run counter to our own risks getting hurt or emotionally wounded in one way or another. To be open also entails that we invite and welcome new ideas and concepts that challenge the status quo. Echo chambers may be kind to our ears but in the end they do not contribute to our intellectual or moral growth.

Be Vulnerable

Often times vulnerability is collapsed into an image of weakness or powerlessness. Far from it, being vulnerable is a fierce ability to unite mindfulness and openness into an adaptive attitude that allows us to nimbly adjust to ever-changing circumstances and provide an emotional network for those around us. Brené Brown discusses vulnerability as the ability to “drop the armor” which allows us to be open to experiences and purpose and meaning to our lives. These last two years have not invited us to be vulnerable; they’ve thrust it upon us. But this does not mean we have to overshare or burden others with emotional baggage. Instead, we should be more present to the duress of others, more patient with the impatient, more clam with the distracted. In short, we are called to look and act beyond what is in front of us. We are a people of horizons, looking beyond today. We are a people of hope.

Be Hopeful

Being hopeful is not wish fulfillment. It is not merely desiring that our circumstances change or that we are somehow able to eliminate pain and suffering from our lives or the lives of our loved ones. Benedict XVI wrote about hope in the encyclical Spe salvi where he notes, “Human life is a journey. Towards what destination? How do we find the way? Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route. The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives. They are lights of hope” (Spe salvi, no. 49).

Recently, the Feast of the Assumption serves as a reminder of the model of hope, the Blessed Mother Mary. The act of saying “yes” in the face of uncertainty is the ultimate channeling of mindfulness, openness, and vulnerability. We affirm ourselves when we take up this simple affirmation: yes. It is saying “amen” to the challenges and joys in our life. But only when these three actions are completed can we truly appreciate the hope that persists in all of our lives!

Look for the fireflies in your life. Catch one. Release it. Discover the joy in your own small revelation of bliss.

It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!

What is Coming?

Some years, we patiently await the birth of Christ; others, we rush toward it. Some years, we look forward to new beginnings; others, we avoid them altogether. This year, many of us may have experienced what psychologist Adam Grant called languishing, the neglected middle child of mental health. Neither flourishing nor depression, we may have had a sense of being joyless and aimless. Perhaps we found ourselves more forgetful about appointments and more guarded about attending unnecessary events. If 2020 was forgettable, then 2021 was meh.

During the liturgical season of Advent, we are reminded once more about the humble beginnings of Christ: a manger surrounded by livestock, anxious parents, and an unknown future. We are reminded that kingly gifts may attract the eye but the presence of new life warms the soul. We are reminded that there is always room for our neighbors. The value of community and what it does should encourage us
all. The Irish poet John O’Donohue once wrote that, “True community is not produced; it is invoked and awakened. True community is where the full identities of awakened and realized individuals challenge and complement each other. In this sense both individuality and originality enrich self and
others.” What a community does is often more important than who comprises it.

Perhaps in a Trinitarian way, good things happen in threes. Maybe 2022 is the year of reimagining and renewing the priorities in our lives. Maybe it’s a time to take stock of what we have come to love and appreciate as invaluable during an otherwise surreal time in our lives. Then again, maybe it’s “just another year.” And even if it is, we should be vigilant in safeguarding what we hold to be true and cherish our time with it. If the Advent season teaches us anything, it is that the virtues of faith, hope, and love have no variants; they are constants in the life we have and the one we are called to.

It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!

Impossible Mission

This school year was without a doubt a formidable challenge to even the most veteran educator. A dizzying myriad of safety guidelines, curricular expectations, medical provisions, and technological improvisations challenged schools in the fall after a seemingly lost summer dedicated to planning for an unknown horizon. It was simply an impossible mission, or so I thought.

Today marks the feast of St. Rita, the patron saint of impossible causes, who lived a troubled life according to most narratives. Her commitment to her faith, what might best be described as the epitome of grit, should serve as an inspiration for all of us as we dabble in a “new (newer) normal” of returning to what once was.

Facing the impossible in many ways is no different than facing what is probable. Both are arenas for a mental chess game whereby perceived losses only function as small steps to winning, a methodological anticipation of what has yet to come. We are all exceedingly impatient beings. The impossible mission we have faced only underscores the need to keep modeling patience, like St. Rita, as we focus on the ultimate endgame of our lives.

It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!


It has been just over a year since our world started to unravel. Everything that was familiar became strange and the strange became familiar: types of masks, remote work/learning, and daily lessons on immunology and hygienic practices. While we reminisce about what our world used to be like, we also ponder what will be. The period of Holy Week echoes this sentiment as it begins and concludes with joyful events. First, the entry into Jerusalem with palms, a sign of victory; then the empty tomb, a symbol of new life. The anguish, pain, and turmoil experienced in between represent more than a historical rendering of the passion of Christ. It is a revelation of a world yet to come.

And we rise.

We celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus by proclaiming “he has risen,” which marks the event itself; this is the Easter message. But we can also think of it as a command, a habit of sorts, to act in spite of insurmountable challenges: “to rise.” By recognizing that the human condition is imbued with hope, it is perhaps the most theologically significant event in the Catholic faith. Until that time, we find ourselves in a state of “holy waiting,” unaware of the miracle that awaits us. We recall the steps to Calvary, the suffering and humiliation inflicted upon Jesus, and look toward our own lives and those around us who continue to be persecuted.

And we rise.

Today, we continue to witness persecutions of our brothers and sisters because of their beliefs, ethnicity, and class. But we cannot simply bear witness to the plight of others no more than we can merely recall the events of Jesus’ death and Resurrection; there must be a conscious effort to model what is asked of us. We all struggle at times to rise from everyday challenges of life as the daily toll of worries and fears can be debilitating for many. Yet how often does our focus remain inward, limited in its scope?

And we rise.

During the Paschal Triduum, we do more than simply recall the events that frame the Christian message of redemptive suffering and eternal hope. We remember that Christ has truly risen only when we have ensured that those around us are able to rise, when we act as one community of faith and one people of God. Those who are privileged to rise first must extend their hand to those around them. Only then will we begin to walk the path Christ began so long ago.

Happy Easter to you and yours! It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!

Who’s Coming?

James Joyce wrote in Finnegan’s Wake that “Catholic means ‘Here comes everybody.’ ” For Joyce, defining Catholicism meant recognizing the universality in the experience of Church. It represents the coming together of everybody: Every path, experience, and individual. But it also speaks to the need for action and outreach. Catholic is a verb!

This week, Catholic schools across the country celebrate “Catholic Schools Week,” a commemoration of every group that supports the work of a value-based education rooted in Gospel values and a call to service. While there are the playful days of dressing down or up and maybe a special treat or two, the reason for the week should not be lost on those who sacrifice and commit themselves to a community that strives to live its mission in every aspect of its work. Members of our community including parents, alumni, grandparents, friends, and parishioners contributed over $60,000 in support of our school to invest in educational needs ranging from technology to facilities. Our students wrote thank you cards for numerous individuals who are part of our community: crossing guards, benefactors, lunch monitors, teachers, and custodial staff, among many others. They also brought in food, snacks, and drinks to make over 300 bagged lunches and helped personalize over a 100 scarves and blankets. And they’ve also helped to bring in over 8,000 pairs of socks for a local ministry that serves numerous at-risk communities in the greater Wilmington, DE area. People who they know, people who they kind of know, and people they’ll never know have been touched by these children.

All of this during a global pandemic. A challenge to our way of life perhaps but not to understanding who we are and what we seek to embody every day. Service to our neighbors need not limit itself to a season of the year. Physical needs like shelter and clothing do not subside simply because the holidays have passed; bills do not skip a month because you have to focus on feeding your family; and relationships do not flourish if they are not nurtured and cared for. We must live with intentionality for others. We must teach that justice begins with charity but cannot end there. We must model the teachings of Sunday on Monday. Building reminders about our collective religious identity like Catholic Schools Week and what it calls us to be serves an important function by answering the question, “Who’s coming?” Answer: Everybody.

It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!

On Gifts

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, a celebration of religious and cultural significance for Christians around the world. Commemorating the visit of the three kings to the newborn baby Jesus, the traditional gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh are symbols of regality worthy of the new king. Historically, we may not know much about these three individuals but we do know the value of making an offering, a gift in recognition of something (or someone) great.

The revelation of something new marks the start of every new year; it signifies a commitment to new behaviors, new motivations, and new realizations. While this tends to take the form of resolutions that are quickly forgotten about by February at best honorable, the true epiphany reminds us about the action of gift giving beyond the material. Consider new ways to give the gift of advice. Forgiveness. Comfort. The spiritual works of mercy are powerful examples of behaviors that are great for any budget: they don’t require currency or sacrifice and can be provided without end!

This year, let’s make a commitment to give the gift of being authentic and present to our friends and families, but also to the stranger, the neighbor we don’t know, and the co-worker we don’t agree with. Thinking of “gift” just as a noun does an injustice to the response it demands of us to seek out truth and love wherever it may be. Like the three kings seeking a newborn hidden away in the manger, the journey to live out our values begins with us.

It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!

Pieces of Peace

These days it feels as if there’s so much to say, but words continue to fail us. The emotional toll of this year seems to drive everything, or so it feels. We cautiously approach the end of 2020 hoping that by the stroke of midnight on December 31 all will come to a close (or at least we’ll wake up from this nightmare). But we should always be vigilant not to let anxiety overwhelm us for God’s peace goes beyond our everyday experiences. St. Paul reminds us in Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The fourth Sunday of Advent is symbolized by peace, having celebrated hope, love, and joy. Peace itself is often misunderstood as an idyllic tranquility that comes over humanity like a cool breeze; after all, it’s the refrain of pacifists and war critics. But that ignores the personal, more inward thrust of what true peace holds for us as individuals. We talk about coming to peace with a loved one or watching a friend pass away peacefully, as if to remind ourselves that it is found in smaller moments of grace in our lives. Peace does not present itself as an overwhelming wave but rather as a droplet in the ocean. The Prayer of St. Francis so many of us are familiar with echoes this sentiment:

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy.”

When we encounter shadows in our life, we are called to bring light. And this can only happen when we act to better the lives of those around us. Peace reminds us that “and then…” always follows each experience of pain or suffering. Imagine the despair of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter in a hopeless situation, only to bring the Christ child into the world (“and then…”); recall the passion and death of Jesus, only to be outdone by the glory of his resurrection (“and then…”); remember when you yourself suffered and felt there would be no redemption, only to…. (“and then…”). The fragmented nature of our lives means that even peace presents itself in pieces. Fragments still unite to make things whole and complete while allowing the true light of our lives to shine through. Fragmented memories still allow us to reflect on the blessings and grace that continue to envelope us. And as the culminating virtue in life uniting hope, love, and joy in the Advent season, peace is a reminder that it–not injury, doubt, despair, darkness, or sadness–has the final word in our lives.

It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!

Triskaidekaphobic Thoughts

It’s a clumsy title, I know. But triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number thirteen) is a bona fide reality for some individuals and communities. Building floors jump from eleven to twelve; city streets avoid a 13th avenue; and even Judas Iscariot, betrayer of Jesus, was believed to be the 13th apostle. But my intention with this post wasn’t to discuss fears but to consider how numbers in general can overwhelm, but also empower, our lives.

I’ve tried to resist writing about the pandemic, but at the same time felt overwhelmed by how it has saturated every aspect of our lives with virtual meetings, socials, and even playgroups. As a somber footnote, today marks eight months since the COVID-19 epidemic impacted our school and the U.S. as a whole (coincidentally enough also on Friday the 13th). It was a time of panic and concern about the unknown with so many asking “what’s next?”; in many painfully obvious ways, not much has changed. The number of cases continue to rise as do hospitalizations and deaths from a virus that is indifferent to the destructive path it carves out. At one point 20,000 daily cases felt overwhelming, yet as I write this this we have eclipsed 140,000 daily cases in the U.S. While we know a majority of those who contract the illness will recover there is the lingering mental and economic impact that will likely last for sometime. Simply put, numbers weigh on our shoulders like wet cement, slowly wearing us down while collapsing the very social structures we rely upon.

There is a point where we cognitively disassociate with reality because of this exponential increase; we have no choice. By way of an example, global poverty is expected to rise for the first time in twenty years because of the compounding issues surrounding the pandemic. Still, it is easier to think about the fact that 1 out of 10 people live in extreme poverty (defined as living on less than $2/day) rather than trying to fathom 700 million people. How do you begin to help, or even think about that kind of number? (Spoiler: you can’t). We are not wired to process suffering of that magnitude. At its best, we express concern; at its worst, we become numb.

But there is a number that should represent an antidote to these worries: one. One community. One family. One hope. We rightfully recall specific dates like birthdays and anniversaries and recall them with joy and excitement. In the aftermath of a presidential election, we can call to mind the traditional motto, E Pluribus Unum, “one out of many.” That even among our struggles, differences, and sometimes competing interests, we are unified in some way. We can help one family member overcome struggle. We can save one person from having a bad day. We can model the Corporal Works of Mercy each day in a way that does not overwhelm us or others. One is a number that we can process, that we can make work. Solidarity embodies the number one. That notion of unifying ourselves together can only improve our outlook on life. It won’t magically make pain and suffering dissipate, but it will allow us the mental room to stop and be mindful about the next step in our journey.

It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!

Heaven, not Harvard

Students this time of year often begin working on saint reports, studying the likes of Sts. Theresa, Rita, and Michael, among many others. The recent beatification of Bl. Carlo Acutis reminds us that individuals of this title. In the Catholic realm of heroes and heroines, saints are often misunderstood as an untouchable league of perfection of uncompromising virtue and valor; they’re not. They serve as imperfect models of perfect grace which should serve as a teaching moment to build habits of excellence. In turn, our goal as educators and parents is to prepare our youth for their ultimate reward: heaven.

At the same time some are working on these saint reports, others are drafting their response to the perennial academic dilemma and proverbial gateway to higher education: the college essay. You are subtly asked to be creative but not verbose; erudite but not simplistic; proud but not boastful; and all the while, be sure to tell the truth. Our societal push for students to get great grades to attend great schools so that they can have a great career feels like it starts earlier and earlier in life. Sure, values and morals are important to teach but high test scores are the real benchmark of one’s worthiness, right? Competitiveness may be its own virtue in American society, but the real struggle is within ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against being a high achiever; after all, I am one. And striving for moral and academic excellence are certainly not mutually exclusive goals. But the artificial pressure put on children to be scholars before saints can risk putting the emphasis on the wrong syll-A-ble. Higher rates of anxiety, depression, and social alienation speak to this changing landscape. We need more people to strive for moral excellence but not confuse it with some ethereal plane of perfection.

Encourage children to major in relationships with a minor in friendship; build community with their peers; and be able to model better choices in a world that lacks models of virtue. In doing so, we will witness greater authenticity as a natural outgrowth of taking ownership for one’s actions. Getting into Harvard is easy compared to all that.

It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!