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!

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!


Today marks the feast day of St. Augustine, one of the early Church fathers and a prolific theologian who composed Confessions, often regarded as the first autobiography. In a quote often attributed to him (but in the spirit of academic honesty difficult to verify) he writes, “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”

The past several months have been marked by anguish, struggle, and change. I have felt anger and courage during this time in a seemingly endless cycle, a paradox of sorts. Policies changing daily; protocols varying across institutions; and a dramatic increase in tentatively worded communications. In short, nothing about planning for schools to reopen has been easy yet everything about the end goal of the process has been worth it. In our culture, hope can often be relegated to fantasy or wishing. But in the theological sense it stands as an infused virtue, a grace bestowed upon human beings as a moral compass which leads us toward new life rather than an abyss of anger and confusion.

As we enter this new school year, we are ever mindful of the constant that is change and the need to embrace hope as the eternal guiding light in our lives. We pray for the safety and well-being of everyone in our community and beyond. The COVID-19 epidemic hasn’t just disrupted our lives; it was unwoven the very fabric of society. And there is no exaggeration in writing that. But as Catholics who believe in the true incarnation, we recognize that hope will always appear naive to the outsider. To those who know, hope is what has always guided our hearts to be still regardless of whatever raging tempest stirs in our world.

It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!