Gathering Embers

The celebration of Ash Wednesday solemnly marks the start of the Lenten season. The dictum, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” reminds us of the need for penance and humility but also the grace that allows us to be forgiven. Ashes represent a symbol of our faith and serve as a reminder of the human condition. The 20th century theologian Paul Tillich describes these characteristics of a symbol:

It opens up levels of reality which otherwise are closed for us. All arts create symbols for a level of reality which cannot be reached in any other way. A picture and a poem reveal elements of reality which cannot be approached scientifically. In the creative work of art we encounter reality in a dimension which is closed for us without such works…it not only opens up dimensions and elements of reality which otherwise would remain unapproachable but also unlocks dimensions and elements of our soul which correspond to the dimensions and elements of reality…there are within us dimensions of which we cannot become aware except through symbols, as melodies and rhythms in music.

(Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith (New York: Harper & Row, 1957)

In a similar way, every Lent we gather embers as a way of inviting ourselves to ponder a reality that is beyond us while also reflecting on what is within our very being. Recognizing we are flawed sinful beings is not meant to be a form of psychological punishment; it is an affirmation of our faith and connection with one another. Like the cross at Easter or manger during Advent, ashes function as a powerful signpost on our spiritual journey. They remind us to take a spiritual inventory of where we’ve fallen short in words and deeds. But they also remind us what our shared humanity demands of us once when we wash them from our foreheads.

It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!

Mindful of Many Things

This year our guidance counselor, in collaboration with school administration, chose “Mindfulness” as the school theme for promoting the well-being of our students. While some may conflate this with some new-age movement promoted by Hollywood elite, it’s important to remember that it is an invaluable tool for fostering greater awareness in a world that is driven by the speed of our wi-fi and the myth of multitasking which often results in doing little (if anything) well. Mindfulness echoes the “Growth Mindset” articulated by psychology professor Carol Dweck which recognizes the need for students to be aware of how they approach difficulties in the classroom by utilizing different approaches to learning. Of course many of us have “fixed” mindsets about certain things in life ranging from how we like our coffee prepared to expectations of work colleagues. But when it comes to education we can defer to language that doesn’t promote the best in our students, e.g., “math may not be your best subject,” or “we can’t all be athletes.” In short, a growth mindset isn’t just effort; it is being mindful of how we develop and grow as learners.

I often reminded new teachers I was mentoring that when class begins, the students in front of you are the most important people in your life. That is mindfulness. Even as you read this post you may be thinking about what you’re making for dinner tomorrow, or how busy your weekend it going to be, or how relaxed you’ll be after paying your bills. Whatever it is, in doing so we neglect being mindful of the people and events that are in front of us, here and now. When I am home playing with my boys, I remind myself that I am in fact playing with my boys and not thinking about enrollment numbers, or that driver that cut me off, or if we can afford taking that vacation. Mindfulness is a call to model the virtues of patience and humility in every moment of every day.

Within the Catholic tradition, mindfulness is evident by many of the great thinkers throughout time: Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, and Hildegard of Bingen, among others. Their lives are powerful testimonies of what it means to be practitioners of mindful practice, to immerse oneself in prayerful reflection by meditating on the great truths of life. The Mysteries of the Rosary is the quintessential mindful practice of Catholicism. By calling us to prayer, we are invited to be present and aware of our minds and hearts, how we reason and how we feel. Placing ourselves into the vignettes of Jesus’ life and resurrection and that of the early disciples, we gain a greater appreciation for the daily miracles (and challenges) of our own life. In short, by becoming mindful of mindfulness we begin to cultivate a deeper appreciation for the beauty that is imbued in even the most mundane of acts and the simplest acts that surround us.

It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!

St. Mary Magdalen, Pray for Us!

These simple words form an invaluable prayer for our community on Sharpley Road. By praying for the intercession of our patron saint, St. Mary Magdalen, we recognize that there is something greater than all of us. We know from the Scriptures that the Kingdom of God is “already, but not yet” built. As such, each of us has a role to play in the ongoing formation and development of our children.

I am very fortunate to have been called to be part of this truly amazing community. As Principal, my role is to lead but that does not necessarily just mean being in charge. Rather, it is being responsible to those who are in my charge. At SMM, our care and concern for the needs of each child is only rivaled by the quality of our faculty, the rigor of our academics, and the call to serve and pray as one community.

Mary Magdalen is often referred to as the apostle sent to the apostles of Jesus. She was also the first witness to the Resurrection in John’s Gospel. So I find it quite fitting that as a school we also continually strive to be the first, not in the sense of some artificial ranking, but in the desire to place our core values first; to place the needs of others first; and to place our call as educators first. I thank you for the privilege of allowing us to walk with your children everyday and I look forward to an inspiring and faith-filled school year. I titled this blog “Magdalen Musings” to reflect the way our faith and school inspires me to ponder, wonder, reflect…to muse about those matters that inspire my work as an administrator, parent, son, and brother, among other relationships. I invite you to muse with me and thank you for visiting!

It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!