December Rapp Up

“The one who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new’” (Revelation 21:5).

This will be published the day after Christmas, twenty four hours after Christ’s life and presence in our lives and the world is made new again.

Like the seasons that come and go, the wheat that falls and regrows, or the school years that start and end and start again, the life of the Church is cyclical. Each year we come back to the same points, the same moments in salvation history, the same feasts and memorials, yet for the disciple, they are ever new. Just as we can read the same Scripture on back to back days and be struck by completely different words or moved in completely different ways because our hearts and lives are different each time, so can Christ be truly born again in new ways into our lives each Christmas. Each time we gather around a dinner table with family and friends for a holiday, it is a new experience, even if we are eating the same meal in the same space with the same people. It’s new because we are new, because we have new stories to tell, new burdens to bear, and new chances to love and be loved. It is the same when we gather at the altar to sing the praises of our new-born king, He who is eternal yet infant, uncreated yet birthed, everlasting yet present in time. The story of Christmas is the story that echoes throughout all the best moments of our lives, the story of familiar loves reawakening in our hearts.

The project that is St. James Academy is this same story. Its founding visionaries wanted to know if new methods and approaches could help pierce through the fog of our culture and whisper truth anew to this generation of teenagers. In a world that encourages everyone to tell their own story, to speak their own truth, was it still possible to tell His story, to speak of Truth itself? Would anyone listen?

While we made several big changes this year, one that many of you probably didn’t hear much about was the addition of a new social studies class required for most sophomores: Western Civilization. While things like Thunder Block get most of the publicity as we try to innovate and push forward, we are also always striving to remind our students of what is behind, of that which is timeless. As students moved from World Studies as freshmen and before they looked at American History as juniors, we wanted them to see more clearly the foundation of traditional western culture, to see how something like our country emerged from the diverse worldviews and interests that populate our planet.

So this semester, a bunch of 15-year-olds read Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, Seneca and Boethius. While in some ways present in different parts of our curriculum already, much of what these thinkers offer is watered down or glossed over if not ignored entirely in modern schools, dismissed as too boring, irrelevant, or complex for today’s teenagers. To be honest, these were some of our worries going into this year, too. Will these kids listen to this stuff?

A few weeks ago, Mr. Supalla, the Western Civ teacher, approached me about giving an anonymous survey at the end of the semester to gauge the students’ experience. I encouraged it, though I expected mixed results. Knowing Mr. Supalla’s passion for and knowledge of the content, I was sure he would have reached some students, but I expected many would have tuned it out or shut down before he even began.

But that’s not what the survey showed.

98% said the material was interesting. 99% said they learned a lot in the class. 90% said the content was meaningful and connected to their lives. 32% of students said it was among the best classes they have taken at St. James and another 42% said it was above average. 92% said the challenge of the class was “just right.” 93% said they would recommend the class to others.

Sometimes we worry that people don’t want to learn the truth. They’ll be bored, uninterested, perhaps offended. But in reality, the old can be ever new, the Truth can always be attractive, and the proposal of reality remains intriguing to the human heart. But it takes witnesses, true believers, to share its newness, because as Pope Paul VI said, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” That’s why the founders of St. James hired a bunch of witnesses to come teach here. It’s why Mr. Tylicki ensures that we continue to do so. It’s why we still believe in this project of trying to use the best the educational world has to offer to propose the most ancient truths to our students.

What happens at Christmas in our Church is what we try to make happen every day in our classrooms.

May the light of Christ be renewed in your hearts this Christmas season. Pray for our teachers, the greatest group of witnesses I’ve ever known, as they strive to partner with you to help your children know the truth and love of Jesus Christ and grow into the people the Father created them to be. Know that you are in our prayers as we celebrate the birth of our Lord this season.

Merry Christmas.

Your brother in Christ,

Shane