November Rapp Up

As we turn the calendar to December, we also begin the new year in the Church with the Advent season. December is a busy time in schools as we make the last push towards finals while getting winter sports and activities off the ground, all while getting into the festive spirit in our classes and Houses. Schools, like families, can have very full calendars around this time!

Perhaps that is why I was struck by this line in the Gospel on Sunday: “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life” (Luke 21:34). While I agree with our Lord that carousing and drunkenness are obstacles to a relationship with Him, it was the last part that resonated most with me.

How do “the anxieties of daily life” make us “drowsy”? Besides the literal sense in which our stressful rushing around can wear us out, there is another level that connects to what I see in both my personal life and at St. James.

I am rereading a book right now titled Beauty in the Word by Stratford Caldecott in which he examines the classical foundations of Catholic education. While he makes many intriguing points throughout, one main point has stuck with me. He says, “The task before us is not only to renew the foundations of education, but to rediscover…our place in a cosmos that is beautiful in the Word” (Caldecott, p. 12).

What he is proposing is what all of us to some extent want in our education: an awakening of desire for truth, an opening of the heart towards wonder at the vastness and beauty of creation, a discovery of the self and its connection with all the goodness surrounding us and the purposes that our God has called us to. He calls for an education that is rich in song and dance, poetry and storytelling, nature and exploration. He dreams of an education that makes each child aware of their immortal dignity and alive to the richness of the life that they have before them.

I think there is something in this that we try to provide for our students at St. James. The vision statement under our Key to Success in “Scholarship” reads, “Seeking Truth in a manner that reveals the complexities of God’s creation, inspires wonder, deepens understanding, and empowers students to change the world.” Much of what we mean here is what Caldecott describes, although as with any vision statement, the lived reality in our school may fall short of what we strive for at times.

What Caldecott would suggest is that it is the “achievement culture” that distracts from these higher aims; certainly, there is truth in that. We all can get more caught up in grades and honor rolls, scholarships and credits than the enlivening of the human soul. And that is understandable because those things do matter.

What we strive for at our school is a balance between providing the best college-preparatory academics possible without snuffing out the light of learning and desire for truth. We want to fan that flame until it blazes, and then send our students out into the world on fire. To what extent we are successful may differ from day to day or student to student, but it is important that we keep that ultimate aim of education in mind lest we allow our hearts to grow drowsy with concerns and anxieties that are secondary.

I see this in my own life as well, professionally and personally. How do I keep my heart awake, alive, and burning? How do I take care of things at school and at home without letting the concerns consume? Sometimes I don’t have great answers for those questions, but this week, as He often does, He reminded me of the answer through my kids.

For Advent, my daughter Cayleigh brought home a small wreath from school with pink and purple birthday candles in it. We decided to do our family prayer in the sitting room rather than the boys’ bedroom so that we could see the wreath while we prayed.

We sat in a circle and I lit the first candle. My two-year-old blew it out immediately, which I scolded him for as I relit it. This time it stayed lit. And something changed.

The boys sat still. Cayleigh sat up. A moment of stillness swept in before we began our petitions. We went around the circle, said our prayers, offered them to Mary, just like normal, and Ryan blew out the candle. But something was different that time.

Something as simple as lighting a candle, of seeing that small, waving flame, grounded us in the moment, connected us to the cosmos, to every burning star in the sky and to every person sitting by a fire. It reminded us that there is more to life than our anxieties and worries, that the life God gives us is abundant and expansive.

It was a beautiful moment for my family, simple, but beautiful, and it was the kind of moment we try to foster in our classrooms and Houses and chapel every day at St. James. It’s the kind of moment I hope you and your family experience during this Advent season as we wait for the coming of Jesus more fully into our lives. I leave you with a line from my favorite Christmas song; know that you all are in my prayers this Advent season!

A thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Your brother in Christ,