January Rapp Up

“Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts. But I shall show you a still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31).

The verse above was part of the second reading this Sunday, and it came to mind as I sat down to reflect on Catholic Schools Week. We have had some really special moments to celebrate in our school already this month. We sent 80 students and 10 staff members to the March for Life in Washington D.C. 35 others went to the Topeka rally where they got to watch one of our seniors, Stacia Mendoza, give an incredible address to the hundreds gathered there. We again brought in scores of food stuffs (the equivalent of 27,000+ canned goods!) for Catholic Charities during our annual drive, finishing on Friday with our Houses creating “Canstructions” in the halls for fun.

I spend a lot of my time trying to articulate what makes Catholic schools different, and it’s tempting to point to examples like those above. They are concrete, mission-focused actions that are quantifiable and easily shared, and it is absolutely necessary for Catholic schools to serve the poor and stand up for life; those are surely pillars of our Catholic identity.

But as I have talked about in the past, a Catholic school can’t just be about things we do. It has to go deeper. It has to be about who we are becoming.

The verse quoted above comes on the heels of Paul’s reflections on the Body of Christ (yes, the heels pun was intended). He tells us “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4), and that “In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (12:13), before saying that regardless of what faith we have or good works we do, “if I do not have love, I am nothing” (13:2).

We do a lot of amazing things here, and as I tell the students often, I couldn’t be prouder to be principal of this school. In addition to the acts of service and witness mentioned above, I can tell you that what our teachers and students do in the classroom is incredible. Sometimes it gets lost on people that our academic achievement data compares favorably with any similar school in the metro; that we offer 14 Advanced Placement courses (8 of which are in STEM content areas) in addition to a robust Student Services department that helps us meet the needs of a variety of learners; or that we continue to add opportunities for students to get students access to real-world experiences in fields they may someday pursue as a career. Part of my job is reminding everyone of those things we do!

But the reality is that most of the “doing” could be done elsewhere. The mission is in the “becoming.”

It is only through directly inviting God into our lives, through prayer and sacrament and friendship, that He can help us become His body. It is only by inviting the Spirit into our classes, into our service, and into our experiences that we can be transformed into the hands and feet of Christ in the world, our truest identity. And it is only in a Catholic school that we can take all those hours our kids spend in school and allow them to be a part of this becoming in a direct and tangible way, making not just prayer or service an act of faith, but allowing even our learning to be informed and changed by the love of Christ Himself.

As we come off of Catholic Schools Week and prepare for the rest of the semester, I want to thank you for the sacrifices your families make to make St. James possible. As St. Paul says, without love, we are nothing, and I know it is an act of love when you share your children with us every day. I hope that you have felt the love that our teachers pour into their students, that our students share with each other, and that our God makes possible for us here; it is one of the great blessings of my life that I get to see that love in action every day.

Your brother in Christ,