Gothic Cathedrals to Gourmet Kitchens

Having just returned from a week-long immersion into the Nobertine Midwest culture of Saint Norbert Abbey and College in De Pere, Wisconsin, many ideas and images are circulating in my head. A short stop in Chicago on the return trip to engage Archmere alumni living in the area in an informal reunion added to the experience. It leads me to the question, “What is it about ‘Archmere’ that attracts so many to support the ‘idea’ in so many ways?”

Traveling from the airport to the city center of Chicago, my wife and I noticed so many steeples of churches, closely knit together in neighborhoods, each one so different in architectural style. Similarly, on a tour of Saint Norbert’s campus with Vice President for Academics Dr. Jeff Frick we saw two former Catholic churches. One was being transformed into a Womens’ Studies center, while the other church, completely renovated, was a concert hall. Formerly Catholic churches for specific ethnic immigrant groups, these beautiful buildings were repurposed with great care to provide new services to the 21st century community of Saint Norbert College.

As I thought about these images, I saw a tangible effect of our contemporary cultural transition from a church-centered, other-worldy, higher-order-thinking culture to a popular culture of immediate gratification. Along the ride into and out of Chicago, there were a number of homes that were being refurbished. I could not help but think of the HGTV show that highlights “miraculous” makeovers for couples and families moving into or remodeling existing homes. It always strikes me when newly married couples are looking for homes with granite counter-top kitchens, stainless steel appliances, and real hardwood floors. The kitchen and the home, in some ways, has become the “church of today,” with a focus on family life as the secret to happiness.

But what about the experience my wife and I had walking the Magnificent Mile? At practically every street corner, we encountered someone, usually a woman and her children, who was begging for help – money for a meal or a place to stay for the night. Walking in and out of the high-end stores with price tags we only laughed about, we wondered, “How do you spend $1,395 for a pair of shoes and simply walk by a beggar who is sitting on the sidewalk?”

I am not sure of the answer; I am sure that many people who shop in these high-end locales are also generous to philanthropic causes. At the same time, are we not asked the question, “And so what do you do in proportion to your own means?”

I often think of the comment that Jesus made to Judas when Mary Magdalene washed the feet of Jesus with perfumed oils:

For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me. (John 12:8)

Judas comments that the funds for the oils could have been used for the poor, but Jesus responds that what Mary had done was an act of faith and devotion.

I suppose we all struggle with this fine line of what is practical and what is over-the-top. Maybe the lesson learned is to not be so judgmental form the perspective that only we see. At the very least, we take from Jesus’ teaching that, as we express ourselves and our questions, we should do so in a manner that is non-accusatory and authentic. In this way, we may engage in good conversation that may transform a process, policy, or approach that previously had been considered the “best” method. We do not intend to put down another, rather build upon each other’s ideas and thoughts. My impression of Jesus in his dealings with the people around him is that he tried very hard to get various factions to communicate on common terms – the same thing that effective leaders are trying to accomplish today.

The Saint Norbert Leadership Corps program at Saint Norbert College was developed collaboratively between Archmere Academy and the College with the purpose of infusing our students with the leadership skills, rooted in the spiritual context of Norbertine Charism, to be successful in school and career. The program involved 39 students – rising Sophomores, Juniors and one Senior – and eight teacher chaperones. Students were presented with servant-leadership models that provided contexts for ethics and faith-based discussion. The goal was not for the students to leave the week-long experience with all the answers, but instead equipped with the tools to become mindful Catholic Christian leaders of the new century.

Personally, I was overwhelmed by the whole experience. My wife Diane and I stayed at Saint Norbert Abbey, while the students and chaperones lived in a residence hall on the College’s campus. Diane and I immersed ourselves in the daily rhythm of the Abbey with morning prayer at 7:30 a.m. and evening prayer at 5 p.m. We were fortunate to be able to attend the viewing of Father Gilbert, O.Praem., who taught at Archmere from 1955 to 1965. It was a most impressive event, and family and community were warmly welcomed at the Abbey.

On the heels of the recent sudden loss of Father Thomas Hagendorf, O.Praem., my Freshman religion teacher at Archmere, the experience reminded me how much like a family experience my Archmere years felt – both those as a student from 1972 to 1976 and as a staff member from 1984 to 1996. I said in my opening letter to the school community when I returned as Headmaster that Archmere is a “place that never leaves you.” I believe that even more after this past week. It is as if we have been tattooed on the heart with the Archmere charism. Once you have it, it is there until you intentionally burn it away.

25,000 Mornings

25,000 mornings… I heard in this recent tourism commercial that the average person lives 25,000 mornings. Of course, the commercial is advertising a vacation destination, but I hang on to the idea of 25,000 mornings and find the thought to be one for deeper reflection.

I started to think, “How many mornings did I already? How did I ‘feel’ most mornings? Who was around me on those days? If I can think of my lifetime in ‘mornings,’ how does that change the way I think about new beginnings, opportunities, and changes in my life?”

About the same time I heard the commercial, I was praying with a group of administrators before the start of a meeting, and the reflection was based on Mark’s Gospel for the daily Mass, in which he writes:

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

He replied, “What do you wish me to do for you?”

They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.”

Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the chalice that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

They said to him, “We can.”

Jesus said to them, “The chalice that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those whom it has been prepared.”

When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John. Jesus summoned them and said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not want to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

(Mark 10:37-45)

Jesus was explaining that to follow him was to experience the trials of life that each day brings. It is a journey of faith, with a reward for those worthy – “for those for whom it has been prepared.” The disciples were on their way to Jerusalem with Jesus when they asked him to be with him “in glory.” They did not know the kind of suffering and death Jesus would face, nor did they fully understand his resurrection from the dead that would follow. These are not everyday events that the disciples could grasp.

Twenty centuries later – or about 730,000 mornings after – we can witness the miracle of resurrection with each new day born out of the last day’s night. We can see the death-life cycle in nature all around us. We might even consider that each increment of time is filled with life before dying, only to give way to the birth of the next minute or second.

Death and resurrection are all around us, all of the time, and we need only to reflect on how we might see it so that we may see it.

Just last weekend, the Class of 2013 graduated from Archmere Academy, with Baccalaureate Mass on Saturday evening and Commencement on Sunday morning. The cliché phrase is to say that graduation is not an ending but a beginning. This is true, but it takes vision and a point of view to see that same moment of graduation as a beginning rather than an ending.

We wish our newest Archmere alumni continued success in their future careers. As students, most of them spent four years (that’s about 1,461 mornings counting a leap year) working and achieving with friends, making the most of the experience. It was the students, along with the faculty, who set the tone for each school year with the energy and focus they contributed each day to being present and moving toward their future goals.

How do we choose to wake up each morning? Can we, perhaps, not forget the past, but recognize taht it ahs happened and cannot be undone? If we can accept this, then we will not live in the past or let it define the present or future.

I have found this very difficult to do at times, particularly when I have felt that I have been treated unfairly, or experience hurt feelings, or conversely, when I reflect on my own actions that I consider to be “less than” what I should or could have done. The challenge for me each time is to confront these thoughts and do something with them in the present, thinking toward the future instead of ruminating about the past. When I am successful, I have renewed energy that I believe comes from the creating force of the present and future – the Spirit that drives us from dwelling in death and sin to dwelling in life and grace.

We, as an Archmere community, have dealt with the feelings of loss that come with the death of someone we know and love during the past school year – alumni, parents of alumni, grandparents. We have have also had the loss of two Norberintes who served on Archmere’s faculty – Father Tom Meulemans, O.Praem., and Father Tom Hagendorf, O.Praem., with whom I worked during my time at Archmere from 1984 to 1996. Father Hagendorf was also my Freshman religion teacher.

mondaye_abbey

Mondaye Abbey

Yesterday, Ms. Leah daPonte, Mr. Tim Dougherty, Mr. Robert Nowaczyk, and myself were invited by Abbot Richard Antonucci, O.Praem., to participate in the celebration of Saint Norbert’s Feast with the Daylesford Abbey community. I shared a presentation of music and prayer from Mondaye Abbey in Normandy, France as Morning Prayer. The other faculty members also shared their thoughts and experiences after having visited five working Norbertine Abbeys, Prémontré, and other places important to the life of Norbert during the 2012 Heritage Tour offered by Saint Norbert College and Archmere.

The discussion that followed highlighted an awareness and perseverance of the members of the Norbertine communities over the centuries. Many Abbeys were suppressed under various governmental and political conflicts. Some were reconstituted with a a handful of Norbertines who had to live separately in homes and parishes. Others were physically dismantled and the properties sold. Even then, many of the local Norbertine communities, such as the one at Tongerlo in Belgium, repurchased portions of the land and rebuilt the Abbey. These were men of vision who perhaps knew that they would not see all of the community’s works achieved in their lifetimes, but they knew that those who followed them would carry on.

Over ten centuries, these communities of faith preserved a way of life, guided by the Rule of Saint Augustine and the life of Saint Norbert. The Abbeys, through all of their difficulties, advances, and losses, have maintained a constant, persevering faith. Moreover, they upheld and built upon the two greatest commandments of loving God and loving one another.

I am proud that Archmere Academy is part of that heritage. The zeal exemplified throughout the history of the international Norbertine Community is one of the core values that drives the members of the Archmere community.

In the midst of loss, we need to find the hope of the resurrection, which waits on the other side of the final minute spent in sickness, suffering, and hardship. Although this thought may be easier to write than to feel, it is important to express so that our perspective as Catholic Christians is not lost in only focusing on the present.

We welcome each new morning, because with it comes another day, and another, and another – until we will no longer have to keep time by our mornings.