Advancing God’s Love

This is the month when we celebrate Valentine’s Day. Flowers, candy, cards, gifts, candlelight dinners, and marriage proposals are all associated with a holiday that has a history in both pagan and Christian traditions. The common thread in all of the debated origins of the feast is that the day is a celebration of “love.”

In a June 25, 2016 article in Psychology Today, Dr. Neel Burton writes about the seven types of love. Eros, best described as romantic love, is what we probably identify with Valentine’s Day. But then there is Philia, friendship, a person of goodwill. Storge is the familial love, like the love between parents and children. More broadly, Agape is love of humankind and all of creation in an altruistic sense. Ludus is described as uncommitted love, and focuses on enjoying other persons without demanding much from the relationships. Pragma is love of reason and the practical, enjoying another’s compatibility in living and working together. Finally, Philautia is love of self, which can have both positive (self-esteem) and negative (hubris) effects.

Dr. Burton explains that there is “porosity” between these seven kinds of love, and they may all coexist in various measures in us. A good friend (philia) may be one who is very easy to be with (ludus), because he or she is “self-sufficient.” And certainly married couples may first experience eros, which deepens with philia, storge, and pragma. Actually, elements of all of the types of love have room to coexist within us. And when we get it “right,” I believe the words of Saint John describe our reality, “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.” (John 4:16-17)

A place like Archmere is built on a history of relationships. Over the years, many of those have grown and deepened, while some have been broken or rearranged. Clearly, the many aspects of love have been experienced and felt from all of the students and families whose lives have become intertwined because of Archmere. It is a place where God can be found, because of the love that is expressed in words and actions each day by members of the school community for each other.

So in considering Valentine’s Day as a holiday to celebrate in the winter season that may bring post-Christmas and pre-Spring blues, let’s take the opportunity as we exchange cards, candy, hugs, and well wishes to be more conscious of all of our relationships every day, finding ways to advance God’s love in the world. It sounds so abstract, but it can be very real if we consider the many aspects of love as it manifests itself among us.

Fulfilling Our Resolutions

Unknown-1In January we often find ourselves working on those New Year’s resolutions we come up with during the Christmas holidays, when, as we are surrounded by the comforts of family, friends, food, and leisure time, we confidently imagine how we can improve our everyday experiences. So we set down expectations and goals for ourselves for the New Year with the best of intentions. And then we return to our post-holiday work routines and somehow lose sight of some of those resolutions. We realize that it’s hard to make change.

In a recent article from Forbes.com, Kevin Kruse interviewed Dr. Paul Marciano, psychologist, a leading expert in behavior change, and author of Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work. Kruse articulated seven keys that Marciano stated are important to achieving goals: 1. Make goals specific. 2. Make progress toward goals measurable. 3. Be patient; path to the goal is often not a straight one. 4. Share goals with family and friends to create a social support network. 5. Schedule time to work on specific goals, otherwise time has a way of slipping away. 6. Accept small gains and setbacks: “something is better than nothing.” 7. Be resilient when faced with failure or slip up. It all seems so straightforward and simple, right? But why, according to Kruse’s sources, do only 8% of the people who make New Year’s Resolutions actually achieve them? Marciano would suggest it is because these individuals do not follow in some fashion these seven steps, and that those who have developed a discipline of following a pathway to achievement often accomplish or nearly accomplish their original goals.

In November after the Presidential Election, “77% of Americans perceived the nation as divided on the most important values,” as reported by Gallup. In the aftermath of the election, it seems that differences of opinion, philosophy, and approach to resolve the challenges of the world and the country intensified. Many campaign promises were made from both candidates, and now the challenge is to effectively come together in compromise and in unity to implement initiatives that will achieve positive change for our country.

At Archmere, with mid-term exams ending on Inauguration Day, our students transition from first to second semester. For freshman, this may be the first time they have experienced some of the pressure and anxiety that develops around preparing for a comprehensive exam, and I imagine that many of those apprehensive feelings do not go away for upperclassmen, who often challenge themselves with more advanced classes. Interestingly, our students do manage through the week, and mature with the experience of preparing for and taking exams.

January is also a busy time for the admissions staff, as we are interviewing and in the process of accepting eighth grade students into the Class of 2021. They, too, are maturing and have begun a new adventure, many of them moving from a school where they have been for a number of years to Archmere, where they will meet new teachers, make new friends, and make the place their home away from home for the next four years.

With 2017 nearly three weeks old, many of us are adapting our routines to include new resolutions and new goals. Some things may be going well, and other things not so well. What we soon realize is that change requires an intentional attitude and focused energy, perseverance and grit. It may require us to feel uneasy at times, defeated at times, and many other unpleasant emotions that need to be managed, so as not to derail us from accomplishing our goals.

As the Christmas Season in the Church drew to a close, on the Feast of Epiphany (January 8), we heard the Gospel accounts of the Wise Men making the long journey to see the infant Jesus. Only one day passed in this year’s Church calendar, when, on January 9, we heard the Gospel account of the Baptism of the Lord. A 30-year-old Jesus began his public ministry with his baptism in the Jordan River by his cousin, John. In thinking about those 30 years of growing up with his parents, what were the challenges that Jesus faced each year? What can we learn from his example of resolve that will help us meet our own challenges, fulfill our resolutions, and let go of some of the familiar to embrace the unknown?

May Your Homes Be Blessed This Christmas

imagesThe fourth week of Advent is beginning as I write this reflection. In grade school, I remember how excited I would be at this time of year with the school Christmas play, making “unique” Christmas gifts in art class for Mom and Dad (specifically a macaroni candle with an empty paper towel tube and an angel from a half gallon plastic container), and counting down the days to Christmas vacation. Our Italian household was filled with fish being prepared for the traditional Christmas Eve dinner. You can imagine the odors wafting through the house, along with the steaming pots of boiling water on the stove for pounds of spaghetti on Christmas Eve. The heat from the kitchen (and the 20-30 family members gathered) always steamed up the glass in the windows and doors. What seemed like thousands of homemade Christmas cookies lined the countertops in plastic containers. In addition to food being stashed everywhere, so were out-of-town cousins who visited every year. Traditionally, I gave up my bedroom and slept on a cot in my parents’ bedroom for the holidays. I didn’t mind, but I am not sure about my parents, since I would engage in long conversations into the night from bed to bed, enjoying the evening glow in the room from the Christmas candles in the windows.

The reflection I read today for Advent, entitled “Our Vocation of Loving and Being Loved” by St. Mother Teresa reminded me of how I have been blessed with these wonderful childhood memories. One word comes to mind when I think about my childhood home – “love.” My parents were not very verbal in expressing their affection to my three brothers and me, but we knew that we were loved always because of all the things my parents (and grandparents, aunts and uncles – it’s Italian!) did for us every day. There was never a doubt in our minds that whatever our parents said or did or told us to do, it was for our benefit. That’s not to say we never had disagreements or were reprimanded, but there was always an explanation and life’s rules were pretty simple to follow according to my parents: be kind, be honest, and don’t ever bring disrespect to the family name – that would be disappointing. Because of family circumstances, both of my parents finished their formal education after 8th grade, but I believe that they were the two wisest people I have ever known.

So the words of Mother Teresa about love offered me a way to examine my own familial relationships in considering those created by my parents. She says,

You and I have been created for greater things. We have not been created to just pass through this life without aim. And that greater aim is to love and be loved. Once in a while we should ask ourselves several questions in order to guide our actions like: Do I know the poor? Do I know in the first place, the poor in my family, those who are closest to me – people who are poor, but not because they lack bread? . . .Perhaps they lack love, because I do not give it to them. We all have much to give, to share, and to contribute wherever we find ourselves to be living. Holiness starts in the home, by loving God and those around us for God’s sake.

I was raised in a multi-generational home filled with constant energy and activity saturated with love. My wife and I hope we have created a similar experience for our children, now that they are grown and, for the first Christmas this year, living on their own – a serious transition! But as life’s circumstances change, we adapt. Mother Teresa continues,

Wherever God has put you, that is your vocation. . . It doesn’t matter because I belong so totally to God that God can do just what God wants to do with me. It is not what we do but how much love we put into it.

So as I reflect on my childhood home, the home we have made for our children, and a new kind of home we make as our children have grown, my Christmas wish to all of our Archmere families is that your homes may be blessed this Christmas with the spirit of love, manifested in the birth of God’s Son, and our Savior, Jesus Christ!