Sharing Your Faith Experience

Have you ever had such a great day that you did not want it to end? While you were having that wonderful experience, did you have the impulse to want to share it with someone who was not with you at the time? How often are we told stories with the person concluding, “You should have been there!”

The Church is telling one of those stories this week – Holy Week. It began with Palm Sunday and continues through Easter Sunday. The exciting thing about this story is that we can be a part of it by participating in the rites of the Church, leading us through the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The original course of events happened about 2000 years ago, and we have the words of the Gospels to tell us what happened. If Jesus had been born into the 21st century, would the story have been told better if someone recorded these events with an iPhone, taking video and pictures and then immediately texting them to a family member or friend or, better yet, posting them to a Facebook page for the story to “go viral”? In a way, the pain and horror of the crucifixion are relived today in the recordings of images of innocent people dying from war and famine around the world, and killings and senseless crimes committed in our cities.

We are living in an age when we can create the reality around us by selecting what sounds and images we want to see. It is interesting that, when you use the Internet to shop or find news and information, the browser is “intelligent” enough to find similar websites with content that “one might also like.” In a way, the computerized iterations offer us more of the same, presuming we have preferences about almost everything. While that may be true, I believe that we need to be careful not to become complacent, but rather explore and learn about things that may be less familiar to or comfortable for us.

While communication vehicles are much different in the 21st century from the time of Jesus, I would conjecture that the human reactions to times of joy and sorrow are the same. And in those times, we want to share them with those whom we love. In a way, we are asking another person to experience what we are experiencing in that moment. When they are particularly joyful moments, we don’t want them to end.

This is the exceedingly joyful message of Easter demonstrated by Jesus, who tells us: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”(John 14:3) Imagine that Jesus is so excited to be “in [his] Father’s house [with] many rooms,” he wants to send us a text message or photograph or video to share his joy with us. In this case, the technology is replaced by the words of the Gospels and by the celebrations of the Church this week that help us to be present with Jesus – to eat with him at His Last Supper with his apostles, to pray with him in the garden at Gethsemane, to denounce the brutality of his arrest and torture, to mourn at the cross at Golgotha, to wait at the tomb of Jesus, and to celebrate His resurrection.

I pray that your days are filled with more joys than sorrows, and with each day, I hope that you have someone with whom you can share the experience. And through our faith, may we be excited to know that there will be a joyful time for each of us that will never end.

Happy Easter!

The “Dark Night of the Soul” in the Light of the Easter Season

imagesEaster arrived early this year. As I write this, forecasts of lower temperatures in the next few days remind us that spring may be delayed a little, even though we are counting the days of April. During this festive season in the Church, we still celebrate Easter for 50 days.

Students and teachers have returned from, what I hope has been, a relaxing and enjoyable Easter vacation. Some of our students traveled to Spain over the break, and we are hosting students and their teachers from France who arrived on April 2.

My wife and I traveled to Ireland as part of a musical pilgrimage in our parish of Saint Joseph on the Brandywine, which is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year (1841-2016). The parish was founded principally by the Irish Powdermen and their families who worked and lived along the Brandywine River in Wilmington, working for the DuPont Company, which, at that time, was producing gunpowder and explosives at Hagley Mills, just a short distance from the Church. The families of the parish used to pay “pew rents” each month and funds were deducted from the pay of the DuPont employees to underwrite the construction and maintenance of the Church.

The trip to Ireland was very special, in that we learned much about Irish heritage and history in this centennial year of the Easter Rising of 1916 that resulted in 1921 with the establishment of the Republic of Ireland. The resiliency of the Irish people is remarkable, similar to many other cultures that been under foreign rule and, with great faith, have maintained their traditions and beliefs that were often in opposition to the ruling powers.

It was this story of Ireland and of the determination and faith of Irish people juxtaposed against the Resurrection story of the Easter season that offered me reflection. In the midst of celebration, we recall those times that were not so celebratory, that make the celebratory moments even more special. I often wonder if the children of our current generation know of the depth of hardship of former generations. I would suggest that they do not know the same hardships, but I would argue that they are dealing with different, and perhaps, equally difficult challenges.

Packing for a trip can be an anxious chore. My wife and I were determined to be “efficient” and only pack what we thought we would truly need. When it came to reading material for the plane and “down time”, one of the books I pulled off my shelf was The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas A. Kempis. It is one of those books for me that I like to reference or re-read every so often, because I can always take away a different message each time I read it.

I focused on one passage in which he wrote, “I have never come upon anyone, however religious and devout, who has not sometimes experienced a withdraw of grace, felt a cooling-off of his fervor.” Saint John of the Cross references this noche escura, or “dark night” of the soul experience as necessary for us to move forward on our life’s journey to knowing God fully revealed. In other words, suffering, separation, disappointment, and failure are all a part of life’s journey that helps us become stronger in our faith.

Nothing could be more exemplary of this journey than many of the lives of the Irish families who lived in the Emerald Isle over the centuries. They persevered invasions, famines, and other challenges to their faith. Many arrived in America in the 19th and early 20th centuries to find a better life. Those who left Ireland did so with strong determination and conviction, and those who remained did so with the same fortitude.

Over the Easter holiday break, many of our seniors received college decisions on April 1. Teachers were calculating third quarter grades for our students. Spring sports practices and game schedules were rolling along, as well. So while we were vacationing, tensions about academic decisions were, perhaps, mounting, and there may have been disappointments and surprises for our students. And while, thankfully, they may not have to deal with famine or religious freedom as did the Irish families of years past, our students do have to manage the mental pressures of academic performance. All of our students are concerned about their grades and GPA’s, along with other athletic, social, and emotional pressures they have to manage in this fast-paced, highly technology-connected society. When disappointments arise, the best we can offer our students is to put the disappointment in context, relative to the tremendous blessings our students have been given. This mental exercise, I believe, is the only way that the saints of the past and all others who faced hardships and overcame them managed through the “dark night.”

When the dark night comes to each of us, we need to have enough reserve in us to keep the faith. And if we do not have that reserve, I pray that each of us has someone who can carry us through the rough moments. I hope that Archmere can always be considered a place where people can come to be supported through these moments in their lives. It is precisely at these moments that our mission is truly lived, and we as a community become a brighter “light in the darkness.” We fulfill the Easter promise, imaged in the new fire and the lighted Paschal Candle of the Easter Vigil, as the final verses of The Exsultet, The Proclamation of Easter, is sung:

Therefore, O Lord,
we pray you that this candle,
hallowed to the honor of your name,
may persevere undimmed,
to overcome the darkness of this night.

Receive it as a pleasing fragrance,
and let it mingle with the lights of heaven.

May this flame be found still burning
by the Morning Star:
the one Morning Star who never sets,
Christ your Son,
who, coming back from death’s domain,
has shed his peaceful light on humanity,
and lives and reigns for ever and ever.
Amen.

 

Happy Easter!

Using Our Gifts For The Good Of All – A Lenten Reflection

Ash-WednesdayThere was a story in the news recently about a waitress at an Applebee’s in southern New Jersey who turned 90 years old. She had been working for the last 13 years at that restaurant, having worked at other eateries over many years. When interviewed, she said that she planned to continue working because she enjoyed her job so much. When interviewing the regular patrons who attended a surprise birthday party for her at the Applebee’s, they said that she was very special and very good at her job because of the “little things” she did. She knew their favorite dishes and their tastes; she attended to the details of their meal, checking in on them, making their dining experience a positive one. Her manager said that she had an exemplary work ethic, consistently performing her job exceptionally well.

When I was in college, I was offered the position of organist at Christ Our King Church in Wilmington, Delaware. Over the years, I voluntarily took on more roles in what was then a city parish declining in the number of parishioners. On one occasion, as I was dropping off programs I had created for the Holy Week liturgies, Father Fallers, the pastor who hired me, greeted me, and, after looking very impressed by the box of programs I had assembled, asked if I had offered my work to God. I said that I had not thought about it. He said that I should consider the smallest task or act of kindness that promotes good as something that would be pleasing to God.

Years later I would begin working with Father Justin Diny, O.Praem. at Archmere. Father Diny was the headmaster of Archmere from 1946 to 1983, and had accomplished much in his years of leadership. I had the fortune to work with him from 1984 until he died in 1989 in the development and alumni relations office of the Academy. He often had sayings and small pieces of advice he would offer from his years of experience. He would say, “There’s no job too small or insignificant.” And he would add, “In a school, every job is important and anyone can be replaced.” Living this refrain of humility, I would often see Father Diny on summer afternoons pruning the bushes or weeding on campus, often times coming into the office in the following days with poison ivy up his arms.

Over the last couple of weekends, the Scriptures at Mass have included excerpts of Saint Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. In the second reading on January 24, Saint Paul says, “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. Some people God has designated in the church to be first of all apostles; second prophets; third teachers; then mighty deeds; then gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work mighty deeds? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” (1 Cor 12:27-30) Saint Paul was writing to the Corinthians, asking them to appreciate one another for their differences and talents that, when brought together collaboratively, create a satisfying, creative force in the world – the body of Christ.

The following week, Saint Paul continues his words of encouragement to the Corinthians, which are now probably the most popular passages couples use to express their love for one another at their wedding ceremonies. He talks about love for one another, saying, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interest, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes, all things, hopes all things, endures all things. . . . So faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:4-6, 13)

In reflecting on these Scriptures at Mass and thinking about how each of us has something to contribute, I consider Archmere to be a place of community where we truly have the opportunity to become the eyes and ears and hands of Christ’s body. Each of us, in our own way – students, teachers, staff, parents, alumni, grandparents, and friends – contribute to sustaining a mission that is founded in the Gospel message of love and hope for all. No job is too insignificant or unimportant, and we need each other’s skills and talents to be the best that we can be.

I often joke that when I have to repair something around the house, no matter if it is an electrical, plumbing, or some other problem, the first question I ask is if we have “Liquid Nails,” because my family knows that my talents do not lie in those areas. I respect that others are much better in all of these areas, and I rely on them for help.

A lesson for all of us, I think, and especially for many of our students who may feel the pressure to be “perfect” or “excellent” or “A+” in everything, is to recognize that many of us are called to share specific talents over others. If we were all “hands” or all “ears” or all “eyes” as Saint Paul says, wouldn’t life be boring and what would we accomplish? But because we are all different with different talents to share, life is wonderfully rich and diverse, and the contributions of each when assembled are like a stained glass window. The individual pieces, when illuminated, create a beautiful picture, and the leading that hold the pieces together remind us of the challenges, the bruises, the failures, and the concessions we have had to overcome to arrive at consensus.

As we enter the Lenten Season, I pray that each of us can pause to appreciate the gifts we have been given and consider how we use those gifts for the good of all, recognizing that no kind act goes unnoticed, no job is too insignificant, and each of us can humbly take up the work we were called to do in our families and in our communities.