The Joy of Being Hopeful

We are still in the Easter Season and the Gospel readings for daily Mass recount Jesus’ appearance and conversation with the disciples after his resurrection. The account that is most compelling for me is Luke’s Gospel (24:35-48), proclaimed on the Third Sunday of Easter, in which Jesus says to them, “’Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.’ And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.”

When we think about death or experience the loss of someone we love, I am sure that all of us have different thoughts about what life after death is like. Is the resurrection a metaphor for just some biological change that happens – the stuff of our bodies deteriorates and the energy within us becomes a part of some universal energy that we like to call “God?” Did Jesus really eat with the disciples after his resurrection; he was not a “ghost,” and yet he would not need food for sustenance? Is the account literal or symbolic, or did Jesus eat before them to prove that he was present to them in body and spirit? There is much theological conversation about the interpretation of this Gospel account, but for me, it provides certain hope that life after death will be rich and full, as dimensional and dynamic as our current experience, but without the worries and fears that plague us. That gives me “hope,” and the strength to manage through the rough times, the uncertainties, and let go of the things I sometimes try to control consciously or unconsciously.

Our school community has experienced untimely and tragic loss twice this school year with the passing of Anthony Penna ’19 and Mark Dombroski ’17. So many emotions and feelings, questions and doubts, acts of kindness and compassion, examples of faith and love have been a part of these days at Archmere. Thank you to all the members of the Archmere community for “being there” for our students, our families, and for each other.

Some years ago, a good friend of mine who eventually passed away from brain cancer, gave me the “Serenity Prayer” when I was going through a career transition that was challenging. My career challenges did not nearly compare to her physical challenges, I am embarrassed to say. But she lived the first four lines of the prayer so well, that the words, written on a small hanging scroll that I kept on my desk, became very real and meaningful to me. I found the prayer to be a helpful reminder of my limitations, the vastness of creation, and the discernment I was to go through to know what God was calling me to do with my life.

In a few weeks, our seniors will graduate, and now they are making important college decisions. The Class of 2022 is ready to begin the Archmere journey starting with orientation in May. My prayer for these students in transition, as well as all of our students and graduates making decisions and going through transitions, is that they know the joy of being hopeful, because of their faith in God and in God’s loving plan for them – a plan that includes the Easter message of resurrection and new life. My hope is that this Easter Season has brought you peace, renewal of spirit, and many opportunities to relax and enjoy precious time with family and friends!

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen.

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

Season of Renewal

We are entering Holy Week in the Catholic Church beginning with Palm Sunday on March 25. This year, Easter is arriving earlier in the calendar, and the recent series of cold, wet, and snowy weather events make it a challenge to “think Spring,” with all its promise of new life.

As a school community, we have also been faced with a greater challenge, learning about the disappearance and eventually the untimely death of Mark Dombroski, a recent Class of 2017 graduate, who died while on a trip with the Saint Joseph’s University rugby team to Bermuda. Missing for more than day, students and staff prayed after school on Monday in the Oratory for Mark’s safe return. Shortly after, those prayers were changed to ones of acceptance and of strengthening our faith as the student body, faculty, and staff celebrated a Memorial Mass for Mark on Tuesday morning. We continue to pray for Mark and his family.

These sad events of the last week test our faith just before we celebrate the events that are the very core of our belief – the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without the life of Christ, where would we be? While it is hard to accept the passing away of those we love and cherish, there is some comfort in the belief that they are now sharing in the promise of the resurrection; and, in our human understanding, we know and believe that they continue to live in spirit, free from the hardships and difficulties of this world. Nevertheless, the challenge for us is to understand why a young person with such promise and goodness would be taken from us so tragically. And perhaps there is no reasonable explanation, other than to rely on our faith and on each other to work through our grief and pain, so that one day we can find comfort and acceptance.

Just a few months ago, we experienced the untimely passing of Anthony Penna ’19, another young man who had a whole life before him. We continue to pray for his family and for those whom he touched in this life, especially those whose lives were changed by receiving his organs. We know that we will never forget Anthony or Mark, but, as time passes, perhaps we will see the small miracles that come from these tragic events.

Next week is the Triduum – a celebration that moves from a close gathering of friends for a meal, through the suffering and death of one who is dearly loved, to a reunion beyond imagination. Our faith tells us that someday we will also be on that journey, similar to the one that Mark and Anthony have experienced, and now will celebrate an Easter like they have never celebrated before. Through all of these challenging moments of the year, the Archmere community has become stronger in faith, more grateful for the love and concern we have for one another, and more compassionate for those in need of our presence and prayers.

May you know the hope and joy of the resurrection this Easter and throughout the year, especially during the most challenging times.

Hearts and Ashes…

It was Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday on the same date this year – February 14. As the day began, I saw students walking in with colorful cards and gift bags, and French Club members delivering roses sent from students to other students and teachers. The red and pink colors changed to purple vestments as Ash Wednesday Mass was celebrated at 9:30 AM. Our foreheads were signed with ashes, and a meatless lunch was served, while we saved our chocolate hearts and candies for another day.

On the way home, I stopped at the grocery store to buy flowers for my wife. I was not surprised to see the prices for roses increased substantially – about double the usual price. As I was struggling to pick up a $36 bouquet of roses, I thought about what my mother used to say about gifts she thought were unnecessary: “Can you eat it?” So, I proceeded to the fresh vegetable section and picked up some asparagus and cauliflower, landed at the meat counter and secured a fresh eye roast, and darted back to the fruit section for some blueberries. On the way to the register I picked up a $4.99 bouquet of miniature pink carnations. Total bill: $27, and I had flowers and the makings of a “gourmet dinner” that I planned to prepare for my wife over the weekend. On the one hand, I felt good about my decisions, but then for a moment I thought my wife would think otherwise. But knowing her now for nearly 35 years, I knew she would appreciate the sentiment. And she did.

Being a parish organist, I was to play for the 7 PM Mass, and on the way to church, we discussed the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High Schooin Parkland, Florida, and lamented about why these terrible things happen to innocent people. I thought, as I was about to attend a second Ash Wednesday Mass, having observed the fast and abstinence of the day, “Why am I doing this? How does keeping this ritual make a difference or change things?”

After Mass, we met with a number of friends of ours in the parish, many of whom have lost family members and have experienced life’s struggles. In a unique way, our coming together that evening to pray and to share gave us comfort and the energy to move forward. The following morning, as I watched the news reports and listened to interviews of students and others impacted by the Florida school shooting, a consistent theme was one of a community coming together to support its members and working through the spectrum of emotions in order to move forward.

As we settled down at home after Mass to our Ash Wednesday meal of broiled fish, I realized that the rituals of my faith that I share with others have created a community of support that is with me every day, and when it is my turn to lean on the shoulders of others, they will be there, as I would be for them. I am grateful for our Archmere community, which in families’ darkest times, has been a light – an important support. As a school community that is trying to understand the tragedy of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School community, we want you to know that we are here for you, to reconfirm our commitment to a safe and secure environment, and to offer help to foster conversations that help us to process all that has happened and how we might be feeling.

The American School Counselor Association offers a few points that may be helpful in working with young people in the aftermath of a tragic event:

  • Try and keep routines as normal as possible. Kids gain security from the predictability of routine, including attending school
  • Limit exposure to television and the news
  • Be honest with kids and share with them as much information as they are developmentally able to handle
  • Listen to kids’ fears and concerns
  • Reassure kids that the world is a good place to be, but that there are people who do bad things
  • Parents and adults need to first deal with and assess their own responses to crisis and stress
  • Rebuild and reaffirm attachments and relationships

May this Lent, which means “Spring,” be a time when we recognize in ourselves our ability to make a difference in the lives of others through the simple things that we do and the rituals that we keep each day.