It Is The Journey That Matters, In The End…

At this time of year, I often attend other commencement exercises and end-of-year programs, in which the speakers offer some inspiring words, talk about an institution’s mission and values, explain how they have been personally affected by the educational experience, or describe a vision for the world that addresses some issues or challenges we face as a global society. I find myself listening to find the common denominator in all of these speeches, and, for me, a succinct summary that most, if not all of us, could use the reminder that was written by don Miguel Ruiz in his book: Los Cuatro Acuerdos – The Four Agreements. The book is based on ancient Toltec wisdom. I read it many years ago, but I still refer to the four agreements now and again to remind myself how I can better interact with others, and thereby become a better person each day. They are:

  1. Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.
  1. Don’t Take Anything Personally: Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
  1. Don’t Make Assumptions: Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
  1. Always Do Your Best: Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret. (from http://www.toltecspirit.com)

In the last days of the Easter Season, we heard Jesus in the Gospel of Saint John each day talking about the transition of leaving this world to be with his Father in heaven. Though Jesus physically would no longer be among us, He says, “. . . I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, so we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one . . . I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.” (John 17: 20-26)

So, as we mark the end of educational journeys for our graduates and say, “good-bye,” they “commence” a new journey. While there are tears of sadness and feelings of anxiety when we are separated from the familiar and from people we have come to know and appreciate, as some of our seniors have expressed to me in recent days, we know that the love that we share remains. And, if we honor ourselves by continuing to live by an ethical code, we will be drawn together always – united, one.

Congratulations and Godspeed to the Class of 2018!

Responding to the Message of Peace

When I was in grade school, I looked forward to May, not because it was the end of the school year – though that was exciting – but because it was the month of the Blessed Mother (and my birthday!) Every May, I would set up a “May Altar” in my bedroom. I really don’t know if that concept even relates to this generation of young people. I just recall that devotions to the Blessed Mother were very special in my family and in my school community as I was growing up. I attended Saint Helena Parish School staffed by the Sisters of Saint Joseph. And each week in the spring, we would practice the hymns and format for the May Procession that took place in the parish church. It was simply magnificent! As students, we would process around the block and into church as we sang hymns to Mary. There was the crowning of the Blessed Mother statue in the church, followed by Benediction.

On May 13, 2017, the Vatican canonized Jacinta and Francisco Marto, two of the three children who saw the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary six times between May 13, 1917, and Oct. 13, 1917 at Fatima. They died in the influenza epidemic during 1918-1919. Lucia Santos, who was their cousin and whose beatification process began in 2008, died in 2005 at the age of 97. The vision told the children three “secrets,” and according to the Vatican website, they are described as: “The first and second parts of the ‘secret’ . . . refer especially to the frightening vision of hell, devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Second World War, and finally the prediction of the immense damage that Russia would do to humanity by abandoning the Christian faith and embracing Communist totalitarianism. . . The third part of the secret is a symbolic revelation, referring to this part of the Message, conditioned by whether we accept or not what the Message itself asks of us: ‘If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, etc.’. “

Saint Norbert, when he established his first community of Norbertines at Premontre, France, incorporated a special devotion to Mary, and since that time, all of the churches or communities of the Norbertine Order around the world are dedicated to the Blessed Mother. Archmere is dedicated to the patronage of Mary of the Immaculate Conception.

So why are there many different titles for Mary? Wasn’t she just one person? It is true that Mary was singularly the Mother of Jesus, but she has been given a variety of titles over the centuries that are dogmatic, poetic, or allegorical in nature. Additionally, more titles of Mary are found in religious art. All of these are reflections of the ways in which Mary has revealed herself to us, delivering messages of peace, love, and devotion to her Son, Jesus.

The Blessed Mother is the quintessential figure of motherhood in the Catholic Church and in other Christian faiths. A life of sacrifice completely dedicated to God’s will and to her Son’s ministry, she said, “Yes,” to a plan that included her holding the lifeless body of her son after he was crucified. She also had to “let go” of her Son so that he could fulfill his life’s plan, and potentially hear words that may have been difficult to understand or emotionally accept:

“Someone told Him, “Look, Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to You.” But Jesus replied, “Who is My mother, and who are My brothers?” Pointing to His disciples, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers.…” (Matthew 12:48)

The Blessed Mother is a powerful role model for parents. At this time of year, we contemplate our seniors graduating and leaving “the home nest” to go on to college. Being with family pretty much every day, students will become more independent, finding their way in new academic communities and creating new social circles. Just as Mary, with her husband, Joseph, provided guidance and support for Jesus through his formative years so that he would be ready to take on his public ministry later in life, parents have created the foundations for their sons and daughters to take the next steps in their lives.

As we graduate the members of the Class of 2017, let us pray for them through the intercession of Mary, our Blessed Mother. May they be inspired to challenge themselves academically, enrich themselves with new friendships, and strengthen themselves through prayer. Our graduates have the capacity to make change in the world, and to respond to the messages of peace delivered by Mary under her many titles.

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?