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.

 

New Year’s Resolutions

At this time of year, all of us may be thinking about the recent New Year’s resolutions we have made. I always enjoy seeing the number of commercials advertising weight loss and fitness programs in January. A friend recently commented to me that the gym was bursting with people at the end of the workday during the first week in January. “Give it a month, and the numbers will be back to normal,” he said.

And what about our determination to keep resolutions we may have made? Do we remember what we were resolved to do in this new year? Did we even pause to make any resolutions, since we’ve realized over the years that they often fade away after a few weeks?

As I was thinking about New Year’s resolutions as an opportunity to make “a fresh start” of something or change or improve something of myself, I was struck by the second reading of the Mass on the Feast of the Holy Family, which falls on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s. I think that it offers a wonderful list of resolutions that we can potentially adopt for ourselves. The reading is from Saint Paul’s letter to the Colossians. I added the numbers to each of Saint Paul’s recommendations:

1. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

2. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

3. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

4. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.

5. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

6. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

(Col 3:12-21)

Six resolutions for the new year that are impactful to ourselves and to others; they offer us a blueprint for happiness. Of course, being fit, trim, and healthy are all good things, but they become superficial goals without these virtues that Saint Paul shares with us. So, while I am back on the treadmill and “double-downing” on my diet, I am trying to regularly pause and think about each day and how I was able to be a little bit better (or worse) at “Saint Paul’s New Year’s resolutions” that I have adopted. Wishing you all a Blessed, Happy, and Healthy New Year!

Rock and Sand

When I was young listening to or reading the story of the Nativity, I imagined it taking place in a dusty small town surrounded by sandy desert with mountainous terrain created by jutting rock. Now with Google Earth and other internet sources, I don’t have to imagine, because we can see for ourselves without traveling there how Bethlehem and its surroundings may have looked in the days leading up to the birth of Christ.

We know that Jesus masterfully used imagery that the people could understand in explaining his Good News to them. On December 7, during the first week of Advent, we heard Matthew’s Gospel about Jesus telling his disciples that not everyone will enter the kingdom of heaven. He uses the example of the person who built his house on rock and it withstood the wind and floods, but the person who built his house on sand saw it collapse and ruined when the strong winds and floods came. The reading from Isaiah on that same day includes the passage, “Open up the gates to let in a nation that is just, one that keeps faith. A nation of firm purpose you keep in peace; in peace, for its trust in you.” (Is 26:2,3)

How do we build a house on rock instead of sand? Some call it grit, others, perseverance, and still others, determination. Whatever term used, the elements that describe it are similar: the ability to learn from failure, to be resilient, to be optimistic in the face of challenge, to continue to practice, to try, and to learn something from each attempt rather than keep falling into the same traps time and time again. At Archmere, we believe that this is an important ingredient to students’ success in anything that they do.

Advent is a time for us to pause and take stock of ourselves and our actions, to be sure that we are building houses on rock that will sustain us when we have to manage through truly difficult times. Isaiah calls us to be people “that keeps faith,” with firm purpose to discern God’s will in our lives, and in so doing, to know peace. Isaiah is prophesying about the Promised Land to a Jewish nation that has been exiled from Egypt, chosen by God, and journeying in faith through the desert to an unknown destination. Isaiah’s words for us today are just as relevant as we are journeying through this life, often not knowing what choices or decisions we will have to make, and where they might lead us. All that we can do is “keep the faith.”

My wish is that our Christmas celebrations fortify our faith foundation in such a way that allows us to manage well the wind storms and floods in our lives. May you, your family, and friends know God’s peace.

Wishing you a Blessed and Merry Christmas!