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!

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.