It has been my family's tradition to listen to beautiful music during Christmas that every year, my wife and I make a point to attend the Vancouver Cantata Singers' Christmas Reprise. In the concert, the choral group performs a variety of Christmas Carols, many of which are prayers and sacred texts set by composers to musical compositions. In all of these pieces, the listeners are undoubtedly treated to beautiful choral pieces. The undulation of the euphonic voices can mimic what one might feel when he or she is in a deep and prayerful communion with God. Instead of simple utterances, however, the poem or text married to the music becomes the prayer itself that carries the listener’s soul to its creator – a fleeting ecstasy that can be so sublime that the experience is nothing short of spiritual.
One of my favorite pieces is called “Magnum Mysterium”. This music, with it's simple text, always brings me to tears. The tears, however, are not from sadness, nor from a recollection of a happy memory, but tears perhaps from an inward realization of an intangible beauty which I can only behold with my ears and that my heart's only reaction is to follow suit. The amazing thing is that once the soul experiences this beauty, then, an insatiable desire to behold more of it is further kindled that the only way to quench this inclination is to continually experience the sublime, as if this soul is meant to be united forever with beauty itself.
I have put together a playlist that my family and I listen to during Christmas. This is by no means an exhaustive list but have a listen and I hope you too, can experience the beauty.
You can access the playlist here.
I always look forward to this part of the year especially when we, as Catholic educators start thinking about how we can implement or incorporate the year’s school theme. In previous years, the school theme has always called us to DO something: “I can DO all things through Christ”, or, “WALK with Jesus, our Living Hope”. This year’s school theme, however, is somewhat different. Instead of calling us to DO some specific action, the theme instead, states a quality that we all should collectively possess: ONE family, ONE hope in Christ.
This theme is borne out of Pope Francis’s 2016 Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love). In this letter, not only did the Pope re-affirm the Church’s teaching on marriage and family but he also highlighted the importance of the family in the education of children, particularly in their ethical formation as the family is a training ground for relating with others.
In the beginning of last year’s pandemic-induced lockdown, all of us were forced to spend time at home. Many spent time alone at home but most of us spent it with our family. Indeed, one of the more favourable outcomes of the pandemic is that many of us truly realized how important our immediate and extended families are and how necessary it is to spend time with them. While many of us were able to do so, still many couldn’t. I know of individuals who can’t even visit their loved ones which made them desire all the more for companionship and togetherness.
Why then the emphasis on family?
Perhaps the Pope’s exhortation that he wrote in 2016 is nothing short of prophecy. A letter about the joy of love in the family written four years before the start of a pandemic that forced many of us to see how important it is to be a part of, and be cherished by a loving family is perhaps coincidental. Providential? Maybe.
How then does this apply to our schools?
One of our students in our recent assembly replied when asked what this theme meant: “We are members of God’s family”. It was a simple, yet profound truth that many of us often overlook and therefore undervalue. We are, of course, members of our own immediate families. From personal experience, however, I seldom reflect on what it means to be a part of a greater family.
What is this “greater family” that we are ALL supposed to be a part of?
Perhaps one way to look at it is through the shared identity that we, as members, of a greater family, all have. For instance, we all baptized share a common call to “holiness”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life.” This includes parents and children, married and unmarried from ALL walks of life, including teachers, and yes, even students. Indeed, Catholic Schools are unique in that sense: each school is supposed to share in the missionary mandate of the Church imparted to her by her saviour: “Go and make disciples of all nations…(Matthew 18:20). Therefore, we as members of St. Catherine’s family and the greater Catholic family are called to do the same: to spread the good news of Jesus. In a recent video of Pope Francis in August, he said that the “specific vocation…and identity of the Church is evangelization”, and as members of God’s family, we too share in this vocation, we too share in this identity.
ONE HOPE IN CHRIST
As members of God’s family, we also have a shared inheritance. This inheritance won by Christ on the cross is the “hope in the glory of heaven”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that in every circumstance, “each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere ‘to the end’ (paragraph 1821). St. Paul writes to the Romans: “Be patient in your hope, be patient in tribulation” (Romans 12:12). Pope Francis warns us, however, that this hope in Christ is not “mere optimism, nor a “pat on the back or an empty word of encouragement, uttered with an empty smile.” Truly, our hope, hinges on our relationship with Christ because he gives us the “conviction that God can make all things unto well.”
(We belong to) One family, (therefore we have) One hope in Christ
While this pandemic has revealed our desire for connectedness, it has also revealed how divided we all are. For example, some of the issues surrounding this pandemic has polarized many of our intermediate families. I have heard of instances where families or friends are no longer speaking to each other because of the differences in health choices or opinions regarding the pandemic.
But the pandemic is not the only divisive force that we need to be concerned about. The recent events surrounding the residential schools has caused further divisions amongst many of us. Some rightly questioned the decisions made by the then-senior members of the Catholic family, while others downplayed its deleterious effect on our indigenous brothers and sisters.
To be sure, if we are not careful of the vitriolic effects of these current societal issues, our One family will continue to be polarized, splintered, and divided.
In his recent book, “Let us Dream”, Pope Francis offers this solution: “To come out of this crisis better, we have to recover the knowledge that as a people we have a shared destination. The pandemic has reminded us that no one is saved alone.” Although this might be in the context of the current pandemic, the same can be said within the context of the recent events surrounding the residential schools. Pope Francis, in his August intention said that the Church (our greater family) “always has difficulties because she’s alive….only the dead don’t have crises. We should, therefore, resist the urge to be divided and focus instead on our shared identity, and mission, and inheritance to keep ourselves united.
We belong, after all to one family, and therefore we have one hope in Christ. Let us keep it that way.
It is an understatement to say that this year is different than most. Not only is this the last year for all your children but it also is a year when they are supposed to be prepared for high school, and the year when they complete their initiation into our faith by receiving Confirmation. However, this year has become an even more exceptional one for everyone because of the pandemic. So extraordinary is our situation that sometimes we as parents are at a loss when we attempt to make the best decisions for our children.
In his Easter homily this year, Pope Francis said: “Dear sister, dear brother, even if in your heart you have buried HOPE, do not give up: God is greater. Darkness and death do not have the last word. Be strong, for with God nothing is lost!”* Indeed, this challenge is echoed for us in this year’s school theme of “Walking with Jesus, Our living Hope”. But let us be clear: Christian hope is, as Pope Francis puts it, not “mere optimism...it is not a pat on the back or an empty word of encouragement, uttered with an empty smile.”* The object of our hope as Christians hinges on our relationship with Jesus because “he plants in our hearts the conviction that God can make everything work unto well, because even from the grave he brings life.”*
How then, can we walk with Jesus?
This past summer, I was able to go on a multi-day hiking with one of my best friends to Berg Lake and explore the beauty of that part of the Rockies. In our many hikes, we talked, shared meals, laughed together and had some very serious conversations. Our hike together was a catalyst that deepened our friendship.
Jesus desires to have an intimate friendship with us, too. To walk with him, then, is to answer his invitation to have a relationship with him. He wants to hear our troubles, joys and our deepest desires. He wants to be a part of our personal lives not just when things are uncertain or troublesome or seemingly hopeless. Indeed, he desires to be a part of every aspect of our lives.
This year will definitely be a challenging one to navigate for all of us, including your children. It will demand each of us to cope with the changes creatively and, most of the time without the benefit of previous experiences or even foresight to guide us. However, if we walk with Him, with our “intention fervent, our courage steadfast, and our trust fixed”** on our Living Hope, then we can be sure that “God will make everything work unto well”*
* from the HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS, Easter Vigil, St Peter's Basilica Holy Saturday, 11 April 2020
**St. Francis de Sales
From a Previous Post (September 2019)
This year is an an exciting and challenging year for your children. For all of them, not only is this the last year here at St. Catherine’s but it is also the year when they will be prepared for high school. In addition, Grade 7 is a very important year in the faith life of your family as it is also the year when they receive their Confirmation. I am confident that it will be a rewarding final year for your children as I work together with them in the classroom.
This year’s school theme is “"I can do all things through Christ." This verse is from the 4th chapter of the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians. Biblical scholars say that he wrote this letter while he was in prison in the city of Rome. Today's prison is a luxury in comparison to a Roman prison during the time of St. Paul and is the last place that anyone would want to be in during that time. Yet if we read Paul's entire letter to the Philippians, we will notice his encouraging tone and the lightness of his spirit. Indeed, it would seem as if Paul wrote this while he was in a villa relaxing and enjoying life, when in fact, he was being held captive in a dark prison, uncertain of what may come to him. How then is he able to write this letter? The answer lies in 13th verse of the 4th chapter: he is able to do everything, exactly because Christ gives him strength.
What then does this mean for us? Though, we are not in prison or held captive, we as parents, still go through the ups and downs of life and indeed, some valleys are deeper than others and some hills seem insurmountable; and as adults, it is easier for us to attend to the bleakness of life's challenges, without being aware that in doing so, we might be setting an example for our children. It is true that life is difficult, and our children should value hard work. But how do we act when we encounter life's difficulties? What is our attitude when we are facing challenges? More specifically, how are we modelling it to our own kids? Again, the great St. Paul has an answer for us. He says:
"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4: 4-7)
This will be a year of change for your children. They will have to navigate the challenges of friendships, and of academic and extra-curricular aspects of Grade 7, including the emotional upheavals that they experience at this age. And, they will look to you for support and guidance. Most importantly, they will look to you for encouragement. Echo what St. Paul said to the early Christians in Philippi. Let them know that in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, that they should present their requests to God. Let them know that they can "Do All Things Through Christ who strengthens them"
From a previous post - September 2018
I hope that everyone is as excited as I am to start another new school year. This year is an an exciting and challenging year for your children. For all of them, not only is this their last year here at St. Catherine’s but it is also the year when they will be prepared for high school. In addition, Grade 7 is a very important year in the faith life of your family as it is also the year when they receive their confirmation. I am confident that it will be a rewarding final year for your children as I work together with them in the classroom.
This year’s school theme is “What Do You Want of Me, Lord? ”. Indeed, this is a question for all Christians to ponder. It should bring into mind, first and foremost your vocation as parents and educators of your children and how you are responding to your call to holiness in your vocation as parents. I hope that you take time to visit and re-visit this theme with your children and ask yourself, “How am I contributing to my child’s call to holiness by God.? How am I encouraging my child/children to be the best version of themselves so they can fully answer God’s call to holiness?”
In the thirteen years of my teaching career, I have come believe that children need to be taught holistically where there is a balance between the spiritual, emotional, physical and intellectual development of the student.