Thursday, August 24, 2017

A Loss, But Oh, What a Victory!

For the first time in my coaching experience, I have never been more proud to lose.

Tonight marked the first match of our Varsity volleyball season.  On the road traveling with three teams this year, the pre-game jitters seemed to be amplified.  It’s never easy to acclimate to a new environment, especially when opposing fans come out in droves.  But we started out the evening with the first win from our inaugural freshman team.  Go Griffins!

I’m always a bit nervous before a Varsity match.  I double and triple check the lineup, I think through substitutions I’m planning to make, and I even try to anticipate difficult situations in which I might need to call for an opportune timeout.  There is no way to plan for everything, but I do what I can to get into the zone so that I am aware and present in each moment for my team.

While I have reiterated in practice a number of times that we train hard in order to play hard for 90 minutes in any game, I have not yet coached a team that has ever fought for that long.  Until tonight.  For the past two weeks in practice, we have been focusing as a team on cultivating the virtue of grit – passion and perseverance for accomplishing long term goals.  We discuss how passion increases from God’s grace and perseverance requires our daily choosing to move forward, especially in the midst of adversity.  We, as a team, play volleyball for something other than ourselves.  We play for Jesus Christ.

Standing on the sideline of tonight’s match, I witnessed the perfect example of what it means to have grit.  My girls played for over 90 minutes, remained within five points of the other team for all three games, fought with tenacity to come back from several difficult runs, and always seemed to answer with a surprising offensive attack that caused an eruption of cheer I have never before heard in a gym.  I saw my team play with inspiring passion and incredible perseverance.  Don’t get me wrong, I wanted that win desperately.  But in every huddle during a timeout, it was my girls who reminded me that, win or lose, it was for Christ that we played.

We lost the match 22-25, 25-22, 22-25.  But I will never forget the reaction from my team after that final point.  The six on the court came together in the center and communicated to each other without words that there was much more we had gained tonight than a loss.  This was one of the most exciting matches any of us had ever been a part.  I have never been more proud to see a team stand in front of an immediate loss with such integrity.  There were tears, but they weren’t because of a failed victory.  They came because we had all just experienced what it felt like to commit every bit of ourselves to playing for Jesus Christ.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Reawakened by Beauty

Imagine seventeen high school students performing the musical score of Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland.  The majestic introduction by the trumpets and French horn is followed by the powerful echo of the timpani and bass drums.  The stage is set for an encounter with objective beauty.

This performance was certainly not imagined.  Last night I was moved, almost to tears, by the program and talent of the McGivney band and choral concert.  And it was my students, by their presentation, that reawakened an awareness of a personal need to encounter this beauty.  The music lifted my spirits- literally.  I sat a little taller, felt more confident, and began to think noble and optimistic thoughts.  The beauty of instrumental and vocal harmonies reawakened in me a desire to experience that which is good.  I became aware of a desire to be more present to my reality, to appreciate what I have been given with gratitude, and to recognize more intensely the inestimable treasure of the human spirit.

Standing in front of this beauty, I was prompted to ask the question that arose from the depth of my soul: why?  Why did God make a sunset so enchanting, a rainbow so striking, and a high school concert so inspiring?  I didn’t want the performance to end and I was secretly hoping the program continued beyond what was printed.  In experiencing beauty, recognizing it is good, there is an accompanying wish to experience more of this goodness.

The answer to this question is the framework for a Catholic Christian worldview.  God made the world beautiful and good because He loves us.  At the end of a long and tiring semester, I am tempted to abandon the practice of awareness to the beauty of reality.  I have consequently found myself in a daily struggle to see the good.  My attitude has been negative, I’m overall less hopeful, and I approach various situations from an unsatisfied perspective.  But in allowing myself to stand in front of the beautiful, I am inspired to ask the question that ultimately leads to Truth.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Beyond McGivney

Father McGivney Catholic High School alumnus, Danielle Villhard, was recently selected as a University of Dayton Chaminade Scholar.  Only 15 first-year students were selected for the program which includes special seminar classes over the next three years developing students’ understanding of their call from God as it pertains to Christian leadership.  The program offers several retreats to build relationships among the scholars and culminates in a pilgrimage to Rome.
“Starting at the University of Dayton last fall, I knew I wanted to take the values I learned in high school into college. I learned the essence of servant leadership as a House Leader and the importance of service.”
Danielle Villhard was a graduate of McGivney’s inaugural class of 2016.  She served as the School Captain of our House Community System, was actively involved in the National Honors Society, used her skills in graphics to head the Yearbook Club, and was an athlete on the Varsity soccer team.  Danielle demonstrated her leadership in every aspect of the school and was named as a recipient of the prestigious McGivney Award.  But more than her accomplishments, Danielle acknowledged her faith as central to all that she did.
“McGivney truly prepared me not only to take on the challenges and opportunities that come with beginning college, but to do everything with faith in God.”
Father McGivney Catholic High School seeks to integrate Catholic identity in every aspect of the school.  But the endeavor of our faith formation program is not solely focused on simply maintaining an understanding of the faith until graduation.  It is our hope to launch students into a lifelong Catholic mission, beyond McGivney, to serve the greater world community by leading with Catholic Christian values.

As a Catholic educator, I hope to show my students that faith corresponds to a fundamental, original need that all men and women feel in their hearts.  I seek to inspire my students to recognize their destiny, and in their search, accompany them through the art of judging reality.  I surrender to witnessing the result of this hope, understanding that growth and development of my students will occur over a period of many years, beyond even my time at the school.  But there have been gifted moments of the present when I have encountered a young person who validates my reasons for pursuing a career in Catholic education.  In these moments, I am the one inspired.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

McGivney Students Reflect on Pro-life March in DC

“This was my first time on the March.  In thinking about going on a pilgrimage like this, people might say they don’t have time for this.  Time doesn’t really matter.  You always have time to stand up for your faith.”  --Class of 2020
Just one week ago, 50 students from Father McGivney Catholic High School participated in the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.  Traveling over 800 miles by bus, the group joined thousands of Americans from across the country to march peacefully in protest of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in support of abortion.  Whether it was their first time participating, or their fourth, McGivney students were struck by the incredible number of people marching in support of similar ideals to re-build a culture of life.
"I was going through the motions when it came to my faith.  Seeing that many people inspired me.  I’ve never been so proud to be Catholic than when I was on that March and chanting in support of life."  --Class of 2020
"I’ve been that person - the one who has not been that expressive in their faith.  Seeing 5,000+ people who share the same beliefs as you will really do something.  You’re not the odd one out."  --Class of 2019 
"This was my fourth time on the March and I was really struck this year.  By the sheer number of people, it was evident that God is really on our side."  --Class of 2018 
"At first, I didn’t think the word ‘pilgrimage’ really applied to this trip.  But I think it’s the most accurate description- it has been exhausting and thorough.  It has helped me to believe that people do share the same ideas as me."  --Class of 2017
Father McGivney Catholic High School has participated in the March for Life the past five years, this year bringing its greatest number of student pilgrims. The pilgrimage included a visit to the Baltimore Basilica, the Babe Ruth Museum, Arlington National Cemetery, Cathedral of St. Matthew in DC, and Ford’s Theatre.  We will continue to join our voices with the thousands, upholding the motto of our school: Servire Culturae Vitae – Serving the Culture of Life.

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Year of Hope

In last Sunday’s Gospel account of the Magi’s quest to discover the newborn king of the Jews, we were presented with two approaches to seeking Christ.  Upon King Herod learning of a possible threat to the throne by the awaited Messiah, fear overtook his capacity to see with the mind and heart of God:
“When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” 
– Matthew 2:3
When presented with the prophecy, King Herod acted out of fear, seeking to kill the alleged king.  How often do I receive information, whether true or in the form of gossip, and immediately jump to a judgment or negative conclusion?  This path of imagined thinking often leads me to destructive thoughts or actions that find no grounding in reality.  I then find myself frustrated with God and seek him out of anger, jealousy, or with feelings of being betrayed.

In contrast, the Magi searched for the Messiah according to God’s promptings:
“When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.” 
–Matthew 2:10-11
With faith, the Magi trusted in the prophecy of the Old Testament that a ruler, a shepherd for the people of Israel, would come from Bethlehem.  And in hope, they followed the star that lead them to the fulfillment of joy itself.  How often do I experience peace and joy after entrusting my desires, plans, and projects to God?  When I choose to let go of the control I frequently exercise in many areas of my life, I experience freedom from the pressures I seemingly create.

In this New Year, let us ask God for an increase in faith, to believe that He can do all things.  And may we also ask for an increase in hope, to know with certainty that He will.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Gratitude from Giving

This week in my Theology classes, I asked my students to share some of the things for which they were thankful.  Many shared that they were grateful for family, friends, and food.  But I was particularly struck by a freshman girl who explained why her gratitude for family was so full.  Every year, her and her siblings would forgo gifts received at Christmas in order to give, what would have been their presents, to the children in a local orphanage. She described the event as something ordinary and normal, but the joy and gratitude on her face while recounting this family tradition was clearly evident.

For over a week, students were planning, calculating, and couponing in their House Communities for a Thanksgiving menu and meal for families in need.  On Monday, I brought 14 students to Schnucks to compete in the annual shopping challenge.  It was quite entertaining to witness the mental math of turkey price by weight and the competitive dash through the aisles.  The students brought their baskets of food, menus, and Thanksgiving cards to the Family Community Resource Center in Granite City.  I was moved by the warm reception and gratitude of the staff as the students dropped off their gifts.  How little was given on our part, and yet such joy and delight from those who received.

In being prompted to think of things for which I am thankful, it is sometimes a struggle to go beyond the standard response.  I recognize that I have already taken for granted the many gifts I have received.  But in the midst of my experience this week of giving to those in my local community, I was moved to gratitude.  Giving allowed me to know certainty of blessing in my own life - a united family even though separated by hundreds of miles, the providential place of my employment, and the privilege to share in the growing of young hearts and minds.  My growing desire to be an instrument of God’s love in this world reminds me of a familiar prayer,
“O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Building Blocks

In my own experience I have seen that in order to do anything well, I require focus.  In any given day, there are frequently a vast number of opportunities towards which I can direct my attention.  When I actively choose to focus on one, or a few of those options, my productivity increases and achieving excellence is possible.  At this moment in history, the same amount of focus is needed.  Inspired by the wisdom of a beloved sister-in-law, I am convinced that this focus must be on the family.

When it comes to identifying the most important things in life, I focus on the gifts I have received which form the foundation for all I think, say, and do.  Without hesitation, they are faith and family.  My sister-in-law is the wife of a naval officer and mother of two small children.  I was struck the other day by her wisdom, sincerity, and simplicity of truth:

“If we want real change in our country that transcends political loyalties, we have to return our focus to the family. Teach your little boys to be respectful, generous, and to have empathy. Teach your little girls to have confidence, independence, and to be kind. Treat your spouse with honor and fidelity. Families are the basic building blocks of a nation; they must emanate positive values in order for the nation to reflect those values.” 

If everything in this world constructed by man should one day fail, neither my faith nor my family could be broken or taken away.  Within the context of family, I learned my identity and encountered my first experience of love.  With the gift of faith, I am certain of the One from whom my identity was given and the One who continues to love me into existence.  If the family truly is the building block of society, then our focus must be redirected, here.  Let us commit to raising our children to recognize their inherent dignity and the dignity of every human being.  Thank you, Erin.