I have come to fall in love with teaching in Catholic schools. What are YOU in love with?...

"Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything." - Pedro Arrupe

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Christmas is coming...right?

Advent is my favorite liturgical season...and not just because I get to wear purple and pink (err...I mean, rose). I love the anticipation, the joy, the hope that the season brings. I love the idea of trying to simplify and refocus, even when it seems that everyone else around you is getting busier and stressed.

But usually it feels more like Christmas right about this time. (Happy third Sunday of Advent, by the way.) I was talking with some friends last night as we were in the lobby before taking our seats for a show, and we were mostly in accord about this - the feeling of the holiday season just hadn't hit us yet, even though the stores are wall to wall Christmas decorations and we've done our shopping and our trees/lights are up... What was going on this year?

It's funny how things change so fast. As noted, the above conversation was in the lobby as we waited for a show. When we came out of the show at its conclusion, it finally felt like Christmas. Yes, there were holiday songs and Christmas lights in the theater, but that wasn't the reason. Yes, it was an adaptation of "A Christmas Carol," but that wasn't it either... 

I think what made it finally hit was the contagious joy and beautiful messages conveyed cleverly and beautifully through the play. As I looked around the audience at various times during the play, everyone was smiling - they just couldn't help it. The show just gets it right. One "catchy" message that comes in the final song is this: "Christmas is not about presents but about being in the presence of the people you love." (And here's a short reflection from America Magazine that's along these same lines.) As I sat in a long row with 12 of my friends, I realized how true this is. It doesn't matter what we have or give but how we love and accept others' love in return. It's an age-old message, but one worth repeating over and over.

What a group, what a night! The holidays finally feel here. :)

I'll leave you with a few photos from the day/evening - I love bringing good people together:

Patrick couldn't quite get the camera to work at first, so here's a candid shot.

Now we're in business!

I'm getting better at these large group selfies with practice!

Best show (and great new venue)!!

These people bring me so much joy - love them!!

waiting with great anticipation

These smiles say it all - what a show!

Understanding Life Backwards

I just started reading a book, Cutting for Stone, and one of the quotes that stood out to me in the prologue was this:"You live life forward, but you understand it backward." In our own lives, how often do we stop and reflect on where we've come from and where we're going?...

An unexpected death, that's what it was. Many of us had no idea this school parent was even ill. This man touched so many lives in his short time on earth, and that was evident at Saturday's service, where hundreds of people gathered in the church to celebrate his life and to pay their respects. His family, kids he coached in baseball, friends of his kids, friends of him and his wife, faculty from the school, and others filled the pews. I was touched to see so many students from our school and alumni who had gone to school with this man's daughter (who is now in high school) - they came to support their friend(s).

Funerals tend to do this - they bring people together and allow all gathered to collectively pause and reflect on both the life of the person who died and their own mortality, not in a morbid way, but in a way that makes one ask, "Am I living in such a way that is for others?" and "Am I living in such a way that, at my funeral, they can say I lived a full life?" (I'm sure there are other questions we should be asking too.)

The priest gave us an image to use to help us think about our time on earth - When we are born, we have an hourglass filled with sand that gets turned over. Only God knows how much sand is in our hourglass. Some people have more, some people have less. But what we do during that time (however long or short) is up to us.

Father's image reminded me of the Mary Oliver quote that says, "Tell me, what will you do with your one wild and precious life?" Let us remember our time on earth is a gift - we don't know its length, but we can live it to the fullest to love and serve one another as well as be catalysts of joy.

Friday, December 15, 2017

I can't think of anything better (or more needed)

I was scheduled to be at school till 6pm today for aftercare duty, but, as luck would have it, I got out over an hour early. Yes!!! That meant I had time to do a few things I hadn't banked on being able to do tonight: go to the grocery store, eat dinner, and bake a cake. Pretty soon I found the time nearing 7pm, which meant I needed to get going if I was hoping to get to Adoration on time.

Admittedly, I don't go to Adoration nearly as often as I should, but I am convinced that if more people spent time in Adoration our world would be a better place. With such hectic and crazy (and LOUD!) lives, our world (myself included) needs to SLOW DOWN. And Adoration provides just that - an opportunity to be still...to listen...to wonder...to love...

Tonight was a much needed date with Jesus. In His presence I felt such peace and such joy. I can't really even put it into words...but maybe these lyrics are close:

My little heart is swelling with a song from somewhere else,
It's filling up with glory and I'm ringing like a bell,
My little heart, my little heart is racing,
It's racing just to keep up with your love and live to tell, and live to tell,
and it's all I know...

- "No Turning Back," Audrey Assad

I feel like I needed tonight even more so than usual, as I now feel grounded for everything about to happen this weekend and upcoming week (which is the last one before Christmas break). And there are a lot of people in my life who need some extra prayers lifted up to God right now. Tonight, I turned it all over to God, and, therefore, my prayers are in the best hands.

Monday, December 11, 2017

That used to be me...except...

Smiles abounded from the three current Chicago ACE teachers and their friend on Sunday afternoon at the Christkindlmarket.

"Thanks for getting us out of the house!"
"Man, I still have my grading left from Monday to do when I get back tonight..."
"This is so much fun. I love it!"

Such were the remarks that quickly followed our greeting. I was glad, too, to have an "excuse" to get out of my house. I'd been curled up with a book most of the day, having gone to the gym and grocery store earlier in the morning, so even though it was cold outside, it was refreshing.

Thankfully, it was less crowded on Sunday than it had been the past weekend. (I think the cloudy and cold weather had something to do with that...) We were able to wander around a bit, standing in lines here and there to browse the shops and purchase some ornaments. We even treated ourselves to hot chocolate in the classic "boot" (though, as you can see below, it's not a boot this year).

After leaving the market, I couldn't help but think, That used to be me...except...I might not have been convinced out of the house on a Sunday night. I used to worry about getting everything done and making sure I was ready for the week. I needed people to be the ones to get me out...and now, I find myself as one of those people. It's not because I care any less, but I think, instead, it's because I recognize the value of balance. I think sometimes it is possible to work too much - you have to be able to say no. You have to find some way to recharge.

And so I commend those ACE teachers for doing something I probably wouldn't have done myself but that is much needed, especially during the holidays. (Plus, I told them they can now say they've been to the Chicago Christkindlmarket - them + half of Chicago + tons of tourists...)

Now, here we are - only one more Monday to go until Christmas break - woo hoo! It's pretty hard for me to believe it, actually. Time sure flies...

To celebrate, here are a few highlights from today before I close:

One of my grade school teachers posted this on FB, and it brought a smile to my face :)

One of my Advent angels fulfilled a wish for dark chocolate...

It truly is the most wonderful time of the year!

I went out to help a friend with Christmas card stuff and found myself covered in snow - was NOT expecting that but was pleasantly surprised. I caught a snowflake or two on my tongue...

Tomorrow, December 12, is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe - Catholics have so many ways and reasons to celebrate Mary during Advent - and so let us, once again, entrust ourselves and loved ones to our Mother: La virgen de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros!

a gift from one of my students last year who visited Mexico

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Starting off the weekend right

Shh...it's a surprise...

I don't know how he (at least mostly) pulled it off, but Kevin (with a great group of friends and family) pulled off a wonderful celebration in honor of his wife, Molly, last night here in Chicago. It was to celebrate how far she has come in her battle with breast cancer and the grace with which she has done so. Just to see Molly brought such joy to my heart and to the hearts of all those gathered together. And it was wonderful to see some additional ACE faces as well - all the way from South Bend, no less!

#teammollypowers #hitmewithyourbreastshot

I didn't stay too late at yesterday's gathering - after all, it had been a full day (not to mention a full week with all the Advent stuff) at school, and I was pretty tired. While I had crawled into bed around 10:30 and had fallen asleep fairly quickly, the alarm clock was still not what I wanted to hear this morning. After only a few snoozes of the alarm, I got up and got ready to go for a run. Though it was, admittedly, bitterly cold at times, it was peaceful and beautiful, as a light dusting of snow had covered most everything overnight. The sun even decided to peek out from the clouds as I rounded the curve to Navy Pier. Other bonuses included seeing a handful of running groups and fellow runners on the path as well as getting the chance to hear live classical music in Navy Pier when I stopped in to warm up for a few minutes.

What a great day!...and it's not even noon yet...

Monday, December 4, 2017

Love and Joy Made Manifest

As a teacher you can be strategic about a few things...especially field trips. The students at my school were long overdue for a visit up to Misericordia, an amazing home and facility for people with developmental and physical disabilities, so I worked with the eighth grade religion teacher and other service club moderator to plan this trip. We were looking forward to this day for a long time...and it finally arrived!

It's hard to put your finger on it, but there's something incredibly special about this place. Love and joy are expressed tangibly through the interactions of the staff with each other and with the residents and with guests such as ourselves. We watched a brief film about the services and facilities provided for residents before getting a tour around the grounds, in the bakery, by the coffee-packaging, and to the art studio (where they told us to look up this amazing video about their rhino art project with the zoo). We ended our morning there with a visit from the executive director, who also happens to be the great aunt of one of our eighth graders.

The bus ride back was rather loud, as you can probably guess if you know anything about middle school students, but I was able to get some time to think to myself, sitting towards the back amidst the students but in my own seat by the window. And I couldn't help but think about all we heard and saw. When I think of places that make a difference, Misericordia is up at the top without a doubt. It is a living and breathing example of Catholic Social Teaching, which calls us to care for the (poor and) vulnerable. And the staff carry this out with such love and grace.

It's so easy to get swept up in our day to day - we tend to worry about things that, in the grand scheme of life, do not really matter. Trips to places like Misericordia put life in perspective. We (and I include myself very much in this blanket statement) take so much for granted - walking, dressing, working, etc. but the residents and staff at Misericordia do not. Everything is a gift in their eyes, and it rightly should be in our eyes as well. All life has value and worth, even if society places more value on some types of people over others. Our city is so blessed with this wonderful place, and our school is so lucky to be connected with it (in a small way) too.

If you live in or near the Chicago area, I highly recommend you take yourself up there for a field trip. (They are always looking for volunteers.) If you are reading this from a more distant location, at least check out their online store - I highly recommend the bakery section...

Sunday, December 3, 2017

'Tis a Gift to be Simple

It's simple...and yet, at the same time, it's not: Jesus commands us to love one another and to love Him.

It seems like it should be so easy. But throughout the Bible (which I've been looking at even more closely recently as I study the Old Testament with my 6th graders), throughout history, and in our present age, there is much hatred and indifference. And I'm not saying I'm not guilty of it; I most assuredly am - I turn a blind eye to the suffering of those in other countries and even right on my street corner just the same as the next person.

But God is there saying, "Love me," "Look at me," "See me." How do I choose to respond?

This time of year is so busy for everyone - Christmas concerts, holiday shopping, get-togethers, final exams... It's almost impossible not to get swept up in the hustle and bustle of the season. But we have to stop; otherwise, we miss the point of Advent, this beautiful season of preparation. Advent calls us back to Jesus' simple message of love.

While not traditionally considered an Advent or Christmas song (though I have seen it on a few Christmas albums), perhaps "What a Wonderful World" should be. The beauty of this song (in my humble opinion) lies in the gift of being able to stand in awe of the creation and people around us, not over-complicating things or thinking we don't have enough; its beauty lies in recognizing Christ in our world, in one another, and in ourselves. It's that simple.

Advent is the perfect season to strip away all of the extras, the noise, and the busyness of our lives in order to make room in our hearts and minds for God. I would argue that only then are we able to realize what a gift we have and what a gift we are as children of God. And it is then that we can simply rest in God's presence with hearts full of gratitude and love.

May God's blessings be upon all of us and our loved ones this Advent and Christmas season.