My dear friends in college . . . and beyond,
You will notice right away that this letter is not in the inimitable style of Bro. Stephen Balletta. Bro. Stephen has decided to share the wealth and ask some of his confreres to share some thoughts about the upcoming month with you, thoughts that perhaps you will find useful as you meditate and pray using your copy of Magnificat. Allow me to share some reflections about the month of August that came to my mind.
August brings with it a very specific energy to the Province of Meribah. Certainly, this is due in part to the Marian Feast Days we will celebrate (The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the 15th and the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the 22nd) and due to the Anniversaries we will celebrate (the Foundation of the Province of Meribah and Opening of the St. Martin De Porres Marianist School on the 18th), as well as the anniversaries of vows for many of the Brothers. However, I think that August brings with it a unique vibe, a quickening due to the imminent start of a new school year. As we get into August, it seems that suddenly the summer is almost over. The reality of a fast-approaching 3-C or Triple-A Program brings with it the realization that lots of things need to get done before the end of the month!
The first things that come to mind are all the summer work projects and renovations that need to be completed to make sure all is ready for the start of a new academic year. All three of our schools will be abuzz with activity. Construction materials will be put away, hallways and classrooms swept, and schedules and memos will be generated. Since both Chaminade and Kellenberg are in the process of integrating the use of iPads in the classroom, you can be sure that our technical staff will be putting in long hours to make sure that all of our technology is up and running.
Less visible, but perhaps more importantly, August is a time when each of the Brothers has to make sure that we are “up and running.” It’s important that the physical plant be ready to accept new students. It is also important that all of us are mentally and spiritually ready to accept new students. That’s why each of us will spend a week up at Founder’s Hollow on retreat. Whether you are stepping into the classroom for the first year, like some of our Marianist Discerners, or stepping into the classroom for the 38th year, as in my case, August provides us a chance to do a “systems check” of our own. It is an occasion to thank God for bringing us to this point and to ask God’s blessing on the year ahead.
Every August, I am reminded of two signs that bear familiar quotes. One sign I remember from my childhood would start to appear around the third week of August, stapled to utility poles and on car bumpers. It said, “School’s Open. Drive Carefully.” The second sign I always think of is right outside the front door of Founder’s Hollow, right next to the statue of Mary kneeling by the stone jars of the Cana wedding feast. That sign bears the quote, “Do whatever He tells you.” Each of these signs provides me with both a warning and an inspiration every time I see them.
“School’s Open. Drive Carefully.” Thanks for the warning. I’d like to think that I am a good driver all year round. The sign reminds me of other things that need to be done with care, besides driving a car, especially at the start of school. For example, I need to be very careful to follow directions on the use of all our new technology. iPads, E-books, and cloud-learning have left me in a fog. It’s not something I am familiar with yet, and so I approach it cautiously and with great care. But I think that in other areas, I can be too careful. For a successful school year, there are some times and arenas where we need to be bold, even reckless. In my mind’s eye, I imagine a sign that says, “School’s open. Drive carefully. Love recklessly.” When it comes to caring for each other and caring for our students, we cannot carefully dispense God’s love in measured amounts or only to certain individuals. God’s grace is bounteous. His grace is given freely and recklessly. Like the water turned into wine in those stone jars, God’s love is superabundant and of the highest quality. This sign, originally meant to keep me focused on the road in front of me, now reminds me that I am called to recklessly share God’s love wherever the road takes me. I am certainly not a perfect driver, nor am I a clear channel for God’s love to pour through, but the sign at least helps me to be attentive.
“Do whatever he tells you,” I am reminded each time I step out the door of Founder’s Hollow. If, in my mind’s eye, I add a phrase to the previous sign, I all too often am likely to edit down Mary’s famous instruction until it just says, “Whatever.” Over the last two decades, that single word has become a slang term that we use in conversation to dismiss what someone has just said and to express our indifference to anything he may have to add. When I mentally roll my eyes and say “whatever” as I listen to someone, I am saying that nothing is going to change my mind or move me out of my comfort zone. How completely different from the original instructions of Mary to do whatever her Son tells us! Each time I walk out that door at Founder’s, I am reminded that I am not in charge. That sign reminds me that I am called to change, to move beyond my comfort zone and to trust. That is not easy! I have been reading some W.H. Auden this summer, and in Apropos of Many Things, he writes, “We would rather be ruined than changed. We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the present and let our illusions die.” I would too often like to keep my hands on the wheel and drive carefully. (I know I am mixing my signage here.) I’d like to think that I know the route that my life, or at least my day, will take. Mary’s words on that sign remind me that God may have an altogether different route for me in mind. That’s why I like to recite each morning this prayer attributed to Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM:
“Lord, take me where You want me to go;
Let me meet who You want me to meet;
Tell me what You want me to say, and
Keep me out of Your way.”
At the start of the summer, I certainly had no idea I’d be writing this letter, but I am grateful to Bro. Stephen for asking me. I hope my ramblings give you something to think about this month and that August provides you with some time to reflect and recharge for the start of a new academic year or the ongoing challenges of your daily work. May God bless you.
And drive carefully!
On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers,