Introduction: Come to this presentation with a sense of being powerfully put in my place.
It is an honor and a privilege to spend time with you as a member of this International Assembly; it is also extraordinarily humbling to be asked to share a reflection with this group. I have constantly heard, and used the phrase, that in our schools we stand on the shoulders of giants, through these days in Bruges I feel as if I am standing with the giants of the Xaverian world of today and that I have much to learn.
As I share my thoughts with you this morning it is important to know the context from which they come. I am a graduate of Xaverian Brothers High School, Westwood, MA; ONE of the stronger schools in the XBSS network as Br. Dan has already indicated, and I will clarify with great emphasis on the words: “one of.” I did my undergraduate work at Fairfield University and graduate work at Boston College, both Jesuit universities, I have served as a lay missionary in Ecuador and worked as a campus minister, teacher, a novice for the New England Province of the Jesuits, the director of campus ministry and administrator. I couldn’t really hold down a job, which eventually led to my work at St. John’s Prep as Principal and now Headmaster.
Along side of this professional journey of faith there has been another journey where I have come to respond to my vocational call as husband to Kara and dad to Eddie, Matt, Julia and Owen. My work in the schools and my growth in understanding of the Xaverian charism have been informed by this vocation.
Preparing for a reflection of this nature has not been an easy task. In light of my vocations as headmaster, husband and father finding time was a challenge. This challenge was exacerbated by the call to find words and anecdotes that give life to the gift of the Xaverian Brothers, the life of Ryken and the Fundamental Principles in my journey of faith. Over the last few days this opportunity has been challenged even further by the excitement I have had for having the opportunity to visit the home of the “deep story of the Brothers.” Visiting important sites in the life of the Brothers has been both exciting and inspiring. Walking the streets of Bruges I find myself imagining a different time and place and what this world was like as Ryken was trying shine forth the light of his charismatic vision for establishing a congregation of Brothers. I feel as if I am journeying upon sacred ground and have been given an opportunity to go back to the roots of my spiritual journey, roots that transcend the time and space of my own personal and lived history.
In my own journey, I have been put in my place and connected to Xaverian Brothers since Br. Drinan provided my mom with tuition assistance to allow me to study @ XBHS. Since that day I have experienced a world of tragedies, triumphs and opportunities. My Xaverian foundation has brought me to soup kitchens in Boston, S. America, the Jesuit novitiate, married life, campus ministry, administration and now school leadership. In each of these roles there has been a piece of Xaverian spirituality that has come to form and inform my relationships with God, self and others.
My goal in this reflection is to share some of my personal experiences, how I see them connected to Ryken, the Brothers and the Fundamental Principles and then look toward how these experiences and the realities of Ryken, the Brothers and the Fundamental Principles impact the work that we seek to do each day at St. John’s Prep. My reflections are offered and shared in a way that I hope resonates with you as we reflect on how we have been put in our place and how we come to name the Xaverian Charism.
The Life of Ryken
The life of Ryken has provided a significant inspiration in my journey. I did not come to know much about the Founder until I was working as a Campus Minister at Xaverian. In my time as a student I have no recollection of any discussions of what it meant to be Xaverian or who the brothers were as men of faith and a religious community. In my work as a Campus Minister I came to know Ryken as an orphaned boy, with little formal education, big dreams and a whole host of obstacles that he had to overcome in order to achieve his big dreams. He was awkward, at times, and after persevering in the face of many challenges he established the Congregation and then finished his ministry to the Community as a cook. The Community never really fulfilled the call to minister to Native Americans, until many years after his death, but went on to do other things and impact the world and Catholic education in other ways. The story, as we know, is far more complex, but these simplified elements give me great hope in my own journey. In a very simplistic way I look at the life story of Ryken, and find great consolation. If Ryken can achieve in the face of the obstacles and challenges in his journey, then there is hope for me.
This hope has been nurtured by my relationships with many Brothers and collaborators of today. Their openness and embracing of our shared graced and sinful humanity has empowered me to accept my own graced and sinful humanity, which has brought much life and energy to my ministry as an educator and person of faith.
In my different roles I have come to develop a great appreciation for the Fundamental Principles. I had never heard of the document as a student and came across it by accident. I was preparing for our Founder’s Day Liturgy and it was suggested that we include the Constitutions and Fundamental Principles in the offertory procession. In an effort to procrastinate and avoid the work that I needed to do, I opened the book, primarily because I thought I wasn’t supposed to and that it was only for Brothers, and began to read. The next period of time was one of great grace and inspiration, a time of being put in my place. In reading this document I came to better understand my experience as a student as well as develop a vision for my role as Campus Minister. The document has stayed with me and I have referred back to it many times and on many occasions. Overtime I have developed a deeper appreciation of the Fundamental Principles, as Br. Dan Skala encouraged our Campus Ministry Team to continue to reflect on the document and bring it to life amongst our community of faith at Xaverian.
As I reflect on how Xaverian spirituality has formed me, put me in place and empowered me to turn toward God, there are three movements that give life to my experiences. There are many more I could choose but my Jesuit education demands that I think only in threes!
As a side note, I am not using them in chronological order, I am adapting the order to fit my reflection, the Jesuits also taught me to change things to meet my own needs!
Movement #1: Listen and Be Present
Listen to your brothers and sisters, be compassionate with them in their difficulties, bear with them in their weaknesses, encourage and support them.
Affirm your brothers and sisters in their gifts, for by doing so you enable them to realize the gifts that God has given them for service.
In turn, allow them to affirm you and call you forth to even greater service of God.
As a boy studying at XBHS I was shy, quiet and very much a homebody. I had lost my father at the age of 8 and my mom was raising my sister and me. We were active in our parish and a very traditional Catholic family. We followed the rules and rubrics and completed the necessary obligations. I had experienced a great deal as a child, but the traditions and customs of my upbringing did not allow me time or space to come to explore who I was, how these experiences had informed my growth and development and how God was present to me in these experiences, even the most challenging of experiences.
At Xaverian I encountered Brothers like Richard Cook, Charlie Moran and Kevin McLean as well as collaborators like Fr. Dick Regan, Steve Quann, Jim Glinski and Eileen Schofield, who embodied the call of this Principle; they listened to me and journeyed with me, they stood with me as I asked questions, they affirmed the gifts I did not know that I possessed and they encouraged me break out of the shyness and duty of obligation that had held me back. They provided experiences and opportunities for me to come see a life of faith as a life of relationships. They offered me a model of teaching, ministering and serving by being with another; not doing for or alleviating challenges, but being with another.
As a young campus minister at Xaverian, after returning from my year in Ecuador, I came to realize the value of this experience. I had asked one of my freshmen to see me after school. It was time for a conversation that demanded that he come to understand that World History class is a primary obligation in his life and that he must start doing his work. We started the conversation I had practiced and prepared. In my own mind my words were to be an amazing and inspirational lecture that would transform this less than mediocre student into a rising historian. As the boy sat down he started to cry and then stated: “my mom is dying and I don’t know what I am going to do when she leaves us.” I had no idea what to do, unconsciously, I relied on those who had taught me and I listened, affirmed and journeyed with Adam. The journey was challenging but embracing the opportunity to listen, be compassionate with, bear with and affirm was a consolation to Adam and powerful lesson in Xaverian ministry that put me in my place.
Movement #2: The Role of Love
God is not obliged to give an account to anybody, even if God wants to use a sinner.
You were created by the God of love
In God’s image and according to God’s likeness, to be a unique expression of that love.
It is through you that God desires to manifest Love to the peoples of the world in these times, and to offer them the freedom of the children of God. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, you are called to follow in His footsteps and minister God’s healing touch of love, through word and deed, to all whom you meet in your journey of life.
In my own journey I have come to understand this statement of the Fundamental Principles as one of the most liberating and challenging aspects of Xaverian spirituality.
In my ministry in South America and through volunteer work at a women’s prison in Framingham, MA I came to see this principle lived out. I saw myself as one who was called to teach. In my experience of journeying with the people of Ecuador and sitting with the women at Framingham I saw first hand how God’s love was a healing presence and that God’s likeness has a diversity of images and experiences.
As the Xaverian Brothers put me in my place and empowered me to see faith as relational and not just an obligation, this principle called me to realize that the core of my relationships, with God, self and others is love; unconditional, inclusive and accepting love. Coming to understand this love, the reality that we are created in God’s image and according to God’s likeness and that we each have the ability to be a unique expression of that love has put me in the place of serving as a Campus Minister, Administrator, Spouse and Parent.
One of more enriching experiences I have had was working with Br. Larry, Alice Hession and Thadine Coyne to reorganize the XBSS student retreat. We used the Fundamental Principles cornerstone of our work. Our call as a Xaverian sponsored school is not only to let our students and staff know that they are loved, but that this love that they experience demands action, an action that manifests God’s love for all peoples and all creation. In the retreat experience the students most definitely come to see God’s love for them and as the retreat concludes they are called to put together a project / program that will manifest God’s love to the people of their school. I truly believe that this duality has empowered the XBSS Retreat to put our students in their place and empower them to turn towards God.
A key aspect of what I have experienced of Xaverian spirituality is captured in this aspect of the retreat. While God’s love for us is unconditional, the only way that we can make God’s love more manifest to the world is by putting this love in service to others; no matter who those others are and whether or not we are open to being with them in all of our graced and sinful humanity.
As headmaster I have come to see this call to demand that we create an inclusive school community. A school community that celebrates the accomplishments of scholars, athletes, artists and everyone in between, as well as a school community that fosters acceptance of difference and embraces each individual as created in the image and likeness of God, this all needs to be done without regard for social status, academic talent, appearance, religious tradition, sexual orientation, ethnicity or race. In working with and witnessing the work of the Brothers I have seen this reality lived.
I have also been privileged to see this reality give life to our students: Watching a senior gently and directly challenging a freshman as he uses inappropriate language in the hall during the change of classes; listening to students gather in small groups to reflect on how they can advocate for women in the midst of a school for boys; and coming to see how the Prep community has reached out to take a risk and accept students from a very poor city in Massachusetts. We have worked with these young men, struggled with these young men, been present to these young men and loved these young men and this has empowered some to ultimately break out of the cycle of poverty that had a strangle hold on them and their families.
Movement #3: sacramental moments
If you allow yourself to be formed by God through the common, ordinary, unspectacular flow of everyday life, you will gradually experience a liberation and a freedom never before imagined.
Stand ready to answer when asked if you are available for God to become more present in your life and through you to the world.
This statement is perhaps one of the most quoted in my home and is perhaps the best advice a religious congregation of brothers could offer to married couples and parents. In our home, with four children 11 and under, there are very few common, ordinary and unspectacular moments. Our children work hard to make sure of this on a daily basis! However, if we pay attention to what happens in our family on a day-to-day basis we very much come to see God’s presence within and among our journey together. We come to see how as parents, we have been put in our place and that we need to orient ourselves toward God.
As one who grew in a very traditional Catholic family I also looked for God to become present in a pretty extraordinary way. Mary had an angel visit her, the transfiguration seemed to be a pretty spectacular event and being knocked off a horse by a bolt of lightening seemed like a spectacular way for God to communicate in a direct fashion.
Through my Xaverian experiences I am developing an openness to the reality of God’s presence amongst the “common and ordinary” as integral to what it means to be Xaverian. The work of listening, being compassionate, accepting that we are created in God’s image and likeness, and called to manifest God’s love is fed and nurtured by the sacramental moments we experience in the common journeys of each day.
I can most often appreciate these moments when I remember the prayer that Br. Jim Kelly sent me on my first day as Headmaster: God, help me to remember the SJP is your school, not mine!
I saw the fruits of this reality at our Commencement this past May. As many seniors were focused on the next stage of life and “checked out” of school one of their classmates was diagnosed with leukemia. As he journeyed through treatment many staff visited, Paul was fearful that his friends would forget him and that his treatment regimen would prevent him from graduating. He made it to Commencement and when his name was called and he slowly walked across the stage, the entire assembly of 3,000+ erupted in applause. I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and the sustained applause, it was a moment of extraordinary grace, a moment planned, initiated and implemented by God in our midst; ultimately it was a sacramental moment.
Transition to Challenges
As I reflect on the movements of being “put in my place” and “turning towards God” I have come to realize many challenges and opportunities that confront me in today’s world. As one who is being formed by spiritual orientation that demands both contemplation and action, I would be remiss if I did not touch upon this part of my journey.
In the context that I experience, middle and upper middle class families in the United States Xaverian spirituality is desperately needed. There are many social and ecclesiastical challenges that confront us as brothers, associates and collaborators. These challenges can be overwhelming and lead to doubt and cynicism. The gift of Xaverian spirituality is that it provides a lens to perceive challenges as a diversity of opportunities for us: to renew our sense of who God has called us to be, and how we can model a relational, loving and inclusive spirituality that empowers us to become the change that our world desperately needs. This gift is reflected in this challenge from the Fundamental Principles:
As you prayerfully reflect on the past, assess the present, and ponder the future with one another, be considerate of this history and of this ministry.
Yet, like Ryken, foster an openness to the needs of the Church and your world, and an willingness to follow Christ wherever he leads.
You are called to a life of constant searching. Let the developments and changes of your times be a source of both confidence and challenge to you.
I know I broke my own rule of “3,” however, responding to the signs of the times demands creativity and ingenuity! As I look toward the future I see great opportunities for the Congregation, Associates and Collaborators to continue to be put in our place as we seek:
- To develop opportunities for our students and staff to purposely and manifestly come to reflect upon and engage with the Fundamental Principles, we can’t afford to have this happen by accident.
- The model of intentional communities, lived by the brothers today, offers great hope for collaborators in schools. Fostering community by empowering us to share faith beyond the boundaries of our schools can empower us to further grapple with what it means to be Xaverian in today’s world and in today’s Church.
- Creating an engaging opportunity for students, staff and parents to come to know the “deep story” of the Xaverian Brothers can empower us to discern how we can feed the fire of Ryken’s charismatic experience to breathe life into our contemporary realities. It can also empower others to join the dance around the fire of Ryken’s vision.
- To create a retreat experience, a set of spiritual exercises, based on the Fundamental Principles that allow men and women of diverse life experiences the opportunity to engage with the document and perhaps come to new understandings and new expressions that connect to our experience as single and married collaborators with the Brothers.
In my own personal experience these challenges call me to continually pause and reflect on the sacramental moments that exist in our schools, to seek balance among my vocations of school leader and husband and father and ultimately to remember that work that I do, is God’s work, not mine.
As we begin the journey of this day I leave you with some questions to ponder:
- Who have been the men and women in my journey that have given life to Xaverian spirituality?
- What experiences have empowered me to internalize this spirituality?
Thank you for the opportunity to share with you and to pray with you.