by Ed Beckett ’78, Assistant Principal for Spiritual Formation
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As I write this, we are celebrating the Easter season. The resignation of Pope Benedict, and the election of Pope Francis, the first pope from the Americas, surprised the world. In the wake of these events, reporting on the spiritual health of the Catholic Church has focused on a wide spectrum of issues. It is perhaps a welcome moment to reflect upon the foundation of our faith.
At the heart of the matter is a simple reality. The essence of Christianity is not a system, plan of action or book of rules. It is a person: Jesus Christ. As Pope Benedict wrote in his encyclical Spes Salvi (“Saved in Hope”), “The encounter with [Jesus] is the decisive act of judgment. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away.” In prayer, examination of conscience, the celebration of the sacraments, and growth in knowledge of the world around us through study and reflection, we grow as a community inspired by the spirit of Christ to confront the realities of our lives and the life of the world. We seek to live in and under the gaze of the Lord. Prior to his election, while serving as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis offered this reflection. “Missionary fervor does not require extraordinary events. It is in ordinary life that mission work is done.”
This ordinary living out of our common Christian life is core of our school’s mission and identity. It is the everyday reality of our life together. We encounter Christ in our triumphs and our falls. Our students are formed consciously in the presence of a living tradition of faith that admits its faults, seeks forgiveness for its shortcomings, and commits itself in hope to the grace of God present in the person and example of Christ in our midst. This is not simply a temporary frame of mind, but a habit of being through which we learn to love through bearing one another’s burdens, and seeking the good in all we do.
We are not without our stumbling. As in any school, we deal with disciplinary lapses, petty cruelties and all-too-human failings. We also celebrate more than our share of victories in college acceptances, scholarship offers, athletic and co-curricular triumphs. In this, we are like many other communities. It is when a class of adolescents calms to silence in the chapel during devotion or we assemble together at an all-school liturgy that a certain lens provides sharpened focus. In the past few months, we’ve gathered to pray for children and families in Connecticut, for vocations and to begin the Lenten season with ashes. Two years ago, teenagers formed a group to reach across the globe to educate their peers in Uganda that continues to thrive. Not long ago, we gave back to the local community in Gloucester City through Toys for Tots while looking across the state to provide support for the community at Our Lady Star of the Sea in Atlantic City in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Students sign up month after month to serve meals at the Cathedral Kitchen in Camden, NJ, and are currently planning a fund-raiser to benefit children at local hospitals. Seeing all of this in light of our mission, we cannot help but be certain of the spirit of Christ alive in our midst. Witnessing students, staff and faculty reach out in support of one another in the wake of failure, frustration, and loss, as well as celebrate with one another the success, joy, and fullness of life reminds us of the reality we profess.
The point is not that we do more or less as a community than our peers; the point is that whatever we do is undertaken as an expression of our communion with one another as a Christian community. We seek to provide “a guide for Catholic Christian living: vibrant faith, respect for human dignity, strong belief in the values of family, promotion of justice, service to community and country, and the desire to make a positive difference in society.” In this, we seek to follow Christ and serve him.
The British Jesuit, Fr. James Hanvey, recently wrote “In his act of resignation, Pope Benedict reminded us that the true head of the Church is Christ. This is not a pious formula but a profound act of faith.” So, too, is the election of Pope Francis. There is no doubt that the Body of Christ is deeply wounded at present and in need of renewal. St. Francis also knew something of this reality. The challenge is once again to turn to the practice and example of Jesus, and a life lived in communion with him in hope of the resurrection. In doing so, we remain true to ourselves and to him.