Loving the Bride of Christ

source: catholic.org

This article by Carl E. Olsen puts a lot of things into perspective.

There are so many people on both “sides” of the aisle who have abandoned the Church for one reason or another. Or they try to make the Church be something she is not. They deny everything before Vatican 2, or they deny everything including and after Vatican 2, or they take this teaching and leave the other one out, or they take one pope and leave another one out…

I think we all have this temptation sometimes.

Catherine of Siena is a wonderful example of someone who loved the Church despite it’s sinfulness and was faithful to Christ. And even toward her attitude toward the Church was humble and loving.

And people, she lived in WAY worse times than we do now:

Catherine lived during a time of pessimism and cynicism. Barbara Tuchman, in her historical narrative A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, described the period as “a time of turmoil, diminished expectations, loss of confidence in institutions, and feelings of helplessness at forces beyond human control.” The popes lived in exile in Avignon between 1309 and 1377, only returning to Rome after Catherine went personally to the papal court and pleaded with Gregory XI. Monasteries and convents in Europe were decimated by the Plague, and in order to re-populate them unsuitable candidates were often accepted. The secular literature at the time described clerical celibacy as a joke. By the time Catherine died in 1380, the Church was in schism with the election of an anti-pope, Clement VII. (“Lessons   from St. Catherine of Siena, Doctor and Daughter of the Church”)

I have not read much of her writings (or, more accurately, dictations) but I’ve been convinced. I need to read her. I think she will help me be a better Christian:

Among various causes of the Church’s sinfulness, Catherine identifies one in particular: a love for the “outer rind” instead of the marrow, i.e., a preoccupation with surface instead of inner realities. Learned people, particularly the clergy, may know much about God, the Church, and Scripture, and yet not be in a love-union with God. The eternal Father tells her that such people “neither see nor understand anything but the outer crust, the letter of Scripture. They receive it without relish” and “approach this Bride [the Church] merely for her outer shell, that is, for her temporal substance, while she is quite empty of any who seek her marrow.” (Ibid)


Pope Saint John XXIII and Pope Saint John Paul II, pray for us.

I think Flannery O’Connor is a kindred spirit of Catherine’s (and in my own private, unofficial and utterly ad cathedram opinion) also a saint. They are soul sisters:

“…the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed. It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it. ”  (Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being)


7 Quick Takes Friday (4/25/14)




In my last 7 Quick Takes post, two weeks ago, I asked readers  for their opinions about some posts I am thinking of doing:

I’m gathering ideas for several different upcoming blog posts, but I wanted to ask if there is any topic in particular that you would like to see explored.

Here are some things I’m thinking of writing about:

1. More About the Common Core and its Implications for Catholic Education

2. Vocation – Br. Justin Hannegan has a disquieting thesis about discernment that all of us should take into consideration. I’ve been meditating on this for a while, and though I am not expert on vocations by any means, I thought I’d tackle it.

3. My Top 10 Pieces of Advice for Teachers – which is kind of funny, because I’m not exactly a veteran teacher myself…

4. Should certain books be excluded from Catholic high school classrooms? If so, any notable ones? Why? – This has become rather a sticky issue at my own school, and though I know the sad majority of Catholic high schools don’t take their identity too seriously anyway, I thought it might be useful to ponder for those of us who do kind of care about being “Catholic” and what that means. For example, one parent does not think Homer is appropriate. (!)

5. Why Anthony Esolen isn’t completely right about writing … See what I did there?

(me, Mysteries and Manners)

In the comments, I got some great responses and also quite a few on Facebook, so I am going to do my best to start turning out some of these ideas.

However, I am extending the invitation again, and adding a couple of more topic ideas:

6. The role of entertainment in secondary education – To what extent are teachers responsible for making their classes “fun”? What does appropriate “fun” look like? Should we even care about being “fun” (the academic word for it now is “engaging”) as prevailing Education theories insist?

7. A response to this interesting post by community college professor Chris Cook: “Thence to a Lightness: The Madness of English 201”

A taste of his argument:

Writing about literature, however, is not the same thing as reading it. Not everyone needs to know how to do that. In fact, almost no-one does. We don’t make people who want to be professors learn how to take apart and rebuild an engine, so why do we make people who want to be mechanics learn how to review a body of scholarship, pick out relevant quotations, and format them properly as citations and sources in support of an argumentative thesis? (Cook, “Thence to a Lightness”)

8. Keats’ negative capability and the English classroom

9. How do I make my subject “Catholic” when I don’t teach religion? Do I just make sure to have my students pray at the beginning of class and that’s it? Or sometimes have “religion” days and incorporate some kind of reading from the Gospel or the catechism? How do I make my classroom Catholic?

Let me know what you think – and if you have any other ideas!


On religion in public schools:



Once again, Faith and Memory go together.

Pope Francis gave an amazing homily at the Easter Vigil, meditating on Matthew’s resurrection account, and a particular part of that account I had never thought about very much before. He tells all of us to ask ourselves: “Where is my Galilee?”

Galilee is the place where they were first called, where everything began! To return there, to return to the place where they were originally called. Jesus had walked along the shores of the lake as the fishermen were casting their nets. He had called them, and they left everything and followed him (cf. Mt 4:18-22).


For each of us, too, there is a “Galilee” at the origin of our journey with Jesus.

(Pope Francis, Easter Vigil Homily 2014)

Go read it!


My dad sent me a beautiful poem by John Updike: Seven Stanzas at Easter. I have been reading this poem in different ways with my kids every day this week for prayer.

I love this part:

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

(John Updike)


From the ever lovable and incisive GK Chesterton, via Ignatius Insight:


It’s really hard to be Catholic sometimes because it involves so much obedience, and obedience isn’t popular or cool. It makes you look like a sheep sometimes. Especially when you’re following a huge ancient corrupt sinful institution like the Church.

On the other hand: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).



Via my friend Nico:

“The Case for Race-Blind Affirmative Action” by John Cassidy at the New Yorker

Given the glaring facts that America remains a very unequal society, with strikingly low levels of social mobility, what’s needed is a set of policies that promote upward movement from the bottom, and, at the same time, has more appeal to Americans who find racial preferences objectionable. Fortunately, such an approach is readily available: race-blind affirmative action that helps poor and disadvantaged people get ahead regardless of their skin color and ethnic origin. (Cassidy)



Pope John Paul the Great and Pope John XXIII, pray for us!

So often, it is women who are the first witnesses of the Resurrection…

Still, she said, she and her husband did not have the money to pay for more tests to verify the healing, but eventually her doctor did an MRI. “He was shocked,” she said. “My husband wondered why he wasn’t saying anything and I said, ‘because I’ve been healed through the intercession of John Paul II.'” (via Catholic News Agency, “Women recount the stories of healing through the intercession of popes”)

source: ihradio.com

What Students Really Need to Hear

Whoah. This is amazing.

It’s like what I tried to say in my previous post, only WAY better.

Chase Mielke

It’s 4 a.m.  I’ve struggled for the last hour to go to sleep.  But, I can’t.  Yet again, I am tossing and turning, unable to shut down my brain.  Why?  Because I am stressed about my students.  Really stressed.  I’m so stressed that I can only think to write down what I really want to say — the real truth I’ve been needing to say — and vow to myself that I will let my students hear what I really think tomorrow.

This is what students really need to hear:

First, you need to know right now that I care about you. In fact, I care about you more than you may care about yourself.  And I care not just about your grades or your test scores, but about you as a person. And, because I care, I need to be honest with you. Do I have permission to be…

View original post 764 more words

“You are not allowed to give up!”

Dont-Give-UpSo, my sophomores have started to read Dante’s Inferno.

And they want to die.

Well, not literally. Especially not after having gone on a “virtual tour of hell” themselves and seeing what crazy things are happening there.

But a lot of them are really discouraged. They fall into two groups:

Group A:
These kids have been discouraged about their reading abilities (or lack thereof) for so long that they kind of assumed their failure in advance. A few of them may have picked up the book and read the first few sentences of Canto 2 and then closed it with a frustrated sigh. Or flipped through it vaguely during commercials. Or raced through it in a panic this morning in the hallway when they heard rumors of pop quizzes occurring in Ms. Shea’s classroom. Or tried to make it look like they annotated when really they didn’t think too much about it.

Group B:
These kids made a much more deliberate and concerted effort. After having reviewed reading strategies from the beginning of the year, they chose a few to focus on and try. They annotated their text with sticky notes. They used the Endnotes at the back of the book. They read aloud to themselves. They read aloud to others. They summarized difficult places in their own words. They looked up Youtube videos in which the text is read aloud, with pictures, to help them aurally and visually.

But both groups struggled. And sometimes people in Group B did not do any better than people in Group A on the three pop quizzes I gave today.

I felt kind of sad. That’s the worst, isn’t it? When you actually really try, and nothing seems to come of it?

I thought, how many times has that happened to me as a teacher?

So many failures. So many disappointments.

But I did my best to frame everything carefully. I told them how proud I was of them for trying new things. I gave examples of students who had come to see me for extra help, even if it was just for a couple of seconds after school or during lunch. I told them how struggling with a text – especially with a work as great as Dante’s – is a wonderful thing. That it’s okay to struggle with it. That it’s okay to make mistakes.

I also told them: “You are not allowed to give up!”

Nope. Not allowed. Not an option. You have lots of choices to make, lots of new strategies we have learned about to try… but giving up is not one of them.

Again, Carol Dweck’s theory of “Fixed Mindset” keeps coming back.

It’s easier, and safer, to give up. To not try.

Because if you fail, you know that you did not really try anyway because the book is too hard for you and really it’s Dante’s fault that he lived in the 1300s and spoke differently and thought differently. His fault, not yours.


How can I teach them that the struggle is good? That that’s what learning is?


All the best things in life take time and effort. Love, marriage, friendship, family, faith.

But it’s so popular with so many of my students to be lazy: “Yeah, I didn’t read that!” “Nope, me neither!” “I’m totally going to fail, ha ha ha….”

Why is this?

Sometimes I just want to reach into their brains and take out the Fixed Mindsets.

It makes me so sad. I know it’s hard. I know they have so many things to do and worry about. Welcome to life. But don’t give up on it. Come see me for help. I am here for you. Don’t blame the book for your own lack of training or trying! Do something about it!

Widen your heart! See if maybe this “great work” of literature has something to give you besides a headache. There is a lot of love there. Don’t reject it because you are too tired to be bothered with it.

If you’re going through hell, keep on going.

Holy Saturday




After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?


The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –


This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –
– Emily Dickinson

Good Friday


Psalm 22

Here we are faced with a bottomless mystery[…] at this precise point the mystery of the divine Trinity is fully proclaimed. The distance is so great—for in God everything is infinitethat there is room in it for all the alienation and sin of the world; the Son can draw all this into his relationship with the Father […]

Jesus, the Crucified, endures our inner darkness and estrangement from God, and he does so in our place. It is all the more painful for him, the less he has merited it. As we have already said, there is nothing familiar about it to him: it is utterly alien and full of horror. Indeed, he suffers more deeply than an ordinary man is capable of suffering, even were he condemned and rejected by God, because only the incarnate Son knows who the Father really is and what it means to be deprived of him, to have lost him (to all appearances) forever. It is meaningless to call this suffering “hell”, for there is no hatred of God in Jesus, only a pain that is deeper and more timeless than the ordinary man could endure either in his lifetime or after his death. (Hans Urs von Balthasar, “The Scapegoat and the Trinity“)

Holy Thursday

Christ Washing Peter's Feet, Ford Madox Brown
“Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet,” by Ford Madox Brown


Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (“Ei tauta oidate, makarioi este, ean poiēte auta.”)


Whenever I hear this reading proclaimed on Holy Thursday, I never fail to think how different Christian churches would be if, in addition to our weekly celebrations of the Eucharist we celebrated the Footwashing. It may sound crazy, and it would be terribly complicated to arrange every Sunday—all those basins of waters and towels and shoes and socks! 

But imagine the symbolism if every week the presider laid aside his vestments and got down on his hands and knees to scrub the feet of his parishioners. What a reminder it would be to all of us—priests included—that this is what Christ asked us to do in addition to the celebration of the Eucharist. After all, what he says about the Eucharist, “Do this in memory of me” at the Last Supper in the Synoptics, he also says about the footwashing in John: “If you know these things, are you blessed if you do them.” 

Seen every Sunday, over and over, the washing of the feet might help us see how power is more intimately linked to service. (Fr. James Martin, SJ, Jesus: A Pilgrimage 

via Catholic News Agency

7 Quick Takes Friday (4/11/14)



My friend Oscar has just started an awesome new website about education that you should check out! It’s called The McGuffey Reader, named after William Holmes McGuffey.

From the “About” Section of the site:

An independent organization committed to the improvement of local schools and to the reform of education in America, The Mcguffey Reader is the first ever online space for the exchange of school-specific solutions, and a source for the latest in education news, policies, and pedagogies that are currently changing education. (The McGuffey Reader About Page)

source: mcguffeyreaders.com



Thou Shalt Not Commit Logical Fallacies!

What a Godsend! I am definitely ordering one of these for my classroom next year…

source: yourlogicialfallacyis.com

Especially this one.

source: churchm.ag


I love this:

What I Never Would Have Known About Becoming a Teacher Before I Became One

It’s a list of 10 things.

But especially this thing:

slide 5 -126490696
source: takepart.com

Some teachers ask me incredulously why I often wear heels when I teach. Aren’t I just asking for sore feet?

Well, yes.

But I began wearing heels because, during my first year of teaching, I was so much SHORTER than the huge senior boys who came marching into my classroom.

And I realized as well that a decisive click click click on the classroom floor, or in the hallways, can have a surpassing amount of power.

Although of course “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Especially the responsibility of not tripping and falling during class. THAT has almost happened.


My friend Serena has another great article over at Public Discourse: “Crowdfunding, Selfies, And Mommy Blogs: Finding Community in the Internet Age.”

Very, very interesting. You hear in homilies and articles all the time how “the internet” and its forms of social media have ironically only isolated us from one another–but Mrs. Sigillito (!) challenges that oft-repeated narrative:

I believe that social media have the capacity to help establish new forms of community that fulfill our innate desire to be part of a group that is larger than ourselves, but small enough to for us to be known, accepted, and loved. (Sigillito via Public Discourse)

She gives some great examples:

Blogs like these document the place where the rubber meets the road. They take general political and religious statements about the importance of the family and they make them real, personal, and incarnate. It’s one thing forHumanae Vitae to explain why contraception is wrong; it’s another thing to read the words of a woman who’s struggling to keep the faith through her fourth or fifth surprise pregnancy. And because blogs express their authors’ personalities so strongly, they provide a powerful opportunity to encounter others. (Ibid)

Bottom line: go read it.

Her article also gives me some hope and encouragement about my own blogging here. One wonders, at times, what the point is of sharing one’s musings with a silent computer scene… until you get a comment here or there that acknowledges that someone else has felt the same way, or has come to see things differently or more clearly because of what you said.

source: gabrielweinberg.com

As I learned in ACE , community can come in all sorts of strange shapes and sizes. And yet God can work through them–even through the Internet.


Speaking of blogging…

I’m gathering ideas for several different upcoming blog posts, but I wanted to ask if there is any topic in particular that you would like to see explored.

Here are some things I’m thinking of writing about:

1. More About the Common Core and its Implications for Catholic Education

2. Vocation – Br. Justin Hannegan has a disquieting thesis about discernment that all of us should take into consideration. I’ve been meditating on this for a while, and though I am not expert on vocations by any means, I thought I’d tackle it.

3. My Top 10 Pieces of Advice for Teachers – which is kind of funny, because I’m not exactly a veteran teacher myself…

4. Should certain books be excluded from Catholic high school classrooms? If so, any notable ones? Why? – This has become rather a sticky issue at my own school, and though I know the sad majority of Catholic high schools don’t take their identity too seriously anyway, I thought it might be useful to ponder for those of us who do kind of care about being “Catholic” and what that means. For example, one parent does not think Homer is appropriate. (!)

5. Why Anthony Esolen isn’t completely right about writing … See what I did there?


Well, I’m not going to go into a very long tirade about writing right now…

But I am going to venture into a little one.

I had a student from another English class ask me for help with her paper. Long story short, I didn’t think this student really had a thesis statement at all. I thought her thesis was basically a universal truth that any sane person who read her novel would agree with, and therefore wasn’t really worth writing about.

And then her current English teacher told me her thesis was absolutely fine, because this wasn’t supposed to be a “persuasive essay” anyway. It was an “analysis” essay.

I swallowed my astonishment, and then began to doubt everything I ever knew (and, honestly, everything I have ever taught) about essay writing.

Okay. I know Middle School teachers are taught to teach different “genres” of essay writing: the Descriptive Essay, the Analysis Essay, the ever-revolting Compare-and-Contrast Essay, the Personal Essay, the Persuasive Essay… which seems rather silly in a way. The only benefit I can see from over-complicating essays like this is teaching kids how to take purpose and audience into account. That’s a good thing, but I don’t think you need to make up fake essay genres for that.

But here’s my problem.

To me, an essay–even a thesis for that matter–is nothing at all if it does not argue something.

To me, ALL essays are persuasive essays.

Describe something? Okay, well prove why this thing is best described in this way.

Compare and contrast? Basically it’s just a list of stuff if you don’t throw in an argument somewhere–this thing is BETTER than that thing, or this character achieves X whereas the other one doesn’t.

Personal Essay? It’s just a journal entry if you aren’t trying to teach your reader or yourself something true about human life.

Am I wrong? Am I missing something? Is this just me?


*Caveat: I said essays. Not necessarily science research papers. But even then…


A little Calvin and Hobbes to put writing back into perspective:

source: moonlightandhershadow.blogspot.com

Once in a while my students will try something like this. Thing is, I’ve tried it before myself. And ya can’t BS a BS-er.

Please excuse my French.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Why I Didn’t Quit My First Year of Teaching

The first year of teaching is notoriously horrible.

stressed teacher_0
source: takepart.com

Mine was.

In fact, I came VERY close to leaving ACE around October and November of my first year. I had never worked so hard or felt so overwhelmed or under-qualified. I had never felt so lonely or inept in my life. I was far away from friends, family, security… sanity. I was mired in papers and students whom I cared about but did not know how to help.

I had pretty much made the decision to leave after my first semester of teaching. This just wasn’t for me. So many of my friends were getting married, meeting people, loving their jobs, living healthy, fulfilling lives… and here I was, in the middle of nowhere, far away from everything and everyone I loved, and not making one whit of difference no matter how hard I tried.

Project1I remember sitting at my desk, exhausted, too tired to stand and walk around the room monitoring my students as they labored over their exam.

It was December. Christmas break was in sight. I wondered what I would do when I left Louisiana, or how I could begin to explain my decision to my principal or ACE housemates.

I had never really failed at anything before. I had never tried something, given it all I had, and watched as my efforts crumbled into humiliations, day after day.

I didn’t like failing.

I had never failed a subject in school, and here I was, feeling like a failure as a teacher.

I kind of knew what some of my students must feel like. You try and try and nothing ever seems to get better.

As I sat at my desk, chin on my hand, I began to look at each of my students*. There was Kelly with a frown on her face as she scribbled down the first few sentences of her essay. She had scared me to death when I first met her, because I knew she was exactly the sort of person who would have really intimidated me when I was in high school. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind or let you know if she thought you were complete incompetent. And yet we had developed a mutual, if guarded, respect.

And then there was Jeffery, gazing off into space as he absent-mindedly chewed the end of his pen. He was always too “cool” to care about school, or most anything else for that matter. But we got along. He smiled sometimes when I forced him to write an answer down.

Then there was Peter, dark-eyed and kind of scary. The other teachers had warned me about him. But I had always given him things to do from day one. “Hey, Peter, could you please take this to the office for me?” “Peter, would you go and tell Mr. Benoit that…” “Peter, I’m going to trust you with this: please…” And I think he was so surprised I entrusted him with anything that he never acted up in my class. Not once.

I looked at smug Mike, the one who always annoyingly tried to compliment me. “Hey, Ms. Shea, I like that dress.” “Do your bell work, Mike.” “Hey, Ms. Shea, you look beautiful today.” “Irrelevant, Mike. Sit down.” “But Ms. Shea, I’m just trying’ to…” “I don’t care, Mike.” “Hey, Ms. Shea…” “I’m happy to see you too, Mike. Do your work.”

I smiled in spite of myself.

I kept looking around the room at all the faces bent down over my exam, the pens and pencils scratching, heads leaning heavily on hands that occasionally were waved vigorously to get the blood circulating again after so much writing.

And I realized something strange.

So many of my college friends were finding love in so many beautiful ways (okay, mostly via marriage and children), and yet I suddenly saw that I had found love too.

I loved my students.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but that December I realized that somewhere along the way, it had.

God may not have given me the kind of love I was looking for or hoping for, but He had given me these kids.

And I knew I couldn’t leave.

I had to stay.

And that’s why I didn’t quit my first year of teaching.

source: theteachergarden.blogspot.com



*All names have been changed.