During a conversation about Catholic schools, someone recently asked me about my personal mission and purpose in life. That is an easy question for me to answer because I have given it a great deal of thought over these last twenty years. I can actually lay it out in three steps. It consists of a calling, a purpose, and a mission.
For those of us who are baptized, we share a similar calling. We are called to holiness. We are called to be saints. Thus, my calling is to be holy.
My purpose is simple. I want to add value to the lives of others. I started learning about leadership many years ago from John C. Maxwell. The first exposure was a video course on "Developing the Leader Within You." It was through this course, and reading most (or all) of John's other books, that I grew into knowing my purpose clearly.
My mission is more detailed. It has changed periodically through the years, but it has retained the general focus. My mission is, "To motivate a hurting and complacent Church so that it becomes 'courageous, compelling, and heroic'. I will do this through effective teaching of the faith, articulating hope, and modeling love." The words "courageous, compelling, and heroic" came from something I read years ago. Unfortunately, I do not remember the source. The other component of my mission statement stems from the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. The process of carrying it out is mandated from the ordination rite of a deacon at the time of the reception of the Book of the Gospels. "Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you now are. Believe what you read. Teach what you believe. Practice what you teach."
A book I read many years ago prompted me to specifically articulate my personal mission statement. While I was a bit skeptical at the time, I am grateful that I did. It helps bring clarity and focus to life. It is more than goal setting. It goes beyond WHAT I am going to accomplish. It goes to the WHY I want to accomplish it and also alludes to the HOW.
That type of focus is what helps any individual or institution succeed. This is especially important for our Catholic schools. If leadership loses its focus, it is easy for a Catholic school to meander into an area of just being another educational institution with no distinguishing factors. That is the beginning of the end for the institution.
Standards and Benchmarks for Catholic schools give guidance into being an institution of significance. I would like to look at just a few of those characteristics.
1. Is every aspect of the school centered on the Person of Jesus Christ? If one examines a school closely, this component is easy to evaluate. You can almost get a sense of this just by walking down the hallway during class changing time. What do you see? What do you hear? If a thorough evaluation of programs and priorities is done, the evidence will be clear as to whether or not the school is centered upon the Person of Jesus Christ.
2. Is the Catholic school contributing to the evangelizing mission of the Church? Are we making disciples? If we are building great sports teams, creating brilliant bands and choral groups, hosting amazing speech and dramatic productions, offering a multiplicity of other extracurricular activities, but we miss the opportunity to make disciples--what have we really achieved? Does the local Catholic school impact the wider community because of the school's intentional effort to make disciples?
3. Is the Catholic school distinguished by excellence? We cannot be content with mediocrity. If we believe that all the baptized are called to be saints, we strive toward building a culture that enhances the opportunity for each person to do so. This is not something to pursue in a lackluster manner.
4. Are our Catholic schools committed to educating the whole child? If we truly believe that we are temples of the Holy Spirit, it must impact the way we interact with one another on every level.
5. Are our Catholic schools steeped in a Catholic worldview? Do we truly seek wisdom and truth? Do we recognize the responsibility we have to transform and enrich the world with Gospel values?
6. Do we give witness to the Gospel? Catholic school administrators, faculty, and staff--you have a tremendous privilege to be in a role which will impact the lives of others in a dramatic fashion. That privilege also carries commensurate responsibility. Please take some time to ponder these areas of influence:
A. How does your behavior influence other staff members? Are you a morale builder, or does your negativity and cynicism bring others down? Describe a typical conversation in the teacher's workroom on any given day. What does that say about the school culture among the staff members?
B. How does your behavior influence the students? Are you building a learning environment that is conducive to growth?
C. How does your behavior influence the parents of students? Are you positive and upbeat--even when the parent may not be? Are you being an ambassador for Christ even when it is tough?
D. How does your behavior influence the wider community? People see you in the grocery store and other places out and about in town. Are they happy to see you or do they duck down a different aisle to avoid contact with you? On the other hand, do you duck down a different aisle to avoid contact with them?
There are many other areas that could be covered, but that is enough for one post. Whether you are actively involved in Catholic education in particular or Church ministry in general, I want to encourage you to be an ambassador for Christ. You have influence on people. Even if you are not involved in ministry, you also influence others. Let that influence be positive and uplifting.
Based upon what I am seeing on social media, many schools are hosting their big fundraisers during this time of year. I hope each of you are able raise substantial amounts of money to continue the mission of Catholic education and formation. Please remember the accountability that goes along with these endeavors. Let us "Raise the Standards" and truly build the Kingdom of God!