Happy Advent, Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays!

This time of the year marks a very special time for Catholics as we prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ. Advent is a time of preparation of our whole selves for the celebration of the incarnation, the birth of Jesus the Christ. This is a special event as it reminds us that God chose to experience every bit of our fragile and joyous human experience in order to be as close to us as possible.  Often time, this season of the liturgical year gets over looked because most of our nation is already in full Christmas, elves, presents, and shopping mode. While this is all wonderful, advent teaches us that before we can celebrate, we must prepare. Broadly speaking, we are called to take a step back, simplify our lives, and focus on bringing wholeness of life to our families, communities, and to be sure we are taking care of ourselves. How do we do this? Below is a simple but effective approach adapted from how Jesus lived his life.

  1. Take time for prayer, even if only for a few minutes. Jesus is depicted as praying in the midst of his busy ministry in order to help him rest and rejuvenate. Prayer, some quiet reflection time, is a good way to care for yourself in order to care for others. Check out Sacred Space online. This cite is run by the Jesuits and guides you through short prayers you can do during your lunch break or when you have downtime at home.
  2. Acts of Shalom. This semester the senior class learned about the concept of Shalom, which Dr. Elizabeth A. Johnson equates to, “an absence of war and fullness of life.” This is, in essence, what the kingdom of God is. We are called to work towards bringing about the kingdom of God, to do acts that bring about peace and fullness of life. Find ways every day to bring goodness and peace to the lives of those around you. It can be as simple and smiling at a stranger, telling those loved ones how much they mean to you, forgoing that large almond milk vanilla latte and instead donating that money to a cause that brings life to others. It can also mean reaching out to those you’ve wronged and asking for forgiveness, forgiving others who have wronged you, praying for those who cut you off while on the 405/10/101/5/110 freeways, or taking part in the sacrament of reconciliation at your local parish.
  3. Get to know your community of faith. We all know that Church isn’t necessarily the most exciting part of our weekends, especially with brunch, football, and sleeping in as other options to Sunday mornings. That being said, being part of your community of faith is an important part of being Catholic. While praying alone is very much part of our tradition, being in community is just as important. We see Jesus pray, eat, and travel with his friends all throughout the Gospels. We are called to build a strong community of faith to help us grow as individuals and as a Church. Moreover, the incarnation itself shows us that God desires us to be in community with each other since God chose to be in communion with us through Jesus.

As we celebrate Advent/Christmas/that time of the year when all the parking lots are full, let us remember to prepare for the party by praying, doing acts of shalom, and spending some time with our communities of faith. By doing this, we are preparing for a celebration that calls us to be our best selves, which is a gift we can keep giving to baby Jesus all year round.

If you’re comfortable, you’re not doing it right : The Call to Authentic Discipleship

Verbum Dei is focused not only on the academic success of our students, but also with the creation of men who are with and for others, as the Jesuit motto states. This is another way of saying that we are working alongside God in the molding of authentic Disciples of Christ who place themselves alongside those who are marginalized, oppressed, and “othered.” Our Theology classes take part in this work by addressing various aspects of the human experience through classes on scripture, Christian ethics, vocations, social justice, and interreligious dialogue. Each class tries to help the students understand Christ’s life and works in light of their own context in order to help them learn how to respond to today’s issues as Christ would.

A few weeks ago we had the opportunity to expand our lessons beyond the classroom and onto the open road. During Holy Week, we took 18 students on our annual service immersion trip to Utah to work alongside the Dine(more commonly known as “Navajo”) people on the reservation. There we do manual labor that can range from constructing a Hogan(a traditional Dine home) to picking up large pieces of trash and everything in between. We never actually know what we will be asked to do but the students go in with open hearts and a desire to do whatever they are called upon. This year, they we asked to help continue building a Hogan, a task that apparently takes at least 1 year according to a local resident. For hours and hours the students and adults mixed water and mud and added it to the already existing structure trying to make the concoction stick to the Hogan. This all required lots of patience, energy, and the right frame of mind considering all were caked in mud by the end of the first hour. At times the students would also fall into mud puddles which made the work all the more uncomfortable.

At the end of that day, after hours and hours of work, it is safe to say that we barely made any progress . That is when we all found out that the work we were doing was started by a man who had suddenly past away the day before we arrived. The man’s sister thanked us for taking the time and care in continuing his work by building the Hogan.

Father Greg Boyle, SJ says that, “Kinship is not serving the other, but being one with the other.” While our service in building the Hogan could go unnoticed based on the progress we made, it was our presence alongside the family of the deceased man that is what God is calling us to.

We drove 14 hours to Utah, slept on floors, ate turkey sandwiches every day until the students couldn’t stand the sight of them, worked in the cold while caked in mud up to our knees, and barely saw any progress on the Hogan, but this is what we are called to do. Authentic discipleship is not about being comfortable or doing what is easy. It is about getting outside of our comfort zones, going to others who can be far from us, getting dirty, doing the work, and even when it looks like we’ve done nothing, trusting that our presence there is a small part of the vision God has for creation. Being an authentic disciple of Christ is about the growth and change that happens when we all reach out to each other, get a little dirty, take part in work that we will not see the end product of, and find ourselves changed by being with others.

As we find ourselves in the middle of our Easter season, remember, if you are too comfortable in your journey with Christ, do something different. Get out of your comfort zone and seek out opportunities to give more of your time, effort, money, and attention. It will be uncomfortable but only then will you know the joy of being a disciple of Christ. Who knows, you may even find the joy the students found in working alongside one another while caked in mud under the Utah skies.

Theology in Film

Admittedly, this is my favorite class to teach. I grew up doing two things on a weekly basis: attending mass and watching movies. This class is where my love of faith and film come together and it has become a favorite for each senior class I’ve taught. The seniors get to experience films through a theological lens. What that means is that we study a particular theological theme , unpack it, then analyze the film for insights into the theme. What the kids find exciting is that these films are not “Christian” films because they are not overtly about Christ(as they often remind me.) After we spend time studying the theme and watching the films, each student has their moment of realization when the non-Christian film begins to reveal more about Christianity than they ever could’ve imagined. These are the moments that I live for.

This class is an example of the Jesuit understanding that God is in all things. Most recently we studied the theme of Christology through the 1999 classic Sci-Fi film, The Matrix. The students were shocked to realize that the names, imagery, and themes of the film were tied to the life, works, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.(The Wachowski siblings did their homework!)

As we are a college prep school, we utilize challenging text from current theological voices like that of Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ. Dr. Johnson is a professor emerita at Fordham University whose works have helped shape our theology department over the past few years. Through who works the students are confronted with college level rigor while also being challenged to see that God’s grace can be found in some of the most unlikely of contexts…like that of a sci-fi film.

The Matrix has helped the students understand the Gospels in a new way that connects to them in their current context. The Christ-like figure of Neo proclaims this in his final monologue of the film. Imagine Jesus saying these words instead and see if it resonates.

“I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid… you’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone, and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.”

Something to think about, don’t you think? Jesus knows that the spirit of the world is afraid of change. This spirit of the world is that which breeds greed, injustice, hate, separation, and a misuse of power. Jesus knows that a change is coming since he is the herald of that change. He came to show us a better way of living, of loving, of being what God made us to be. That world he shows us is without the controls of sin, without the boundaries we have arbitrarily created between each person, each community. A world where authentic Christ-like love is possible not only on an individual level, but on the communal as well. But as always, God gives us free will to choose to live like Christ or not. The choice is up to us.

Theology Department Update

Happy Fall to all of our Verbum Dei family. This school year has already been filled with much excitement with the addition of brand new theology department faculty. Carlos Rodriguez, Karen Luna, Martin Ngo S.J., and Sam McGrath have joined our small, but mighty, Theology family. Each comes to us having focused in theological studies at their respective universities, each bringing their zeal, love of God, and pedagogical skills to the Verbum Dei campus.

As a Theology department, we’ve begun to team with the Sciences to help students understand the connections between faith and reason. Our job, as we see it, is to help form mindful, faithful, and intelligent young men who are aware of how faith speaks to the issues impacting the lives of people today. Some issues that Pope Francis has brought to the fore, that we’ve begun to explore are: the real concerns of global warming, the sanctity of all life both human and non-human(ecological concerns), and human trafficking. Moreover, since we are aware of the context in which we are situated, we also engage in questions regarding social and economic disparities found in limited income communities and how Jesus places himself alongside those who are outcasts in our society.

Our hope is to help create young men who stand alongside those who our society oppresses and rejects. Our mission is to show our faith by living out what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, the Christ.

Art Department Update

Happy Winter,

As we enter our last semester of the year and the last semester for our seniors, I am reminded of how art functions as a way of breaking boundaries. Over the course of the last semester, my students have learned how to analyze and ultimately appreciate several genre’s of music, most of which they had never heard prior.  They now use language like “timbre” and “texture” in their descriptions of music. It is impressive to hear musical vocabulary of such a high caliber at the high school level.  I’ve played some of their favorites by artists like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole and have asked them to make connections between the instrumental accompaniment, rhythm, and lyrics in order to come to a deeper understanding of the message the artists’ are conveying.

This semester we are delving into the different periods of music history in order to come to a better understanding of how the Western world hears music. It’s wonderful to see our students come to love works of composers like Desprez, Mozart, Haydn, and become avid listeners of Puccini and Debussy. Through our art classes at “The Verb,” our students learn to be well rounded by combining their love of contemporary music with their appreciation for standard repertoire. Art provides them the intellectual tools needed to engage a world unlike their own by bridging that cultural divide that often is created between the world associated with Classical music and “Pop” music.  By doing this, the students realize the validity of their experience and feel confident in knowing that they belong everywhere whether it is  Puccini at the Ahmanson,  Stravinsky at the Disney Concert Hall,  a Sinatra celebration  at “The Bowl”, or a rock concert at Staples. They are secure in eating at a 5 star restaurant in Beverly Hills or getting a burger at Hawkins down the street from “The Verb.” Being exposed to art gives them the confidence to know that they belong everywhere because they are men with and for others.

 

 

 

Fine Arts Department Updates

Our department has been focusing on preparing our students for our annual Art Week from May 18-22. This week will showcase the works of our visual, dramatic and performing arts. As part of the Verbum Dei family, we cordially invite you to make your presence felt during our evening performances during that week. Below is the schedule and information that will help you in attending the events.

  • May 19-Tuesday
    • Drama perfomance
    • 7pm- in the MPR
  • May 22 -Friday
    • Choir Performance/ Art Show
      • 7pm- in the MPR
        • Suggested Donation
          • $5 Adult
          • $2 student

As this year has progressed, I am reminded of all that the arts provide for our students. Through each artistic medium, our students learn how they belong everywhere. Whether they are attending a Puccini opera, an art exhibit at the Norton-Simon, or a performance at the Dorothy-Chandler, the arts become a means to breaking cultural, socio-economic, and racial boundaries.

The Beauty of Art

     This is an exciting time for the art department at “The Verb.”  This year we are blessed to have a new member in our department, Mr. Alejandro Baez S.J. Mr. Baez was given the task of leading the first ever Senior Music Appreciation class with a choral emphasis. His exuberance for the choral and pedagogical arts have led to a great choral group that, at this early juncture, has performed to the lauds of the entire school. Bravo to Mr. Baez.

     As the year slowly unfolds, I look forward to the Christmas Concert/ Art Show on December 5th which will showcase the works of our choral and our visual artists. This should be a superb event that will display the talent and hard work of our students.

     A personal highlight of the year so far took place a few weeks ago. The Verb Teacher Band gave its first official performance at this year’s Back-to-School night. The band made up of John Stradley, George and Ken Favell, Billy Traber, Max Olmedo, and yours truly, rocked out to an audience of teachers and students. Each teacher showed off their musical prowess and proclivity for rocking out!

     I am proud to be part of a school that embraces the artistic talents of all of its members from faculty/staff to its youngest freshman. My hope is that, as the year progresses, the arts will become an even more prevalent part of the culture giving way to various ways in which all members of our community can express who they are through their art.