Crossing a threshold…

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The graduation ceremonies this year were very special. Our Senior Class and their parents filled the front courtyard of the Rosary campus with a special feeling of love and solemnity that only matched the beauty of the evening. As the sun slowly set, the commencement exercises began: a magical, heart-felt spirit-filled evening for all. I will not forget it…

Welcome to the Board of Trustees, parents, friends and family and, especially to the Senior class of 2017.

This afternoon, you walked through the arched gates of the Sacre Coeur as a member of the Class of 2017, and as a senior member of the student body at the Rosary. Later this evening, after a very traditional and formal ceremony, you will leave through these same gates as a graduate of the Rosary.Graduation(127)-X2

These gates are a powerful metaphor, and as you walk through them, you cross over a threshold—the one that lies between the entrance to this school and your exit from it this evening. “Crossing a threshold” is a sacred and a powerful moment in the journey of life, and each of you are crossing an important one this evening.

When you entered these gates as a student, you crossed a threshold, and within these gates, your journey has been carefully accompanied by your parents, teachers, and friends. Like the black iron fence these people have formed a circle around you as you have learned and grown to become the women you are today. Your parents have given you the gift of a Sacred Heart education, and they, with all of us here, have supported you in your pursuits of arts, academics and athletics.

But, later tonight, as you leave through the gates with your back to the school, you are at a point of departure, and you cross a boundary. You are on the verge of something new and your step is the first one of a new beginning. I hope that you make this step mindfully—and make it, as St. Madeleine Sophie said with “courage and confidence” for what lies ahead.Graduation(213)-X3

As I prepared for these commencement exercises, I thought about the themes that so many celebrities talk about at graduation ceremonies. These people tend to about the value of striving towards goals, TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR ACTIONS, USING MISTAKES TO BUILD A BRIGHT FUTURE, NEVER GIVING UP ON A DREAM, AND SETTING HIGH EXPECTATIONS.

Themes like these are all good thoughts which no doubt help to inspire new beginnings. But, as a Religious of the Sacred Heart, I believe that I would be remiss if I did not remind you to look upward—to literally look upward this evening to the statue of Jesus which stands as a reminder of your true destiny.

Keeping Jesus as the center of your life is your choice now and it will be entirely your initiative. Keeping Jesus at the center of your life will protect you, will give your strength when times get rough, and knowing of the love of His open heart will nourish you at times when you really need it.
As St. Paul said, “….let nothing separate you from the love of God through Jesus Christ.” (Romans 8: 38)Graduation(270)-X3

As I look at you this evening, I see a senior class of young women who are kind, smart, generous, service oriented and true leaders. You are confident women and strong women who have made all of us so proud. Looking at you this evening, I believe that you are specially prepared for lives of courage and for lives of leadership.

Thank you, seniors, for being such a wonderful group of human beings!
I hope that you leave Sacred Heart filled with a sense of grace for all that has been given, grace for having received it, grace for sharing it with others, and grace to make a beautiful difference in the world. May God bless you on this next stage of your journey in life.Graduation(16)-X3

“Honor and Glory to God Alone”

Last week, our school community gathered for a final day of ceremony called “Prize Day.” This is a special day on the last day of school to formally close the school year. At the end of the ceremonials, I share a few comments. Several people asked that I share my comments…

Thank you to members of our Board of Trustees, our parents and family members in attendance, to our Seniors, and to all of you, for a beautiful Prize Day!

I’ve bPrizeDay(124)-X3een thinking about Prize Day for a few weeks in anticipation of this day, so I decided to conduct my own little qualitative research study to gather some information about the subject of prizes. I asked a small sample of people the following question, “What does a prize mean to you?”

Well, the answers to that questions were both interesting and revealing. Most of the people I surveyed said that, “Well, a prize is something that is unexpected. It was an honor for a job well done, and a recognition of one’s efforts.” Most of the people said that receiving a prize really meant a lot to them, and that they felt proud, as though they had accomplished something very challenging, and succeeded.

These responses didn’t surprise me, as I am sure they do not surprise any of us. After all, the outstanding achievements of the girls we recognized today must impart to them a wonderful feeling.

To all of you that received an award today, all of us here say to you, “We are so proud of you for what you have accomplished, and for all of the hard work that you must have put into achieving this recognition today! You truly inspire us, and encourage us to reach for our goals!PrizeDay(140)-X3

But, let me return to the more surprising results of my survey. Several people surveyed in my study answered my question about prizes by saying that were not sure about what a prize meant to them because, they admitted, they had never received one!

One person said that she feels “getting a prize is, even, a bit, overrated, because it is not what others think about you, but, for her, it is about how you evaluate your own self that really matters, not how others evaluate you.”

Another person said she didn’t like getting awards because, to her, it seems that the prize comes from inside, not outside. And, another person said, how, for them, the real prize—the real reward was in the striving to get one.PrizeDay(189)-X3

I suspect that a lot of us will get prizes in our lives, and many of us will not receive any prizes—just like the people in this small study.

For myself, I see prizes as St. Paul does when he says, “…I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me…” (Philippians 3:14). In other words, I feel that God is calling me to His honor and his glory, closer to Him each day, and to a life aligned with the thing He has called me to do.

This is why we say “Honor and Glory to God Alone” at the beginning of this award ceremony. Our success gives glory to God—it honors His purpose. It is not for our own.

Our race towards the goal never ends in life, so we press on to what God is calling us towards. That’s what life is all about—running towards what God is calling you to be.

So, students of the Sacred Heart, continue to press on toward your goals and celebrate the gifts God has given each of you! Whether you won a prize today or not, be happy, be proud in what you have done this year.

Have a wonderful, fun, and restful summer!

With these rings….

Last week, members of the Junior Class at Sacred Heart received their ASH school ring from members of the Senior class. This special ceremony takes place in the context of a Eucharistic celebration, followed by a traditional ritual that includes hugs, flowers, and lots of smiling friends and families. Did I mention refreshments?

What follows in this post are my comments following this endearing ceremony:

Some people might wonder why we have a Sacred Heart ring, or why is it so important to have a “ring ceremony” like this one. They might think “…after all, it is just a ring!” Or, “Oh, it’s not a big deal, it’s just another piece of jewelry” or “Oh, (smiling) this is just another tradition at my school.”

But, that view is probably not shared by most of us who will wear rings throughout our lives for many reasons. But, why do we do that?

I know that many people from J.R. Tolkien to the writers of the Bible have reflected on the meaning of rings, but, for me, rings are reminders—reminders to what I commit in my life and of what really matters.

Looking at my vow ring on my left-hand finger this evening, I am reminded of who I am as a Sacred Heart Sister, an RSCJ. Not only a reminder to me, my ring speaks–without words–to others of my state in life, even to strangers who notice it.

For you, Seniors, your Sacred Heart rings will do that for you as you leave your school in a couple of months. Others will notice your ring and, perhaps even recognize you as a Sacred Heart graduate because our rings across the Network of Sacred Heart Schools are similar. I hope that your ring will remind you about the things that have been important during your years at this school.

When I wear my Sacred Heart ring, I am reminded of my parents who sacrificed to send me and my sisters to this school—sacrificed by getting up each morning and bringing 6 girls here for 14 years each—a total of 84 years at this school. I reminded of my Mother who would stop by this very chapel on so many of those mornings to kneel and pray in front of this statue of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.  I am reminded of my best friend who now has cancer, and of how we have journeyed through so many things together all these years. I am reminded of my teachers, and of the religious sisters who planted a seed in my heart which became later a call to religious life.

Family. Friends. Sisters. The Community of the Sacred Heart: My ring is, yes, for me, far more than jewelry!

To the class of 2016-2017, I hope that these Sacred Heart rings come to mean these things for you, too! Wear your rings with joy, with pride, with memories, and as reminders of who you are as a “child of the Sacred Heart.” May God bless you on your journey!

The Blessing of Family

On Sunday, Catholics celebrated the “Feast of the Holy Family,” appropriately positioned in the liturgical calendar on the Sunday following Christmas. Along with the many opportunities to share time with my family over the holidays, the feast day awakened special memories of growing up in my family of 10 children, 6 girls and 4 boys. In the Guste household, Monday evenings were scripted in a three-step ritual that included the praying of 5 decades of the Rosary, a family meal followed by a family meeting.

family christmas 002The Rosary was a time for our family to pray together, but it was also a vehicle for my Dad to conduct Catholic formation. Instead of allowing us to fall into passive repetition, our Dad would routinely ask one of us to share our understanding of one of the mysteries of the Rosary. You might imagine the reactions of squirming youngsters trying to avoid being selected for sharing, especially when the mystery was the “circumcision” the “Ascension” or one of the other more dense impenetrables of the Christian story. The meal was a Monday night favorite–red beans and rice with sausage or something similar. Like most New Orleaneans, this meal was always a crowd-pleaser and, besides, it was an economical solution for a family meal that always included friends.

After a quick cleanup, the weekly family meeting started. The meeting began with, of course, a prayer, and followed by this agenda: Mother’s Report, Complaints, and reports of various Committees such as the “Good of the Family” Committee, the “Good of the Church” Committee and the “Good of the Community” Committee. The Committee reports were followed by the report of the Treasure of the Christmas Club. In our large family, the meeting was my parents’ way of communication and coordination, some avoidance of conflict and effective mediation. I never fail to smile remembering how my Mom would begin her routinely very brief report with the words, ” Billy (my Dad), the children have been so wonderful!” Now, you must realize that we were far from wonderful all the time, but this is what she shared. That choice on her part has always stayed with me in my later years in giving feedback; that is the indispensable value of constructive and positive messaging. Of course, who wouldn’t try to live up to this indefatigable view of the whole that my Mom so repeatedly held out to us as hers?

The Complaint part of the meeting gave us each a formal time to log on with everything that can bug and bother children growing up in a large family. The reader can imagine that the complaints ranged from “so-in-so took my socks” to “so-in-so is hogging something or another…” Believe it not, I think that this time really worked to promote civility, even though it didn’t always seem that way.

Three committees were set up with some end purposes around the values of family, church and citizenship. By design, all the children were to cycle in and out of the different committees to learn about those values at some point in our growing up. All three committees had the same charge: we were to come up with something each week that we could do to grow stronger as a family…church members, and citizens. Usually, the Chair of the Committee would make something up right before meeting, but this was not the design, of course. The Committees were charged to meet during the week to come up with an actionable idea to share for that week. A noble ideal, but more times than not, there was a lot repetition in ideas week after week.  In fact, this time in the agenda seemed more an exercise of the imagination and creative intelligence of the Chair than an exercise in engaged participation. One thing was most consistent: the laughter than ensued as a result of the idea.

My Dad gave us each a weekly allowance that included a small part for a weekly contribution to the Christmas Club. Growing up, I actually thought that this money was banked—that we had a legitimate savings account called the “Guste Christmas Club.” Many years later, it finally dawned on me that my Dad was actually simply shelling it out of his pocket at Christmas. The idea of this Club was that we could all learn about money management, accounting and the value of savings.  Again, the Treasurer would rotate so that we could all learn about the mechanics of financing, albeit elemental! Of course, the report did not end without some requests for increases in allowances. The Treasurers report ended each meeting until the next Monday when the meeting would run in the same way.family christmas

These precious memories never cease to invoke a “laugh out loud” in me, even to this day. After all, who on earth could conceive of such things, much less enact them in a family? Perhaps it was the time in history that this “Leave it to Beaver” approach worked, or something far more amazing: the corny simplicity, genuine humor, light-touch sincerity, and sacramental affection of two parents for their children.

Reflecting on the Feast of the Holy Family, I see these routine practices in my family life formed in me a deep sense of a loving community joined together in faith. Our Monday night ritual planted in me a deep respect for dialogue, civility and process. It gave me confidence in the wisdom of the group, especially through effective mediation and facilitation. It bonded me with my siblings and my parents, making me confident in representing my thoughts to others, even when those thoughts were not in agreement with those of others. In short, the regularity of these family times together built in me a deep sense of “grounded-ness” as a person, a sense of being part of a whole and a true sense of being valued. My memories of Monday nights as a child speak to me of a Holy Family, and, again today, of the continuous Christmas blessing of family.

Note: The old photo’s do not include my youngest brother, John, who was not born when these were taken.