by Mark Dushel
In a recent issue of The Hawkeye, the student newspaper at St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia, one of our seniors wrote an Op-ed piece calling for leniency for seniors to skip class in the midst of completing college applications. Unsurprisingly, his recommendation was met with great enthusiasm by his classmates. However, what I was surprised by was why his classmates were so receptive to his idea. It wasn’t just that they wanted to get out of class; our students were earnestly seeking ways to manage the demands placed on them and skipping class to work on something else seemed like a reasonable suggestion to them.
The student who wrote the article is certainly correct in saying that the pressure of completing college applications, excelling in their teams and clubs, along with the challenging workload we give our students takes a toll on everyone. As a campus minister at the Prep, I see how this stress affects our students everyday. I also began to think about what we, as a Jesuit School, and I myself, as an Ignatian educator, can offer spiritually in order to help our students grow from these challenges.
For us as a school to help provide students with the tools to respond to these challenges, I felt that it was important for me to offer my own suggestions for how each Prepper, (and in turn, those of us entrusted to care for these students), may approach the demands our responsibilities place on us.
I first encountered Ignatian Spirituality as a student at Boston College where I met many great Jesuits and Ignatian educators who helped me understand what it means to strive for the Magis: to seek more. However, it took meeting a Benedictine monk for me to conceptualize exactly how I could go about striving for the Magis in my day to day life.
As a graduate student of theology, I had the fortune of getting to know a Benedictine monk named Michael working on his PhD. Michael invited me to visit his monastery in Minnesota to learn about what it means to be a monk. For Benedictines, the core of their spirituality is captured in the phrase ora et labora, prayer and work. Anselm Grun, a Benedictine monk and writer, explains in his book Benedict of Nursia: His Message for Today that “more crucial than a balanced partnership of prayer and work is their internal connection. Work is to help us to pray well, and prayer is to help us to do our work well.”
As I spent time in a Benedictine Abbey, I was amazed at how full each day was. I woke up early, exercised, prayed, worked in the woodshop building furniture, prayed again, studied for an exam, prayed again, cleaned the monastery, prayed again, made candles, prayed again, and watched college football before I went to bed (after night prayer, of course).
It was a lot of prayer and a ton of work. Through each I built friendships, deepened my relationship with God, and stretched myself physically and intellectually. I had the kind of days I hope our students have every day they come to 17th St. and Girard Ave. Most importantly, I learned that surrounding myself with a community built on ora et labora helped me accomplish much more than I can on my own. Grun says that “when we work out of prayer we will still get tired, but we will not be exhausted. It is a good tiredness. We have the feeling of having done something for God and other people.” In short, working out of prayer gives us a clear way to strive for the Magis.
Dealing with our busy schedules and increased responsibilities is not something that goes away. Our students will learn after graduation that as we get older, people will ask more and more from us. Building the skills to deal with them here and now is an important step for our students to become “Men and Women For and With Others.” Building the skills to deal with them requires us to learn to entrust our work to God so that we approach our work generously and lovingly.
I don’t think the answer to our busy lives is to do less. In fact, as the great charisms of both the Jesuits and Benedictines teach us, these busy times may be where God is inviting us to learn how much more we are able to do.
Lord, teach me to be generous,
to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to look for any reward,
save that of knowing that I do your holy will.
Mark Dushel is Campus Minister for Retreats and Liturgy at St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, Philadelphia, PA