"The glory of God is man fully alive" is our school motto. This phrase has a rich history. It is a translation from a longer sentence: "Gloria enim Dei vivens homo, vita autem hominis visio Dei." While translations from Latin to English can sometimes vary a little, we have embraced a translation used by St. John Paul II: "The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God."
In other words, to be a human being, alive and flourishing, means seeing God and being seen by God. As one commentator wrote, "the life of the Christian... is essentially knowing and being known," a knowing which is not only intellectual, but a full communion with our Creator.
St. Irenaeus was the original author. He lived and wrote in the late second century AD. A native of what we now call Turkey, he was as a missionary in what we now call France, eventually becoming bishop of Lyons. Many of his closest friends and mentors were martyred under Roman persecution. As a theologian, he helped figure out what books should be included in the Bible. There were many confusing, competing spiritualities and religions in his day, and the Church itself was riddled with controversy. His teachings helped to unify Catholicism, to refute Gnosticism, and to clarify many bedrock Christian beliefs about creation, the Trinity, and the authority of the apostles. He died early in the third century. You can read more about him here, here or here.
But why did we embrace this great phrase as our motto?
If we commit to this vision of the Catholic faith, it will also mean unlearning certain habits that our culture tries to impress upon us. This "unlearning" or conversion of heart can be difficult, because we all get stuck in our sins and let our pride get the better of ourselves. Sometimes we make choices and set goals for ourselves as if being "fully alive" meant being attractive, rich or prestigious. But that is why we have the sacraments as vehicles of God's grace, as well as the support of Church teaching and community. The Church is not a museum for perfect people, or a social club of nice people. The Church, as Pope Francis says, is a field hospital for sinners. Come as you are - but be open and ready for transformation.
We have four years with our students at Martin Saints Classical High School, during which time we want to help them learn what being "fully alive" means. Living robustly in our bodies, laughing and feasting with our friends, and pursuing our talents - these are all good things, and these gifts are hopefully part of a full life for our students. But by being "fully alive," we - learning from St. Irenaeus - mean something subtler and much more authentic. This "more" is what we want to pursue in our school.
Everyone longs for his or her life to have meaning, to have significance. We don't just want to exist. We do not want to waste our lives. We want to know, honestly and without illusions: these glimpses of "more" that we sometimes get, these hints that we sometimes feel that deep down life is supposed to be beautiful and grand, are these rumors really true?
Often the daily struggles of life can feel like drudgery. Even people who appear to be holding it together on the outside - doing our jobs and paying the bills, getting our school work done and making it to the next level - sometimes we feel trapped and sluggish. Heroism and authenticity can feel distant. And that's before we talk about deeper problems, things like loneliness, depression, sickness, poverty, violence, anxiety, fear, lust, abuse, or addiction.
So what's the answer? It's fair to ask how "fully alive" happens in these circumstances. This question is at the root of our approach to education. Jesus himself once said "I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly," and understanding how that abundance actually enters our lives is the heart of the matter.
The Catholic Church believes and teaches that "only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light." In other words, only in light of the Word of God - only in the light of Jesus Christ - can we understand what a human being really is. Jesus reveals us to ourselves, and makes our calling clear. In the words of Colossians 3:3, "your life is hidden with Christ." As we come to now Jesus, we come to know ourselves.
Whatever else you want to say about Jesus, he is trustworthy. If we pause long enough to take Jesus seriously, a whole world will open up for us. When we see life through the eyes of Christ, nothing is ever the same. Ordinary, created daily life is actually enchanted with sacramental possibility. Your neighbor, who needs your love, is infinitely precious. You, whose life is witnessed and cherished by God, have infinite depths and interior beauty. A life in Christ is never a lonely life, for Christ gives us himself in the Eucharist and the other sacraments, and he gives us companions in his Church, a fellowship in continuity with ancient tradition, a community looking forward to eternity.
In the Christian faith, our sufferings do not disappear; indeed, as we love more passionately and intensely, as we try to follow Jesus in a broken world, we will probably suffer more. But Christian suffering is never pointless. Christians never suffer alone. On the cross, Jesus himself entered human suffering. A life in Christ opens up a supernatural dimension to life, connecting us to the suffering of others and to the passions of Christ himself. In fact, as we grow in love for Jesus, we will discover that in times of great suffering, it is possible to consecrate the suffering, deepening our communion with God and our sense of being alive. St. Thérèse of Lisieux, another of our school's patron saints, used to talk about a "little" or "hidden" way of life, and she was speaking along these lines.
These things are mysterious and there is a much more to say about them than we can say in one article. The Catholic faith is a whole way of life, richer and more profound than even learning a new language or culture. In the fullness of Catholic life, there are many necessary and complementary ways to get to know Jesus and his vision for our lives. For example, Catholics meet Jesus in scripture, in the sacraments, in prayer and worship, in works of mercy, and in loving our neighbor.
Another way that the Church introduces us to Jesus is through education. Renewing our minds and intellectual life is not the whole Catholic life, but it is an important part of it. Catholic classical education studies the liberal arts, traditionally conceived. We study philosophy and theology, literature and history, music and art, science and math. We believe that the wisdom we study in the great books of civilization ultimately harmonizes, that faith and reason are complementary, that the truth is all ultimately One. We study these things because we believe it takes time and patience to even begin to approach the depths and mystery of life in Christ. It is the vocation of a lifetime, and it can begin in a good Catholic school.
Catholics create schools like Martin Saints Classical High School because we have something that the modern world desperately needs: truth, beauty, and goodness. These are things that make us fully alive. These are things that lead us to Jesus.
A Catholic education includes time sitting at the desk and studying the books - in order to shape our minds, we need good content, as well as practice and discipline, plus wise mentors and teachers. But a Catholic education also means going out into the world, delighting in God’s creation and experiencing it together, learning what it means to be created male and female, immersing ourselves in the arts and culture, knowing our history and owning our heritage, applying our academic knowledge to everyday life, and encountering Jesus in the poor and suffering neighbors whom we are privileged to serve. These many threads of Catholic education are woven together as we worship God. That is why before we hit the books or go on field trips, daily Mass and prayer is the first thing we do each day at Martin Saints Classical High School.
"The glory of God is man fully alive." Gloria enim Dei vivens homo. The glory of God is a human being bathed in truth, beauty, and goodness. The glory of God is a person created in the image of God and in love with Jesus. The glory of God is knowing ourselves in the light of Christ and living in ways transparent to that light.
Witnessing to the glory of God - sharing this glory with others, teaching our children to see this glory in their own lives, and helping our children take this glory out into the world - these are the reasons we have Martin Saints Classical High School.