Lent and The Benedict Option

Pictured above: at home in Deacon Roberts' kitchen, with visitor Milan Žonca, a Catholic professor from Prague who translated  Rod Dreher's Benedict Option  into Czech.

Pictured above: at home in Deacon Roberts' kitchen, with visitor Milan Žonca, a Catholic professor from Prague who translated Rod Dreher's Benedict Option into Czech.

What's the story behind this picture? Here's our latest news:

Last night Martin Saints teachers and board members met Milan to hear about the slightly older generation who grew up Catholic under communism, as well as Milan's own stories about raising his children today in one of the most aggressively secular countries in Europe. We asked our visitor: why are you interested in the Benedict Option? What analogies do you see between communism, secularism, and life in America today?
To answer all those questions took an entire evening. Check out the links above to Rod's blog, which will help explain what we discussed. But here’s one quick take-away that applies to us here and now in Philadelphia:
Daily life under communism meant a thousand small temptations to keep your head down, to avoid attention, and to deny one’s faith in small ways. Milan told us about the Benda family, Catholic dissidents who had an apartment down the street from the Czech secret police headquarters. Every day after school, the Benda parents would have to deprogram their children from the communist culture. They would read the classics to their children for hours each evening – Lord of the Rings was another favorite – reminding their children that there was another world beyond their daily lives, a world deeper and ultimately more real than their immediate communist context.
These days in America, we don’t worry about the secret police showing up in the night to take us away. But we too face small daily temptations to trim the sails of our faith, to fit in, to let the background secular culture dull our sensitivity to spiritual reality. We too need to read the classics and de-program, to remind ourselves that there is another world, deeper and more real than our immediate cultural context.
Which brings us to Lent. Lent invites us to ask: how do we need to de-program from our own secular culture? What habits have we slowly picked up that are anesthetizing us to spiritual reality? What do we need to give up – what habits do we need to break – or what good habits do we need to cultivate – so that we can be alert and alive to what is really real and important? For example, following the Benda family, what spiritual reading should we be doing in the evening to keep ourselves and our children focused on our true loyalties?
We gave our students copies of this article with 25 suggestions for things that children and teens can appropriately and fruitfully give up for Lent. We also recommend this article about one family’s approach to technology in the home. 


Rod Dreher featured this post on his blog at American Conservative!

Are we the right school for you? Come learn more at our open house on Monday, March 25, 7pm. All are welcome.

From the Deacon's Desk: Homily from Sunday, February 17th

Deacon Christopher C. Roberts, Holy Martyrs parish

2/17/19, 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time - year C

Jeremiah 17:5-8; Ps. 40:5a and 1:1-4, 6; 1 Cor. 15:12, 16-20; Luke 6:17, 20-26

The top story of the front page of today’s Inquirer indicates that yesterday, Pope Francis laicized – defrocked - Theodore McCarrick – who was once the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, DC. Mr. McCarrick betrayed our faith, and can no longer function as a priest – he’s not called Father, he can’t wear a collar, and he can’t say Mass, even in private. Any civil lawsuits that he might be facing, he faces on his own.

These steps for Mr. McCarrick are not enough, but they are a start. Justice is coming, one way or another, for the rest of McCarrick’s mafia.

As the Inquirer also says this morning, the number of reporters camped outside the Vatican this week is on the scale of a papal conclave. We may hear a lot about Rome in the next two weeks, because starting Thursday, the pope hosts a conference with 100 bishops from around the world to talk about abuse in the Church.

Personally, my expectations are low. I think renewal in the Church is coming, but it will take more than conferences. I want to tell you today where I think real reform is going to come from. I want to tell you three reasons why I’m proud and grateful to be a Catholic, no matter what happens or doesn’t happens with the bishops.

First, last Monday, we took the Martin Saints students to a lecture downtown. We listened to Brother Guy Consolmagno, a Jesuit who is the director of the Vatican Astronomical Observatory. Brother Guy regaled us with stories of looking for meteorites in Antarctica, of studying things I don’t understand called “jellyfish galaxies” and “quantum gravity.” It was marvelous. That’s the Vatican on a good day.

I wanted our students to meet him, and absorb the point that our Church has astronomers, that it’s officially part of the Catholic mission to marvel at the stars. I wanted our students to know that the Catholic faith is smart, that religion and science go together, that we should ask questions and let our imaginations soar. Brother Guy said science is a type of worship, giving careful attention to the glorious things our Creator has made. That makes me proud to be Catholic and glad to be alive. This side of Catholicism – the smart side, the full of wonder and praise side – this side of Catholicism is deeper and more real than the McCarrick side.

My second story starts with todays’ gospel, where Jesus says blessed are the poor…and woe to the rich. Blessed are the hungry….and woe to those who are full. Blessed are those who are weeping…and woe to those who are laughing. Blessed are those who are excluded and insulted…and woe to those with the fancy reputations.

All of today’s readings are a gut check, a challenge to our consciences. Nevermind McCarrick and somebody else’s sins – the question in this Gospel is whether we believe, with Jesus, that despite all outward appearances, do we believe that the poor, unpopular, and vulnerable are truly blessed.

Let me share with you one reason I believe that. Two days ago, on Friday, the Martin Saints students took another field trip, this time to a homeless shelter in Kensington. We had Mass in a small dark room just under the El train, a beautiful mixed congregation of students and street people. Then we made dozens, maybe a few hundred, sandwiches. Then we broke into small groups and for a couple hours, each group carried a big cross up a different section of Kensington Avenue. Almost every person we met was visibly poor, addicted, or homeless.

We’d walk up and say to them “hello, how you are you doing today? Would you like a sandwich? What’s your name? How can we pray for you?” Next, we would take their name or prayer request, write it on a small post-it note, and nail those little notes to the cross. Then, after a couple hours, we took the crosses back to the shelter. By that point, our crosses were covered in dozens and dozens of colored post-its, and we said the rosary for all those names and their intentions.

I admit that, earlier in week, when I knew Friday’s trip was coming, I felt a little afraid. But once Friday came and we were actually doing it, the fear melted away. 98% of the people we met on the street were glad to see us, with a gentle word or a heartfelt prayer request.

It was a wonderful day. A priest friend who led our group has done similar prayer walks in suburban malls and center city. He says that the more affluent neighborhoods are reliably more hostile than the people in Kensington. Generally speaking – and of course exceptions exist – but generally speaking, the further you climb on the economic ladder, the more people tend to close up spiritually.

So when the people of Kensington welcomed prayers and friendship, I was thinking about today’s Gospel. Is this what Jesus meant when he said the poor are blessed, that they are the ones who actually have time for him? This is our Catholic faith. There are at least a dozen or so priests, friars, and nuns down there in Kensington every day, representing our Church with the poor and the addicted. They need our support and prayers. Think of these priest and nuns, and how we can encourage our children to follow that path, when we pray for vocations and the future of the Church. To heck with McCarrick. He is not the future.

Let me get to my third and final story about why I’m glad to be Catholic and where renewal is coming from. In today’s Old Testament reading, Jeremiah says that the one who trusts in human nature is like a barren plant in a desert, or in a lava waste, or in a salted and empty field.

Jeremiah lived during the Babylonian Exile, when Jerusalem lay in ruins, when famine threatened, when violence was strong and the rule of law was weak. Just like our Church today, ancient Israel knew what it was like to be the people of God during lean times.

Jeremiah says that when we trust in the way of the flesh – meaning of course lust and consuming appetites of all kinds, but also that way of life which is bitter, closed-in on itself, refusing to hope or change, sleep-walking through life - Jeremiah is saying this way of spending a life is like planting ourselves in a salted, empty field. Nothing good can grow there. No renewal comes from those roots.

But, says Jeremiah, the one who hopes and trusts in the Lord is like a tree beside the waters, with deep roots into the living stream, unafraid of drought, always green and bearing fruit, even when the heat comes.

Friends, my third and final reason for being glad to be Catholic and hoping in renewal is that Lent is coming in just over two weeks. Lent is a great gift to us, from the Church, to help us assess our spiritual roots. Have we put our trust and grown our roots into bitterness, into a self-centered way of life, into the salted field? Or are we with the Lord, the tree rooted beside the stream?

McCarrick, the bishops, the media, the politicians, Amazon, Netflix, technological devices – none of those things can take away our Lent unless we let them distract us. It’s the Catholic Church that gave us Lent, and for centuries and generations past and to come, how we spend our Lent is up to each of us. We don’t need to ask the bishop’s conference for permission to have a good Lent!

Let’s take the next two weeks to get ready, to think about what we need to prune away, or what acts of generosity we might need to perform, so that we can get unstuck from our sin. The water is Jesus. Practicing prayer and acts of mercy are the way to grow roots. This altar is the river. This is the place where renewal of our lives and of our Church can begin.

Why Martin Saints Marches

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Here is our group of Martin Saints students, faculty, parents, and Holy Martyrs parish members getting ready for the 2019 March for Life, paused for a minute on the steps of the Basilica at Catholic University. (Wondering about those scarves? They're to keep track of everyone in the crowd!)

It's a long day to get everyone to Washington and back for the March. Generous and apparently indefatigable teachers, parents, and Holy Martyrs parishioners make it possible. Thank you. We had Mass at 6:30am, made the journey, and were back at school around 10pm. All that for a short walk in a city far away, with several hundred thousand of our closest friends.

Why bother? Because there are times when we all need to stand up and testify to the truth.

At the Mass before we left, Deacon Roberts offered a brief homily explaining our reasons for going. We're offering that homily, below, for those with time for a little more detail. Thank you for your prayers and support.

Deacon Roberts’ Homily

March for Life

Friday, January 18, 2019:

Five men are central characters in today’s Gospel. One man is paralyzed. The other four lower the paralyzed man through the roof so that he can meet Jesus. One man’s dependency and disability brought them all together. When these men embraced the opportunity to help, Jesus was waiting to meet them all.
Friends, Jesus is waiting for us to go and do likewise. We are created in the image of God. God is love. When we love and serve one another, we begin to realize our dignity. The men lowering their paralyzed friend to meet Jesus – this is the kind of co-operation and communion that begins to explain why human beings were created. We were made for this.
This theology also explains why we march today. If God is love, if human dignity is rooted in the image of this God, then it means, despite what pride and selfishness tempt us to think, that being helpless and dependent is no obstacle to human dignity. Remember this paralyzed man. Behold a baby in the womb. Spend time with somebody who has Down’s Syndrome. Befriend an elderly person suffering with an illness. Every life is an occasion to give and receive love, and therefore precious, no exceptions.
Today we march in Washington to remind ourselves of this truth. We march to insist that the truth is visible in our culture. We march to testify that in a world where all of us are vulnerable to lapsing into selfishness, the Gospel of Life is nevertheless real.
It is no accident that we begin today with Mass. The first steps of our March are from these pews to this altar to receive the Eucharist. Our faith, our identity, our dignity, and today’s March – they all begin with the love and the sacrifice enacted on this altar.

2018 - A Year in Pictures

2018 was our first full year as a school. Thank you for your support. We could not have done any of this without God's grace and a wide circle of prayer partners, volunteers, and donors. Thank you for being part of this beautiful team. Here are just a few photos to represent many blessings and memories this year:

In January, we marched for life in Washington:


In February, we made lunch for Project H.O.M.E.:


In the spring, a scene from theology class with Deacon Roberts:


In April, parishioner Fran Szlachta gave us Easter bunnies:


Later in April, after a trip to the orchestra, music teacher Sean Wood debriefed with students over a picnic in Rittenhouse Square:


Just after Memorial Day, the Martin Saints navy explored the Schuylkill River canal, with MSC dad Rob Post in the lead:


In September, we started the new school year with a camping trip along the Delaware River. Father Michael Moriarty came along so that we could have Mass, Benediction, and confessions:


In October, we made a pilgrimage to St. Rita's in South Philly:


Later in October, we distributed food and gardened for New Jerusalem Now, an addiction and recovery center:


In November, it was time to bake bread in craftsmanship class:


In December, we enjoyed the Pennsylvania Ballet's Nutcracker:


And finally, the end of year faculty Christmas lunch. Thank you Martin Saints moms for looking after us!


Please remember Martin Saints in your end-of-year charitable giving. You can give online, or via our mailing address.

You can email headmaster, Mr. Adam Dickerson, or our board president, Deacon Christopher Roberts, anytime. They are eager to hear from you with your questions and suggestions.

Our next admissions open house will be February 21 at 7pm.

To all of our friends and supporters, parents and students, volunteers and staff, please accept our best wishes and prayers for 2019!

Guiding Students Through a Catholic College Admissions Process

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Martin Saints Classical High School will be hosting a college night series, consisting of two nights full of information about discerning and applying for college. The plan for each evening is different, and they will complement each other. The series is designed with our MSC families in mind, so it is very important in particular that our 10th graders and their families attend. But the event is also open to the community - all are welcome! Anyone interested in the practicalities of the college admissions process, and how to do it in a Catholic way, will find it helpful.

The first part in the series is on Monday, October 22 at 7pm. Mrs. Carol Sargeant, our college counselor, will give a talk entitled "Fortitude not Frenzy: Demystifying the College Admissions Process." Her talk will:

  • Outline the general sequence and steps of the college admissions process

  • Explain what admissions offices look for

  • Explain where to find information about financial aid

  • Explain her long term plan to work individually with students to help them think through their interests and what they want to get out of college

On November 5, we will conclude the two-part series with a panel discussion with representatives from a spectrum of campuses. The focus here is how to find faithful Catholic community at different types of colleges, so that our students can begin to discern what their lives might look like after they graduate from MSC and how they can find Catholic support as they step out into the wider world. 

The panelists are Fr Shaun Mahoney from the Temple Newman Center, Dr. Daniel Cheely from the history department and the Collegium Institute at Penn, Dr. Thomas Smith from the Honors Program at Villanova, and Miss Monica Clarke, a Regina Coeli teacher and recent graduate of Christendom College. Each will describe what Catholic life is like on their campus. They will take questions, and discussion will be encouraged.

Martin Saints is not a "feeder" for just one type of university. From the very beginning of the college application process, we want to establish a culture of discernment and openness. Whether a family discerns that their child's best fit is a public university, a private one, a Catholic university, or a Catholic liberal arts college, we want to hold open the possibility if you're wise and astute about it, faithful and fruitful Catholic life is possible at all of these places. Each place has its own potential and its own pitfall, its own strengths and challenges. 

Both evenings together are the foundation of the Martin Saints plan for college counseling. However, any Catholic family thinking about college, from any school, or anyone from the general public, is welcome to attend. We are eager to share what we know. Planning for college is a moment that requires both practical and spiritual skills. It's a moment to be in the world, but not of it. You are warmly invited to come see how we do this at Martin Saints!

Please come join us for this 2-part event!

Click here for the event flier

Listen to our radio spot for this event below: