At our opening meeting on Monday, Dr. Anthony Fior ’02 welcomed back the faculty and staff in a way that set a tone both serious and calming. As we take our first steps at reopening we have no certainty of what the next days – let alone weeks and months – will hold for us. Anthony assured us, like a modern-day Julian of Norwich, that all will be well.
In reflecting on where we have been and where we may be going, he used the metaphor of an airplane in flight. Last year we were focused solely on landing that plane, while this year we are trying to get that plane off the ground. But, he noted wryly, this year we are also trying to build the plane once it is in the air. A fitting image for the school year as a whole, but also for each individual class. As those of us who are teaching Christian Manhood try to figure out what that plane will look like once we are airborne, we are confronted with difficult questions about the work we do with our seniors.
As it stands – and that has become a most precarious phrase – we will be meeting with students on a two day rotating basis. Basically, on day one we will meet with our “morning” classes and on day two we will be with the “afternoon” classes. But, added to that is the twist of split-classes: first half of the alphabet in the morning and latter half in the afternoon. It is actually simpler than it sounds (or maybe just simpler than I can explain it), and should be easy for students and teachers to get used to.
More difficult than the logistics of the day is how to approach a semester where there will be half the usual classroom meetings – and that’s assuming that we are not sent home at some point to continue the semester on a distance-learning-only basis. So, the task that Drew Vilinsky ’97 is leading Jim Brennan ’85 and me through is figuring out what is essential on our Christian Manhood plane and what needs to stay on the ground.
Given this course’s history – a history that goes all the way back to the fall semester of 1981 – much cargo has been added throughout the years. Some things that have become essential to the flight – things that the dads, uncles and older brothers of our seniors look back on with affection – will this year be available only through parachute drops. This task of curricular triage is not one that we are looking forward to, but one that we must deal with as we attempt to discern what must stay and what must be jettisoned.
On a philosophical level we have landed on a pretty clear sense of what major themes and topics must be covered. Areas like discernment, redeeming time, virtues, and relationships are the core of the class. The hard part is moving to a (and please forgive me for using this phrase) “new normal” as far as what is covered within each of those areas.
As I continue this difficult process with my esteemed fellow Parma-bred colleagues, I can’t help but be drawn back to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. On the fourth day of the Second Week of the Exercises Ignatius calls the retreatant to meditate on the “Two Standards.” In this context a standard is a military banner representing the king and kingdom to whom and to which a soldier has pledged his service. Ignatius proposes that we can either align ourselves with the Standard of Christ or the Standard of Lucifer.
This dichotomy – Christ or Lucifer – is truly the bedrock of the Christian Manhood course. Every topic, every theme throughout the class comes down to this clear choice: Christ or Lucifer, Logos or Chaos, Virtue or Vice, Love of God and neighbor to the diminishment of the self or love of self to the diminishment of God and neighbor.
With all of the turbulence that will certainly be a part of Christian Manhood Flight 2020, as long as our seniors are strapped in to that clear distinction they should be able to arrive safely at the end of the course no matter what the in-flight movies are or how bumpy the landing might be.