How to Set the World Afire

Love is like a Northwood’s campfire, spreading warmth amid our world of darkness and sin.

By Fenwick Student Preaching Team Member Mia Scharpf ’22 (Berwyn, IL)

Today is the feast day of St. Catherine, doctor of the Church, patron saint of Italy and Rome, and a Dominican. She dedicated her life to God from a very young age and fought to defend what she called “the vessel of the Church” with her letters and treatise “The Dialogue of Divine Providence.” She was born in 1347 and canonized in 1461.

St. Catherine of Siena

She asks us to “set the world on fire” in several of her quotes and we often hear fire used as a religious symbol in sacraments and the Bible. Tongues of fire came down to the Apostles on Pentecost, God spoke to Moses in the burning bush, John said Jesus will baptize us with fire.

Fire has many purposes and properties. We use it for cooking and for s’mores, and it is the centerpiece of a night at the lake as we laugh with family and friends. Fire helps us stay warm when we are cold and it can help us see when the night is dark. Fire is powerful enough to change what it touches completely; it spreads rapidly and is difficult to extinguish.

Each summer for as long as I can remember, my family has visited my neighbor’s lake house in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. Days are filled with boating, driving into town, eating too many cinnamon donuts, falling off of tubes and water skis, and they’re ended with all 20 of us sitting around the fire singing with my dad as he plays his guitar. When the sun sets, it gets very cold and dark and the mosquitoes come out in swarms. Without the fire, it would be difficult to find the path to the bunkhouse, it would be freezing cold, and the bugs would eat everyone alive. 

This fire is very similar to the fire described in St. Catherine’s quote. Instead of keeping mosquitoes away and shedding light on a path strewn with pine needles, the fire in St. Catherine’s quote provides warmth and light to a world of darkness and sin. It illuminates the path of Christ and reveals the way of love and joy. It allows us to feel the warmth of His unconditional and transformational love. 

“Be who God made you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

– St. Catherine of Siena

But how do we live as who God made us to be? How do we ignite that spark? The first thing that will probably come to mind is service and volunteer work, but there’s so much more to who God created us to be. We each have been given gifts and talents, and instead of burying them in the ground, God calls us to use them to glorify His name. Whether you are a swimmer, a runner, a singer, or an actor, you can give glory to God by working hard at practice or improving in rehearsal. It’s like receiving a sweatshirt from your grandma for Christmas, and when she sees you wearing it proudly, she feels appreciated and loved. When we use our blessings for good, we give thanks to God and live as he made us to be.

St. Catherine used her gifts to make a difference and protect the Church. She fanned her spark into a flame and set the world on fire with her words and works. St. Catherine asks us all to follow her example of spreading God’s love by sharing our blessings. We are called to set our world on fire with this love, to spread its warmth and light, so powerful that it can transform whoever accepts it. I’m certain St. Catherine chose this symbol because love can spread like, well, fire.

ANOTHER STUDENT PREACHER BLOG INSPIRED BY SAINT CATHERINE

Heed the Angelic Advice: Do Not Be Afraid

A senior Preaching Team Member reflects on second-semester fears and faith – for today’s the Feast of the Annunciation.

By Katie Malchow ’21 (Hinsdale, IL)

When I sat down to write this reflection Sunday morning, nothing within the readings struck me at first. So, I did what every second-semester senior would do: closed my iPad, went downstairs and watched ‘March Madness.’ It wasn’t until I was driving around my neighborhood later that day around 5:30 when I knew exactly what these readings meant to me.

In today’s gospel, we see Mary visited by the angel Gabriel, telling her she will be the mother of God’s son. The angel said four simple words: “Do not be afraid.” Now you are probably wondering why on Earth it was when I was driving Sunday evening the meaning hit me, but it has to do with these four words.

There’s a lot to be afraid today: college acceptances, uncertainty of what the future holds, or maybe you just have a really hard Econ test today that you probably should have studied a little bit more for. These stresses and anxieties can be overwhelming, but we have to have faith. We have to have trust. We have to have faith in ourselves, others and God. Because without faith, what is there then? Where do we go from there?

A friend once told me, “Everything happens for a reason. Everything that happens, God wants to happen.” Now, it might sound cliché or even a little basic, but once I actually started believing this in my day to day, I found myself enjoying the small things and having faith in God’s plan. To be honest, I was not in the best mood Sunday afternoon, but I saw the little things of God’s plan unfolding in front of me, causing me to reflect on the bigger picture. There were kids playing football together on one block; the next block, neighbors were talking in their driveway. As I continued to drive, I was witnessing all of these amazing things in front of me.

When we are scared or feeling lost, we lose sight of these amazing parts of God’s plan. Especially this year, one thing I have learned is to appreciate the small things and to have faith that everything will be okay. When Gabriel visited Mary, she was definitely scared and confused. However, without having any information, she trusted God’s plan and embraced the opportunity in front of her. At times things might get overwhelming or even a little uncomfortable, but we have to keep going and have faith in what God has in store for us.

So, on this Thursday morning, I encourage all of you to take today and the rest of this week to reflect and call attention to the small things unfolding in front of you. Take time to appreciate those things, no matter how big or small. It might be laughing in the hallway with a friend or acing that reading pop quiz you totally guessed on. Appreciate it all, because it all is God’s plan unfolding right in front of our eyes. When things get difficult, remember the four simple words, “Do not be afraid.” God has amazing things in store for us all, but not everything will be easy. Have an open mind, have trust and, most importantly, have faith.

Friars’ Student Preacher for October

A Fenwick junior urges her classmates to learn from sisters Martha and Mary in the Bible — and be more diligent with their prayer lives.

By Grace McGann ’21

Grace McGann, a junior, commutes to Fenwick from Western Springs, Illinois.

In today’s Gospel, we learn about two sisters named Martha and Mary. When welcoming Jesus into their home, Martha scrambles to clean and organize the house while Mary simply sits at Jesus’ feet to listen to his wisdom and prayer. Eventually, fed up and exhausted, Martha complains to Jesus about the actions of her sister. Jesus simply explains to Martha that her own anxieties and worries have gotten the best of her, and that Mary has made the better decision by choosing to pray alongside Jesus.

It’s easy, especially as Fenwick students, to see ourselves in Martha’s position. From what seems to be endless hours of homework, maintaining grades and also maintaining meaningful relationships, high school does come with a lot of things to be worried about. So many of us have gotten to a point where it feels like these worries consume us. It’s at moments like these where we must remember the Gospel. Jesus told Martha that she was too focused on worrisome things and that she should focus more on the thing that truly matters: prayer. We are all individuals with very busy schedules, but as Jesus said to Martha, we cannot let our worries take priority over our faith. In the long run, your grade in geometry is not going to have a significant impact on your life. Your faith, however, can set your soul on fire for the rest of your life, and that all starts with our prayer habits.

Yes, we do pray before every class and some of us might pray before every meal. But it is easy to find ourselves stuck in the rabbit hole where we are just going through the motions. We stand up, say a “Hail Mary” or even an “Our Father” and sit down. But how often do you think about what you just did? An easy step to take to improve your prayer habits is being aware of what you are saying. We pray before class, for example, because we are asking God to help us with our struggles, not to just focus on our struggles and completely and ignore Him in the process. There are thousands of ways to engage in meaningful prayer. For me, its praying before I go to bed.

Continue reading “Friars’ Student Preacher for October”

Student Preaching

At the 90th Celebration Mass for Fenwick on September 9, a Friar junior encourages his classmates to rise above social pressures and make morally good choices.

By Will Chioda ’21

In today’s Gospel , Jesus breaks the law by healing a crippled man on the sabbath day. The scribes and pharisees become angry with Jesus, and discuss what they might do to him.

Notice how Jesus responds to them: He says “I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil; to save life rather than to destroy it?” His courage to do the right thing, despite what the law says sticks out to me. This brings about some key questions and points for self evaluation. In our own Fenwick community, do we find ourselves making decisions that are more socially popular, succumbing to various social pressures; or do we choose to make courageous and morally good choices?

At the end of each day, can we say that we did, or at least tried to live and love each other as Jesus did? Can we say that we treated others as Jesus treated the crippled man? Perhaps the answers to these questions are not what we would like them to be right now. But, with the guiding hand and example of Jesus Christ, it is always possible to grow as humans, change our hearts and minds, and engage in more loving relationships with those around us in and outside of the Fenwick community. 

Currently in Mr. Slajchert’s Moral Theology class, we are learning about Socrates teaching that living a morally good life, although it might seem like a burden at times, is truly the way to lead a happy and fulfilled life. In other words, living by the rules that God has given us allows us to live happily. Applying this more closely to our own Fenwick community, let us:

> show Jesus’ courage

> be more inclusive to others

> care for the poor

> support our peers here at Fenwick

When we consistently and consciously choose to live this way, as Jesus did, it will in time create a happier and more loving community both within and outside of the walls of Fenwick High School.

VIDEO:

See and hear Will deliver his reflection.

About the Author

William “Will” Chioda, a junior from Hinsdale, IL, is a member of the Fenwick Preaching Team.

Dominican Formation Among Fenwick’s Faculty and Staff

While students sleep in, instructors and school administrators reflect on the spiritual side of their teaching ministry.

By Brother John Steilberg, O.P.

During the course of the school year, the faculty and staff at Fenwick participate in Dominican Formation Days. These late-start dates for students are an opportunity for the faculty and staff to reflect on who we are as a Catholic and Dominican school. Dominican formation stems from our need for ongoing education and formation in Catholic values vital to the mission of our school. We would like to share some thoughts shared by our faculty and staff after attending our most recent Dominican formation day in February.

One faculty member commented, “Dominican formation helps us better understand the Dominican tradition central to our school identity and helps us strengthen community with one another.” Another faculty relayed these sentiments: “It is important for us to participate in Dominican formation so that we can continue to grow spiritually as a community and to continue to remind us of our mission.” Another stressed the need to extend our mission to how we live, teach and preach here at Fenwick every day. “I would see the purpose as continuing to reflect on how we can best understand and live out our Catholic Dominican identity in specific ways.”

Dominican formation centers on the Four Pillars of Dominican Life:

  1. Prayer
  2. Study
  3. Community
  4. Preaching

The Four Pillars are a descriptive way of explaining the essence of and daily practice of Dominican life. The Dominican friars here at Fenwick live out the pillars in a very intentional way and oftentimes in a very external way. But all of our faculty and staff, in a wide diversity of actions, live out the pillars as part of their particular Christian vocation.

“Our job at Fenwick is to do more than teach and support academically, but to show through our actions the meaning of Christ’s love.”

One teacher described this shared mission of both the Dominican friars and the staff in this way, “As teachers, we must be able to model the Dominican Catholic values of the school.” Another teacher asserted, “Also, to remind us that our job at Fenwick is to do more than teach and support academically, but to show through our actions the meaning of Christ’s love.”

The Fenwick Community

Campus Ministry Director and proud alumnus Fr. Dennis Woerter, O.P. ’86 (with his back to us) co-led the Dominican Formation Day with Br. Steilberg, O.P.

Each year, our Dominican formation programs focus on one of the four pillars in particular. This year we reflected on “community,” how we are called by God to live together as Christian people. As a community, we discussed questions such as:

  • What is the most important thing we do that brings us together as a community?
  • What issues divide us at times?
  • What items do we need to work on?

We also examined where are the margins of our community are and how we can bring the gospel message to those margins. Our conversation was heartfelt and lively around these difficult questions.

What Makes Fenwick Different?

In later meetings we discussed our identity as a Catholic school. What makes us different, being Catholic and Dominican, from other schools in the area? One teacher explained it this way: “Every school prepares its students to lead, achieve and serve. Not every school’s mission is predicated upon a deep theological commitment to the dignity of the human person.” One faculty member explained, “to be Catholic is to be counter-cultural. Our identity and our values need to be true to who we are — even though that may not be popular or generally accepted.”

“Not every school’s mission is predicated upon a deep theological commitment to the dignity of the human person.”

Brother John
Brother John

We then discussed how to avoid going too far in emphasizing what makes us different, so that we can preach Jesus’ universal message of the gospel that is meant for all of mankind. This can be a challenging balance: to be true to our Catholic identity yet open to diversity, welcoming to all people, and proclaiming God’s mercy available to every person.

Finally, we discussed where God is in this picture here at Fenwick. Faculty members expressed this idea: “God is [present] in relationships with other people, with our students and our colleagues.”

As we strive to build a faith community, what does that say about what we believe about God? What is God asking of us, as a faith community, as a high school? These are challenging questions. These are questions that may take a lifetime to answer. But that is what we are about here at Fenwick. We seek the Truth.

Continue reading “Dominican Formation Among Fenwick’s Faculty and Staff”

Who Is God? Perhaps More Importantly, Who Isn’t He?

“Though they use the same word ‘God,’ they really have no idea what Aquinas means when he uses the word ‘God.’”

By Brother Joseph Trout, O.P.

Who is God? Much of theology at Fenwick revolves around this question. Who is the God of Abraham, the God of Moses, the God-man Jesus? What does it mean to interact with this God? They are big questions, and the answers have significant impact on our lives of faith. It makes a big difference if we think that:

  • A) God tested Abraham with the sacrifice of Isaac just to see if he will do literally anything God asks no matter the cost, or
  • B) God tested Abraham to develop Abraham’s confidence in the true goodness of God who will honor his promises (descendants through Isaac) even when it seems completely contradictory to present experience.

Is God demanding beyond our comprehension, or good when it seems impossible? Is faith about blind obedience or profound trust in goodness? Personally, I find hope in the latter and not the former. Most times I read the news I need to be reminded that God truly is good though it just doesn’t seem to be the case in the world.

Christians need to wrestle with these kind of questions both for our relationship with God and our proclamation of Christ. Who is this God we stake our lives on? Who is this God that promises to save us?

However, there is perhaps a more fundamental question for today’s world: Who ISN’T God? What is God not? These are essential questions for a scientific age that dismisses God as superstitious explanation for inexplicable realities by our inferior ancestors. Is God really just our answer for what we don’t understood? Aquinas’ proofs are actually the opposite: God is the explanation behind what we do understand. God is the grounding of science beyond science itself. He is the logos — the very meaning of all existence and truth.

This topic pervades the videos of Bishop Barron. Many conflicts over science and religion come from people using totally different definitions of God. He astutely points out that the God rejected by Christopher Hitchins and Richard Dawkins is also rejected by Aquinas and the wealth of Catholic history. We simply don’t mean the same thing when we talk about God.

Click here to view one video where Barron jumps straight into the issue.

As the season of Lent is kicking off, one spiritual purification to consider is not a moral one, but a theological one. Watch some videos by Barron or other Catholic theologians to get rid of the “Golden Calves” we build up. They aren’t just money and power but misunderstandings of the Way, the Truth and the Life. Ponder again what God we don’t believe in, and look again to the Cross and Resurrection of Christ to see exactly what God we cling to in faith.

This is the third post in our series of reflections on the work of Bishop Robert Barron, upcoming recipient of the Lumen Tranquillum (“Quiet Light”) Award. You can find the first and second posts here:

Continue reading “Who Is God? Perhaps More Importantly, Who Isn’t He?”