A new Lenten discipline

George Weigel

For Lent 2016, I adopted a new Forty Days discipline in addition to intensified prayer, daily almsgiving, and letting my liver have its annual vacation: I quit sports talk radio, cold turkey.

This was not easy, as the purchase of a car with an XM radio years before had turned me into a reasonable facsimile of a sports talk radio addict. I’d listen to Steve Czaban when driving early in the morning, Dan Patrick when driving mid- to late-morning, Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon on my way home, and whatever-was-available-that-wasn’t Stephen A. Smith at other times. I never called in, mind you. But I had half a dozen sports talk shows pre-set on my car’s XM system, and if nothing grabbed me among the nationally-broadcast yack fests there were always the locals in Washington and Baltimore.

It’s now been a year since I tuned-in to a sports talk radio program and I am, I hope, a better man for it – albeit no less a sports nut.

I should admit that, before I made the decision to shake off the coils of this addiction, the sports talk radio world, ESPN (from which I auto-liberated at the same time), and Sports Illustrated (which I’ve been reading since the fourth or fifth grade) were beginning to annoy me with their self-conscious political correctness. As if to prove that sports people, those who make a living jabbering about sports, and sports fans really aren’t knuckle-dragging Neanderthals, sports talk radio and a lot of the rest of the Sports Industrial Complex has become an avid promoter of the LGBTQ agenda, often in the silliest ways. Sports Illustrated may have something useful to say about the concussion epidemic in football; Sports Illustrated has nothing useful or sensible to say to the citizens of North Carolina about their views of “bathroom rights.” Enough of this was enough, and I was glad to be quit of it, as we say below the Mason-Dixon Line.

More positively, breaking the sports talk radio habit cleared my mind. I didn’t have to pretend that even the best of the talkers, like Mr. Patrick, weren’t constantly repeating themselves while trying to find that sweet spot where the millennials, and others with the disposable income advertisers crave, live and breathe and have their being. And when you get below the Dan Patrick level, there’s a ton of nonsense being talked to fill all that airtime, for there’s really only so much to be said about our games. Then there was the aggravation of artificially ginned-up hysteria. As mainstream television news became weather-hysteric after Hurricane Katrina, the sports talk radio world was indulging in one hysteria after another, all surnamed
“-gate”, of which Deflategate was the most ludicrous in breadth, depth, and length (if not necessarily in, er, volume).

Better yet, breaking the habit opened up all sorts of other possibilities while driving. I could pray the rosary. I could listen to a lot of good music – and I did, discovering classical masterpieces I hadn’t known before (like Handel’s Keyboard Suites), or finding renditions of previously beloved compositions I hadn’t heard before (like Anne-Sophie Mutter’s transcendent performance of the Dvorak Violin Concerto), or reliving the best of Sixties rock. What, I ask you, is the audiocast of “Pardon the Interruption” compared to that?

And then there was the happy possibility of simply driving in silence, seeing things I hadn’t noticed before, and thinking thoughts I hadn’t thought before, when I was being harried by prattle about the incomprehensible, like the NFL Combine or the Cleveland Browns’ draft choices. Silence, as Cardinal Robert Sarah argues in a fine book being published next month, is essential to the spiritual life. God came to Elijah, not as a sport talk radio host would – loudly – but as a “still small voice” [1 Kings 19.12]. That voice is hard to hear amidst the cacophony of contemporary life. If we wish to hear it more clearly, we have to tune out the static, turn down the volume, and listen to the silence.

So my fraternal counsel to fellow-Catholics of the sports-nut subdivision: take a break from sports talk radio this Lent. It’s a good discipline in itself, and it just might open you up to some surprising, if quiet, transmissions from another Source.

COMING UP: New president seeks to advance mission of Arrupe Jesuit HS to underserved families

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The newly-elected president of Arrupe Jesuit High School, Michael J. O’Hagan, will seek to serve students and families in the Jesuit tradition of providing a well-rounded, Catholic formation.

“My vision remains rooted in the original vision of the school, which is to serve families and students who, for many reasons beyond their own control, have been traditionally underserved,” O’Hagan said. “I want to make sure that Arrupe is always connected to its mission of serving young people and families in this Jesuit Catholic tradition.”

O’Hagan was the founding principal of Arrupe Jesuit High School when it opened in 2003 after a lay initiative to bring Catholic education back to the center city of Denver.

Bringing Catholic education back, however, meant new challenges: The area was mostly populated by low-income families who could not afford private education. Thus, the goal of making Catholic education affordable became a primary mission.

The founders took on the work-study model of Chicago’s Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, which allowed students to implement work into their education with a two-fold purpose: Gaining real-life formation while paying for their college prep education.

“It’s a dynamic relationship with the metro area and business community,” O’Hagan said. “Our young people have an experience of the real world that they can connect to their classroom lessons and affords them an opportunity to see a future they didn’t always know existed.”

Arrupe JHS students work 5 days a month and earn a total of around $2.5 million for the school.

My vision remains rooted in the original vision of the school, which is to serve families and students who, for many reasons beyond their own control, have been traditionally underserved.”

The new president’s role will have a greater focus on strengthening the existing relationships with entities that help the advancement of the school through this work-study program. As principal, his responsibility was more internally-focused on faculty, staff and students.

“I’m excited to be able to build partnerships within the business community and benefactors,” he said. “People are drawn to the mission of Arrupe because they’re drawn to our students. It’s the mission of Arrupe that allows us to connect with so many people.”

Over 130 organizations now contribute to the mission of the school, allowing all 420 students to share full-time, entry-level positions in a wide variety of fields including education, health and engineering.

Family-oriented

Other than making sure bills get paid, O’Hagan assured that his responsibility extends to keeping and advancing the Jesuit Catholic identity of the school. This reality calls for a clear understanding of the needs of the students and an integration of families, he said.

Ninety-three percent of students at Arrupe are Hispanic and the other seven percent include African Americans and African refugees.

Some of the challenges that students face on a personal level include being separated from loved ones due to deportation and experiencing trauma and violence due to the realities of the neighborhoods they live in. Nonetheless, O’Hagan assures that the faculty and staff go beyond these facts when defining the kids.

“We’re very aware of the challenges they face, but we’ve made an intentional decision – one that is firmly rooted in the Gospel – to define our kids by their talents and their gifts,” he said. “We often describe ourselves as a school of dreams, the dreams of our kids and the dreams of their moms and grandparents.”

Arrupe JHS takes families seriously. It knows that if the richness given to the students is not shared by the family, it has failed.

For this reason, the school provides many resources for them and also lets them know that they are welcome, highlighting the key role they play in their children’s education.

We’re very aware of the challenges they face, but we’ve made an intentional decision – one that is firmly rooted in the Gospel – to define our kids by their talents and their gifts.”

Families are considered and helped from the application process itself throughout the four years of education by way of workshops and gatherings that help them understand their children’s progress and education.

“We don’t want families to feel like their kids are having an experience of high school that is separate from their families. We want them to have a shared experience,” O’Hagan stated.

After so many years of work in the mission of making the school facilities, staff and mission reflect the dignity and potential of every student, the new president is mostly grateful for the support received.

“I am grateful for the support that Arrupe has received from the community through our first 15 years. We haven’t been successful because we’ve been isolated,” he assured. “We have been successful because of the many partnerships we have built across the city, state and country.”