November President’s Pen: The Month that Calls Us to Action

If there were ever a month in the liturgical year that belonged to CRSM, it is November. The month starts with All Saints on the first, followed by All Souls on the second and both overlap with Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos celebrations that run through November 2. November 3 is the Feast of St. Martin de Porres – the St. Martin in our school’s name. Later in the month we celebrate Thanksgiving and then the Feast of Christ the King/Cristo Rey. Could you script a more perfect month for Cristo Rey St. Martin?

CRSM’s November is really a beautiful progression leading into Advent. First we celebrated heroes of our faith. Bishop Rassas said mass on All Saints Day and his sermon was about how our saints aren’t always perfect but what differentiates them is that they never stopped trying to be better. Certainly a great message for our students – and all of us!

Next, students in our Hispanic National Honors Society club set up an ofrenda in the lobby for Day of the Dead. Day of the Dead celebrations are really three days where we honor loved ones who have died. The ofrenda traditionally has pictures and personal items of the dead with flowers, decorated sugar skulls, candles, and even favorite food items of the deceased. At its essence, Day of the Dead celebrates that fact that those we love live on through us in the many ways they influenced our lives when we were alive. It reminds me a bit of the way our Jewish friends, like the folks from the Weinberg Foundation who have been such wonderful supporters of our school, refer to loved ones who have passed as being “of blessed memory.” The lives of those who have gone before us are a blessing to our lives as examples of love.

Although we did not do anything extra special to celebrate the Feast of St. Martin de Porres, our namesake is a big part of November and his spirit permeates all of the month’s activities.   Poor, humble, discriminated against; he refused to be a victim – living instead a life full of healing, generosity, love, and a deep belief that even the lowliest job could be done in such a way that it glorifies God. Martin’s many acts of mercy live on through our students in their own actions by volunteering weekly at Feed My Starving Children, the Greater Illinois Food Depository, St. Anastasia’s Soup Kitchen, and Roberti Community House. Nearly two thirds of our students are engaged in active, regular volunteerism despite the fact that we choose not to impose any requirements to perform service hours. It is our students’ own personal choice to give back and try to make the world a little better.

Of course, we also participate in the annual Christmas drive with Catholic Charities.  I have fond memories moving and sorting gifts with our students in the old Kmart as part of this program before we purchased the building and made it our permanent home!

In what has become another November tradition, a small group of CRSM students and a faculty member attended the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice in Washington, DC., the largest annual Catholic social justice gathering in the United States. Each year, Jesuit institutions and those of the larger church come together in the context of social justice and solidarity to learn, reflect, pray, network, and advocate together. Our students returned energized by the realization that faith and justice are integrally linked.

Along those same lines, as we do every month, a group of students gets up long before dawn and makes the trek to Broadview to unite with other groups outside the federal detention center where immigrant families are being separated and some deported.

Something new this year was being host to about a hundred Veterans for a breakfast honoring their service to us and the country. That morning started off with a color guard and one of our students singing the National Anthem a cappella. It was surprisingly moving and some in the audience shed tears. Our students were incredibly respectful and represented CRSM well.

With an expanded sense of gratitude, we entered into Thanksgiving week by hosting another event. This is the third year we partnered with a local mosque for an interfaith gathering to promote peace, understanding, and friendship by bringing together presenters from the Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Christian faith traditions to discuss social issues. This year’s topic was “Love Thy Neighbor.” One obvious conclusion from the event was that all our faith traditions share the common view that welcoming strangers and building caring communities are virtues to emulate.

Outside their daily studies, our students spent most of the month remembering the dead, feeding the hungry, caring for the less fortunate, and visiting captives; what could be more appropriate at the end of the month than acknowledging the Feast of Christ the King/Cristo Rey? Our King rules by serving, responds to hate with love, finds strength in being vulnerable, and builds true wealth through generosity. Our students and staff teach me that everyday.

November isn’t just one month out of the year, at CRSM it is the month that models how every month should be spent: remembering those who taught us to love, recognizing their lives as models for our own, responding to the needs of others in our community with compassion, acknowledging how lucky we are with gratitude, realizing that we are all brothers and sisters, and reminding ourselves that God is behind all that gives our lives purpose. At CRSM, November is more than a month; it is a call to action!