Admissions Open for the 2019-2020 Academic Year

With graduation behind us and students homeward bound, Admissions is in full swing and we are looking to enroll good boys at the Academy for the 2019-2020 academic year. If you would like your son to enter the freshman, sophomore, or junior class, please call our main office at 571-295-6244, or write to Mrs. Beebe, Admissions Director at kbeebe@gregorythegreatacademy.org. Classes are filling fast, so if you have been thinking about applying, this is a good time to take the first step by asking for an application.

We welcome your questions and are happy to help you in any way to make the best decision possible for your son’s high school education.

Can We Drop the Ascension Story?

Can We Drop the Ascension Story?
by Sean Fitzpatrick

The Ascension of Jesus Christ, related in the Gospels of Mark and Luke and referred to throughout the New Testament, can be taken as something of an awkward anecdote. “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight,” (Acts 1:9). There is something about the Ascension that is inconceivable, even for a miracle—something that is almost too fabulous about the idea and image of Jesus “flying.” For those who stumble over the Ascension, there is often an aspect of mythical fantasy or primitive whimsy involved in accepting such a thing. Can people really take seriously the account of a Man floating into the clouds? Is the Ascension worth the risk of alienating those influenced by a cynical realism? This is the Faith, after all, not a fairy tale. Can we drop this story of Christ soaring through the sky?
C. S. Lewis takes on this very question in Miracles:

Can we then simply drop the Ascension story? The answer is that we can do so only if we regard the Resurrection appearances as those of a ghost or hallucination. For a phantom can just fade away; but an objective entity must go somewhere—something must happen to it. And if the Risen Body were not objective, then all of us (Christian or not) must invent some explanation for the disappearance of the corpse. And all Christians must explain why God sent or permitted a ‘vision’ or ‘ghost’ whose behaviour seems almost exclusively directed to convincing the disciples that it was not a vision or a ghost but a really corporeal being. If it were a vision then it was the most systematically deceptive and lying vision on record. But if it were real, then something happened to it after it ceased to appear. You cannot take away the Ascension without putting something else in its place.

Lewis draws attention to the physical importance of the Resurrection, pointing out that the Ascension, like the Resurrection, required a Body—a point that cannot be dropped. While the Ascension of Christ is a moment of spiritual transcendence that may be difficult to relate or react to, it is also a material mystery. In other words, the Ascension is as much about the body as it is about the soul. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in Dogma and Preaching, “The expression of our belief that in Christ human nature, the humanity in which we all share, has entered into the inner life of God in a new and hitherto unheard-of way. It means that man has found an everlasting place in God.” The whole purpose of the miracle of the Ascension is that it points out the way for all flesh. It was a physical miracle involving a physical body that illustrated a relationship that is supernatural and eternal: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The Ascension confirms and completes the Resurrection in a way that goes beyond mere symbolism. It has a tangible dimension as it deals with a tangible body. The body of Christ disappeared from the tomb and then reappeared before disappearing again forty days later. It did more than just vanish, however. It was moved. It went somewhere and, even now, is somewhere. It is this second disappearance that gives modern sensibilities some pause, for it is in a way stranger than the first. There is a kind of gravity in the idea of a man rising from the dead. There is a kind of levity in the idea of a man rising into the sky. That such spiritual physicality can arouse human incredulity and challenge the scientific thinker is precisely the point. Miracles are as factual and physical as they are spiritual, and their breaking with the bands of nature must be held as a matter of faith and as a matter of fact. G. K. Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy:

I conclude that miracles do happen. I am forced to it by a conspiracy of facts: the fact that the men who encounter elves or angels are not the mystics and the morbid dreamers, but fishermen, farmers, and all men at once coarse and cautious; the fact that we all know men who testify to spiritualistic incidents but are not spiritualists, the fact that science itself admits such things more and more every day. Science will even admit the Ascension if you call it Levitation, and will very likely admit the Resurrection when it has thought of another word for it.

Chesterton agrees—the miracle of the Ascension cannot be simply dropped so long as man is material. The promise of extraordinary exaltation and supernatural splendor is not simply a matter of spiritual consequence, but a matter of physical consequence as well. Though Jesus’ body was glorified at the moment of the Resurrection beyond the normal experience of nature, He retained a body that was still in some veiled way like the body He had. There was certainly a different bodily relation that Jesus possessed with things like time and space, yet He was not outside of them. Though He did come and go at times like a specter, Jesus was sure to show His disciples that He was not spectral, as Lewis noted. He proffered His hands to His friends to touch and hold, for their eyes to see and believe. He ate and drank with them. He was flesh and blood. There was clear and careful intention in ascertaining these physical facts for the sake of the spiritual fact that was soon to follow.

From Annunciation to Ascension, there is a concrete side to the Incarnation that is harder to accept than the mystical character of Our Lord’s miracles. As Our Lady showed, however, it requires faith to hold that with God nothing is impossible, even though some things might seem implausible. Though the modern mind may struggle to believe the story of a Man ascending into a heaven somewhere on high where, as the Son of God, He sits on a celestial seat at the right hand of God the Father, this is the challenge of reconciling faith with facts. The support of reason is present given the common sense involved in communicating a physical promise to physical creatures, but there must always be something obscure in the realm of faith.

The Ascension of Jesus Christ is not simply a glorious finale of the story of human salvation, but a glorious beginning. In His departure from earth, Our Lord came to man as never before. By the mystery of the Ascension, Jesus gave his Church a miraculous sign that He is not far, and that the human body that houses the human spirit is something that belongs with God. As Pope St. Gregory the Great wrote concerning the significance of Our Lord’s bodily Ascension, “[Christ’s] intercession consists in this, that He perpetually exhibits himself before the eternal Father in the humanity which He had assumed for our salvation: and as long as He ceases not to offer Himself, He opens the way for our redemption into eternal life.”

Even though logicians (and theologians, for that matter) can demonstrate that heaven cannot be reached by a flight through the clouds, it does not render the Ascension account embarrassing or isolating. People need solid symbols and signs. They need to connect an ever-present, infinite God to the ever-present, infinite sky. The way of redemption exists for people living in the world, not for disembodied souls. It is outward yet inward, with defined margins and divine mysteries. Man requires bodily things to draw him to the divine. He needs incarnations just as he needed the Incarnation. The Word Made Flesh, therefore, operates in ways consistent with the principle of accord between the physical and spiritual, and this is the reason why we cannot simply drop the Ascension story.

Headmaster’s Address – 2019

Headmaster’s Address 2019 – by Luke Culley

Reverend Fathers, Faculty, Families, Students, Alumni, and Graduates:

Several months ago, in my senior Humanities class, one of these seniors asked me: “Why are we reading this stuff? It is all so unrealistic.” The stuff we were reading at the time was Beowulf. Beowulf is an Anglo Saxon epic about a warrior who, as a young man, comes to the aid of the Great people by fighting and killing the ogre-like Grendel, who feasts on human flesh. When Beowulf is an old man, he gives his life for his own people by fighting and killing a fire breathing dragon. Why do we read stuff like that? It is after all unrealistic, in that Grendel and the fire-breathing dragon never existed and, in my students’ estimation, never could exist. How is reading Beowulf different than playing dungeons and dragons? Maybe fun, but ultimately an irrelevant waste of time. Stuff and nonsense. But is it?

Before answering this question let us take a brief glance over some of the curriculum of Gregory the Great Academy to see what other stuff we serve up to our students throughout their time here. In literature class, the freshmen read about that merriest of all fighters – Robin Hood, who thought it great joy to get to know a stranger by challenging him to some cudgel play before allowing him to cross over a stream. The sophomores spend half of the year embroiled in the most famous battle of all time contemplating the godlike brooding mind of that greatest of all pagan heroes Achilles, – following in the bloody wake of Diomedes, Ajax, and Hector as they fight before the great city of Troy all for the sake of Helen – the most beautiful woman in the world. Juniors spend several months reading the Odyssey – the epic story about a man returning home to his kinsmen, his palace, and most importantly his wife, Penelope – a story that is full of fairytale-esque adventures with beautiful enchantresses, one-eyed giants, utopian dreamers, and drug addicts – a tale that culminates in a bloodbath where Odysseus joins forces with his son Telemachus and cleanses his own hall by fighting and killing all the men who have been loitering there for years despoiling his goods and his land, and dishonoring his wife and his family. It is a hard but happy ending. Seniors read the Aeneid, about the refugee from Troy, who must wander for years, denying himself the love of a beautiful and noble woman, before he reaches the far off ever-receding land the gods are calling him to. Upon arriving, he must fight (for six long and bloody books) many battles against terrible foes in order to gain a foothold and found his city. They read The Song of Roland that sings of a fierce laughing knight who is more valiant than he is wise, who holds his life like a plaything, and slays Saracens for pleasure and for the love of God and his emperor Charlemagne. It’s all pretty good stuff. And though these tales are not realistic, they are rooted in reality.

You may have noticed a common theme here: we read a lot of books about men fighting one another. Men who fight monsters, men who fight for a beautiful woman, men who fight to get home and then restore order in their home, men who fight for God, and men who fight for the fun of it? So why is that?

Could it be that to be a man one must learn to fight? And that fighting is one of the chief virtues of a man? I dare say that it is, and it is a virtue that is sorely needed especially by Christian men today. That is a reality, a hard and harsh reality. And sometimes the unrealistic (or poetic) is the best vehicle to bring us to the truth and the goodness and even the beauty of such hard realities.

Teach my hands for war and my fingers for battle. Sings David the giant-slaying shepherd-turned-king, whom God called “close to my own heart.” If David is close to God’s own heart then is God a warrior, and a trainer of warriors? How can this be? What sort of warrior and what sort of war are we talking about here? Maybe a priest can tell us.

A priest from the Saint Elijah Congregation visited our school only a few weeks ago and when he visited my classroom, he was taken by a sketch from one of the seniors behind me today of a crusader knight holding up the bloody head of a defeated Saracen. His face lit up with joy and he said, “This is great. It is so good you allow them to read stories about the crusades and encourage them to make these kinds of pictures.” Not what you might expect from a priest of God. Fr. Highton, our visitor, is the head of an order that is devoted to preaching the Gospel to the tribes and peoples who have never heard the Gospel before. He has missions in India, in Laos, and in Africa – and was, in fact, coming to our school not only to model his school in the Himalayan Mountains after our own but also to encourage our young men to come and join him in the missionary field. He told our students that every priest in his order takes a 4th vow – a vow of parrhesia. Parrhesia was the virtue most prized by the ancient Greeks: roughly it translates to courage in speaking the fullness of the truth. Their vow is to speak the truth God prompts in their hearts no matter what the consequences, “even if they cut us to pieces,” were his exact words.

A student asked Fr. Highton if his work was dangerous and difficult. He replied: “It’s not a picnic. Do not expect to come to a circle of ladies drinking afternoon tea. Every day is difficult and an adventure. When I wake up in the morning, I have no idea what the day will bring.” He made it clear that to engage in this work, one must have the heart of a warrior and told the class about a book that he considered seminal to his effort as a missionary: it is called The Christian Duty to Fight by Antonio Caponetto. He ended his talk by saying that “all men are not called to be missionaries in the way that God has called him, but that all men are required to be “epic.” There is a secret hidden in each one of us that only God can bring forth and that secret is the heroic path God calls us to.”

And sometimes that call might seem to demand unrealistic things, as Fr. Highton well knows, but the (seemingly) unrealistic should never deter us from following God’s commands. We must strive to be like Saint Peter and dare to walk on water, knowing that God rejoices in the unrealistic—or more precisely, he rejoices in overcoming everything that restricts our entering into the really real.

At Gregory the Great we not only learn about great warriors and the battles they waged on the pages of timeless literature, but we learn to become real literal warriors on our own fields of glory. Saint Gregory’s boys learn how to fight with their bodies and their hands. They learn how to take down a man charging at them full speed, a man who may be twice their size – this is no mean task. It requires a boy to summon that manly virtue called courage which always requires a willingness to perish in the fight. Last week we witnessed the Highlanders battle Saint Joseph’s Prep, holding their ground with confidence even when they were being severely beaten on the scoreboard at the half. In the second half, they came out roaring with a confidence born from their hard training in the snow and cold rains of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

The knowledge instilled into them during their many hours spent in this open-air classroom by the great coaches – van Beek, Snyman, Prezzia, and the brothers Kuplack finally paid off in full. They beat Saint Joseph’s Prep and then went on to defeat Cumberland Valley and win the Pennsylvania state rugby championship. That a school of 60 boys could accomplish such a victory might be the most unrealistic thing in the world. But with God, nothing is impossible. If we want to fight the good fight, to win the ultimate race, to be saints, we must get used to the unrealistic – to men fighting monsters and wars for women. It may well be the stuff dreams are made on, but it is the stuff of heaven.

In his book on Rhetoric, Aristotle calls his students to a fight even more noble than a physical fight. He says:

“It is absurd to hold that a man should be ashamed of inability to defend himself with his limbs, but not ashamed of an inability to defend himself with speech and reason; for the use of rational speech is more distinctive of a human being than the use of his limbs.”

Here Aristotle speaks of a kind of fight and struggle for the logos, the fight to understand, explain and defends one’s ideas in speech. Indeed, in the Ethics, Aristotle characterizes the effort to know as a kind of fight or struggle. He enjoins his readers to “strain every nerve” in their efforts to contemplate the highest truths. The attempt to come to the truth was once described by a Greek philosopher as an epic struggle: “a struggle for the whole.” This noble fight or struggle that our students begin to learn at Gregory the Great takes place not only in rhetoric class but in all of our classes. For in those very books mentioned before, we are learning not only that men must fight but also what men must fight for. We learn not merely that Odysseus must fight in order to return home, and must fight the suitors when he gets there, but we learn what it means to have a home and a faithful wife and what it means to be a good son even in the absence of one’s father. By passing with Odysseus through the many realms of inhuman or perversely human community, we learn what true human community is supposed to look like.

So what about Beowulf? Do we learn anything from him and from the unknown poet who gave us this tale? Yes, from Beowulf we learn that there are monsters we must fight and there may come a time when out of love for our people and our God, we may have to give our lives up in this fight. But one of the most practical and realistic truths we can learn from Beowulf became clearest to me after having several conversations with one of our seniors, Paul Reilly, who wrote his senior thesis on Beowulf. From Beowulf, we learn humility. Beowulf’s great strength was rooted in his constant knowledge that all of his gifts, all of his strength came from God, and that God was his source and protector.

Today we live in strange times – an age where the knowledge of the truth of man, of nature, and of God is very hard to see. We cannot go to the store and pick it up. It will not be found on a google search. No iPhone will ever lead us to it. No, this will require the long and hard effort of a lifetime. If we are to rediscover the truths of this forgotten realm – many of which are found in the books we read here, we must all become explorers, adventurers, and warriors like Beowulf, Odysseus, and Aeneas and we must be cheerful while we’re at it like Robin Hood and Roland. We will have to fight not only to understand these truths, not only to explain and defend these truths to others who do not understand or who attack them, but we must fight to live these truths ourselves.

So, my message today for our graduates is this: remember the crafts you have begun to learn on the rugby pitch, in the classroom, and in the chapel. Be bold enough to discover and listen well to wise men and wise books, be brave enough to struggle for the understanding of what you hear to be true and lovely and good, and to love it with all your heart. Be strong enough to live these truths in a world that is often arrayed against them, and to strive wisely and charitably to speak clearly and well to all you meet on the field of battle. For this battle, you will need only one thing: humility. The humility to understand that all good gifts, all power, all wisdom, all beauty, comes from God, the source of man’s good and of man’s strength to achieve it. And that, gentlemen, is why we read this stuff.