A question that keeps running across the invisible ticker above my forehead that notifies me when I need to re-calibrate my thinking or adjust my own preconception runs as follows: what truly motivates a person to choose the good; what sustains that very motive to do the right thing over time and every time? The most common distinction has been carved since the question was first pondered by the great philosophers: what good is most captivating to the human person? Is the good somewhere on the outside, an extrinsic and future possibility that may provide some sense of gratification not currently experienced? Is the good that drives us on the inside, an intrinsic impulse to simply move closer towards the ground of all goodness even if the gratification is not as pleasurable or immediate?
I think more often than we know, we deal with these questions in every moment of our being. What type of reward are we after? Is it the reward of approval? Is it the reward of praise? Is it the reward of fame? Is it the reward of not looking bad or perhaps less incompetent at least? Is it the reward of ice cream? Is it the reward of more screen time? Is it the reward of me feeling less insecure by making someone else feel more insecure?
How does this all play out in the classroom? Do we motivate students by promising a prize? Do we motivate students by suggesting to them that their own eternal salvation and virtuous habits matter more than any good we can give on this earth?
Various stages of child development require different motivational techniques, but I am coming more and more to an adult answer in my interactions with the high school students. To put it bluntly: you are good because you are good, and you are made for good. Goodness is its own reward, a gift from God - the very splendor of living and even being here - and we must answer that goodness with our full cooperation. There is nothing more motivating than participating in the absolute goodness of God, because it is a goodness that has staying power. It won't fade or flee, and it is entirely disinterested in any vice or praise.
We can want good things for the wrong reasons.
For all of the aforementioned reasons, our virtue program is receiving a slight adjustment this year. In an attempt to channel this inextinguishable appetite towards goodness, we are going to forgo the public affirmation sessions. Children simply are not ready for it, because they fall so often into this temptation of wanting good things for wrong reasons or even worse, accepting or touting such an affirmation without a full and real internalization of its very meaning. I would like to invite parents and faculty to send nominations to either Dr. Sansone or I each month of moments when you observed a virtuous act illustrative of the month's virtue. This month is gratitude.
But the deeper reason here is that God alone knows the goodness of our hearts, and we should not ever claim to be virtuous. That is antithetical to the nature of virtue. Instead, we can only acknowledge virtuous acts, not fully knowing the inner workings of each other.
I also want to make a plea here for perhaps the only act that can support the development of the virtues in our children: prayer. Since this school came into existence, there has been an army of prayer warriors offering praise, thanksgiving, adoration, and supplication on behalf of the families, faculty, and students. We simply need more prayer soldiers to make this happen. Each Thursday, parents are invited to a holy hour from 1 - 2 p.m. in our oratory on campus. And each Tuesday morning, men and high school aged boys are invited to a holy hour from 6:30 - 7:30 a.m. I would encourage parents of high school aged boys to consider sending their son to a holy hour, and if the fellow fathers out there can make it, we need your leadership in prayer.
To the question I keep getting, I will give my honest response. When asked, "How is the school year going?", the only genuine thing I can say is quite simple: it is better when students are here. That is what this school is made for.
Most Sincerely in Christ,