January's This, That & Other

St John Academy

"Where love is, there is the eye."

~ St. Thomas Aquinas

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January Greetings

January, 13, 2019

I hope this winter note finds you well and enjoying, one way or another, the beauty and quiet of some January snow.

As we “officially” depart the beautiful season of Christmas, although in the firm grasp of winter, it is natural to turn our eyes to spring and to plans for next year.

But before we get too forward thinking, it is helpful to pause and reflect on our mission and our primary sources as a Catholic liberal arts school. (When better to stop and take time to reflect than on some snowy days?!)

And before we walk too quickly in the steps of "ordinary time",

we can stretch just a little, and reach back into the well of Christmas to see what we find that can aid our reflection.

When thinking of the liberal arts, one of the streams I find myself traveling down leads to the Homeric character, Ulysses, and a couple of old Latin terms: studiositas and curiositas.

The terms refer to firm dispositions and attitudes towards learning and knowledge--the kind of knowledge that is not simply useful or technical.

Roughly speaking, studiositas refers to a disciplined and spirited (and courageous) approach to pursuing knowledge. The desire for knowledge is enkindled, temperately guided, and the goals of truth and wisdom lead the way. These goals of truth and wisdom are not always easy. They may (will) lead to unexpected paths and to unexpected mirrors—especially as we discover that the search for truth and wisdom demands a look at the hidden interiors within ourselves. And it points to the fact that how our hearts and inner life are tuned, and the way we love (or don’t love) profoundly affect our imagination, memory, and powers of perception.

The way of studiositas requires an active pursuit of knowledge, but also receptivity, patience, and a willingness to be vulnerable (the foundation of courage). The Truth will act on us and set us free before we can hope to help set Truth free.

Curiositas refers to a settled disposition that never matured past the delights of curiosity (and doesn’t fully taste the deeper pleasures and joys that accompany studiositas). A person in the grasp of curiositas is in some ways a “rambler” (even if he or she doesn’t fit the rock ’n roll image). Knowledge is pursued for power, pleasure, experiences, etc., but not for wisdom. Truth, Beauty, Goodness are not integrated and nor is the interior of the person integrated (heart, mind, will, intellect). Such a person suffers illusions of being in control, rational, and open to “everything”…perhaps even child-like.

Both ways include delights in wonders and a curious imagination. Studiositas continues to move through the wonders and curiosities into the meaning and mystery behind them. Curiositas refuses to open the door to the meaning, mystery, and truth behind the curiosities, knowledge, and wonders. It simply wishes to stop in the excitement of finding them and to keep collecting more experiences. This leads to spiritual boredom and the need to keep "going", and may lead to indulging curiosity for dark and depraved things, (some things unleashed in that mythical box found by Pandora). These can seize the heart and imagination and restrict the ability to escape from that dark well without water or life. Studiositas protects and guides the natural hunger for knowledge and wisdom, and keeps a soul on a path to Life and Light (and life's fountain).

Curiously enough, studiositas also protects the way of childhood and the ability to experience wonder as an adult (and a way to recover "innocence", after the experience of seeing failures in the world and in oneself).

Let’s return to Ulysses.

One question that has been asked regarding Homer’s epic character, is whether he is ultimately bound by an interior disposition of curiositas. This question is raised and can be explored in the masterful poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson: Ulysses (below).

Ulysses is a great warrior, extremely clever and persuasive, but do his great gifts also become impediments? Is he unable to harness his appetites for novelty and adventure and the pleasure of exercising his talents that so often overpower others? Like the great Achilles who could not overcome his passion of anger, is Ulysses unable to master a passion of curiosity and wanderlust?

It is a fair question. We see his heroic capacity as he returns home and destroys the suitors for his Penelope. But shortly after, he is placing the responsibility of governing Ithaca on his son, leaving his wife and community, and telling his sailors to get the ships ready.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,

To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,..

Come, my friends,

'T is not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die…

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Perhaps he should have “yielded”? Perhaps reality, truth, demanded a "yield" in order to open his inner eye, his intellect, and heart? Perhaps his refusal to "yield" (or suffer) was more fear-driven then courage-driven?

To suffer, in addition to the connotation of experiencing pain and hardships, also has the meaning of allowing something to be done to oneself--in some ways to "yield" to another, to receive.

Let’s dip back into Christmas for a moment. The high days of celebration began with a humble birth and the rugged city of Bethlehem and the epiphany of the simple, uneducated shepherds. The twelfth day marked a declared epiphany of the educated, aristocratic Magi.

Why did the Magi—wealthy, powerful, learned men--make that difficult and inconvenient journey?

And while it is mysterious that the Magi were so disposed to search for and worship the new Jewish king, it is hard to imagine that they anticipated finding a king in such a humble surrounding and in such a vulnerable condition. (Certainly they knew of the enemies that lurked about that region). And yet somehow, beyond mere rational understanding, they recognized him as the one, the king, for whom they searched.

What kind of king? What kind of rule, what kind of power was beginning? To see this "king", this gift and baffling source of wisdom, they had to yield their intelligence, had to be open to the possibility that Reality may be bigger, or at least different than what their minds could conceive.

As they yielded their powerful minds, what kind of epiphany did they experience, even if a momentary flash of insight?

This “yielding”, momentary surrender, of their intellects before mystery—a kind of death or blindness—opened their perceptive capacities to faith and to contemplation.

It served as a doorway, or a window opening to a mystery, to a mystery like a burning bush that did not consume itself, or to a brutal cross that opened transcendent heavens, opened possibilities of a spiritual life well beyond mere human capacity.

And while returning to this experience and road to "epiphany" traveled by the magi, my imagination finds itself drifting back to the character of Nicodemus. What gave him that strength and courage to risk everything and ask for the body of Jesus? He too must have experienced a kind of epiphany, perhaps a child-like epiphany that answered his question of how to "yield" and again become a child.

And before we keep wandering, and may bring up characters like Ebenezer Scrooge, we'll pause...

Warm regards,


Jeffrey P. Presberg


Saint John Academy

P.S. In addition to practical information and a heads up for exciting weeks ahead including "Catholic Schools Week", you'll find some "extras" below to engage throughout the month. These include a return to an old Christmas Carol performed by a modern artist, and a masterful tale by Saki, a bit dark but also "light"--as it in many ways shines light on the desires of the human heart that only grace and Christ can answer...

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What's Up...Next Week and so


REMEMBER we follow Fairfax County Public Schools for SNOW Emergency school closings.

Congratulations to our Boys Basketball team for their victory against Saint Stephens and Saint Agnes on Thursday, January 10th. Well done team, GO Eagles!

Week of January 14th – Grades three through seven will be taking our mid-year Scantron tests. Please make sure that your student gets a good night’s rest and a good breakfast.

Wednesday, January 16th – Come and support our Boys and Girls Basketball teams starting at 3:00 p.m. We will play against Grace Christian Academy.

Friday, January 18th – We will have an 11:30 a.m. DISMISSAL for the March for Life.

Monday, January 21st – No school in observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Holiday.

A Story & Songs for January



It little profits that an idle king,

By this still hearth, among these barren crags,

Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole

Unequal laws unto a savage race,

That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink

Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd

Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those

That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when

Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades

Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;

For always roaming with a hungry heart

Much have I seen and known; cities of men

And manners, climates, councils, governments,

Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;

And drunk delight of battle with my peers,

Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

I am a part of all that I have met;

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'

Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades

For ever and forever when I move.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,

To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!

As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life

Were all too little, and of one to me

Little remains: but every hour is saved

From that eternal silence, something more,

A bringer of new things; and vile it were

For some three suns to store and hoard myself,

And this gray spirit yearning in desire

To follow knowledge like a sinking star,

Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,

To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—

Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil

This labour, by slow prudence to make mild

A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees

Subdue them to the useful and the good.

Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere

Of common duties, decent not to fail

In offices of tenderness, and pay

Meet adoration to my household gods,

When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:

There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,

Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me—

That ever with a frolic welcome took

The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed

Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;

Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;

Death closes all: but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done,

Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:

The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep

Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,

'T is not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Painting Below: Ulysses and the Sirens by John W. Waterhouse (1891)

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The Interlopers


In a forest of mixed growth somewhere on the eastern spurs of the Carpathians, a man stood one winter night watching and listening, as though he waited for some beast of the woods to come within the range of his vision, and, later, of his rifle. But the game for whose presence he kept so keen an outlook was none that figured in the sportsman's calendar as lawful and proper for the chase; Ulrich von Gradwitz patrolled the dark forest in quest of a human enemy.

The forest lands of Gradwitz were of wide extent and well stocked with game; the narrow strip of precipitous woodland that lay on its outskirt was not remarkable for the game it harboured or the shooting it afforded, but it was the most jealously guarded of all its owner's territorial possessions. A famous law suit, in the days of his grandfather, had wrested it from the illegal possession of a neighbouring family of petty landowners; the dispossessed party had never acquiesced in the judgment of the Courts, and a long series of poaching affrays and similar scandals had embittered the relationships between the families for three generations. The neighbour feud had grown into a personal one since Ulrich had come to be head of his family; if there was a man in the world whom he detested and wished ill to it was Georg Znaeym, the inheritor of the quarrel and the tireless game-snatcher and raider of the disputed border-forest.

The feud might, perhaps, have died down or been compromised if the personal ill-will of the two men had not stood in the way; as boys they had thirsted for one another's blood, as men each prayed that misfortune might fall on the other, and this wind-scourged winter night Ulrich had banded together his foresters to watch the dark forest, not in quest of four-footed quarry, but to keep a look-out for the prowling thieves whom he suspected of being afoot from across the land boundary. The roebuck, which usually kept in the sheltered hollows during a storm-wind, were running like driven things to-night, and there was movement and unrest among the creatures that were wont to sleep through the dark hours. Assuredly there was a disturbing element in the forest, and Ulrich could guess the quarter from whence it came.

He strayed away by himself from the watchers whom he had placed in ambush on the crest of the hill, and wandered far down the steep slopes amid the wild tangle of undergrowth, peering through the tree trunks and listening through the whistling and skirling of the wind and the restless beating of the branches for sight and sound of the marauders. If only on this wild night, in this dark, lone spot, he might come across Georg Znaeym, man to man, with none to witness - that was the wish that was uppermost in his thoughts. And as he stepped round the trunk of a huge beech he came face to face with the man he sought.

The two enemies stood glaring at one another for a long silent moment. Each had a rifle in his hand, each had hate in his heart and murder uppermost in his mind. The chance had come to give full play to the passions of a lifetime. But a man who has been brought up under the code of a restraining civilisation cannot easily nerve himself to shoot down his neighbour in cold blood and without word spoken, except for an offence against his hearth and honour. And before the moment of hesitation had given way to action a deed of Nature's own violence overwhelmed them both. A fierce shriek of the storm had been answered by a splitting crash over their heads, and ere they could leap aside a mass of falling beech tree had thundered down on them. Ulrich von Gradwitz found himself stretched on the ground, one arm numb beneath him and the other held almost as helplessly in a tight tangle of forked branches, while both legs were pinned beneath the fallen mass. His heavy shooting-boots had saved his feet from being crushed to pieces, but if his fractures were not as serious as they might have been, at least it was evident that he could not move from his present position till some one came to release him. The descending twig had slashed the skin of his face, and he had to wink away some drops of blood from his eyelashes before he could take in a general view of the disaster. At his side, so near that under ordinary circumstances he could almost have touched him, lay Georg Znaeym, alive and struggling, but obviously as helplessly pinioned down as himself. All round them lay a thick- strewn wreckage of splintered branches and broken twigs.

Relief at being alive and exasperation at his captive plight brought a strange medley of pious thank-offerings and sharp curses to Ulrich's lips. Georg, who was early blinded with the blood which trickled across his eyes, stopped his struggling for a moment to listen, and then gave a short, snarling laugh.

"So you're not killed, as you ought to be, but you're caught, anyway," he cried; "caught fast. Ho, what a jest, Ulrich von Gradwitz snared in his stolen forest. There's real justice for you!"

And he laughed again, mockingly and savagely.

"I'm caught in my own forest-land," retorted Ulrich. "When my men come to release us you will wish, perhaps, that you were in a better plight than caught poaching on a neighbour's land, shame on you."

Georg was silent for a moment; then he answered quietly:

"Are you sure that your men will find much to release? I have men, too, in the forest to-night, close behind me, and THEY will be here first and do the releasing. When they drag me out from under these damned branches it won't need much clumsiness on their part to roll this mass of trunk right over on the top of you. Your men will find you dead under a fallen beech tree. For form's sake I shall send my condolences to your family."

"It is a useful hint," said Ulrich fiercely. "My men had orders to follow in ten minutes time, seven of which must have gone by already, and when they get me out - I will remember the hint. Only as you will have met your death poaching on my lands I don't think I can decently send any message of condolence to your family."

"Good," snarled Georg, "good. We fight this quarrel out to the death, you and I and our foresters, with no cursed interlopers to come between us. Death and damnation to you, Ulrich von Gradwitz."

"The same to you, Georg Znaeym, forest-thief, game-snatcher."

Both men spoke with the bitterness of possible defeat before them, for each knew that it might be long before his men would seek him out or find him; it was a bare matter of chance which party would arrive first on the scene.

Both had now given up the useless struggle to free themselves from the mass of wood that held them down; Ulrich limited his endeavours to an effort to bring his one partially free arm near enough to his outer coat-pocket to draw out his wine-flask. Even when he had accomplished that operation it was long before he could manage the unscrewing of the stopper or get any of the liquid down his throat. But what a Heaven-sent draught it seemed! It was an open winter, and little snow had fallen as yet, hence the captives suffered less from the cold than might have been the case at that season of the year; nevertheless, the wine was warming and reviving to the wounded man, and he looked across with something like a throb of pity to where his enemy lay, just keeping the groans of pain and weariness from crossing his lips.

"Could you reach this flask if I threw it over to you?" asked Ulrich suddenly; "there is good wine in it, and one may as well be as comfortable as one can. Let us drink, even if to-night one of us dies."

"No, I can scarcely see anything; there is so much blood caked round my eyes," said Georg, "and in any case I don't drink wine with an enemy."

Ulrich was silent for a few minutes, and lay listening to the weary screeching of the wind. An idea was slowly forming and growing in his brain, an idea that gained strength every time that he looked across at the man who was fighting so grimly against pain and exhaustion. In the pain and languor that Ulrich himself was feeling the old fierce hatred seemed to be dying down.

"Neighbour," he said presently, "do as you please if your men come first. It was a fair compact. But as for me, I've changed my mind. If my men are the first to come you shall be the first to be helped, as though you were my guest. We have quarrelled like devils all our lives over this stupid strip of forest, where the trees can't even stand upright in a breath of wind. Lying here to-night thinking I've come to think we've been rather fools; there are better things in life than getting the better of a boundary dispute. Neighbour, if you will help me to bury the old quarrel I - I will ask you to be my friend."

Georg Znaeym was silent for so long that Ulrich thought, perhaps, he had fainted with the pain of his injuries. Then he spoke slowly and in jerks.

"How the whole region would stare and gabble if we rode into the market-square together. No one living can remember seeing a Znaeym and a von Gradwitz talking to one another in friendship. And what peace there would be among the forester folk if we ended our feud to-night. And if we choose to make peace among our people there is none other to interfere, no interlopers from outside ... You would come and keep the Sylvester night beneath my roof, and I would come and feast on some high day at your castle ... I would never fire a shot on your land, save when you invited me as a guest; and you should come and shoot with me down in the marshes where the wildfowl are. In all the countryside there are none that could hinder if we willed to make peace. I never thought to have wanted to do other than hate you all my life, but I think I have changed my mind about things too, this last half-hour. And you offered me your wineflask ... Ulrich von Gradwitz, I will be your friend."

For a space both men were silent, turning over in their minds the wonderful changes that this dramatic reconciliation would bring about. In the cold, gloomy forest, with the wind tearing in fitful gusts through the naked branches and whistling round the tree-trunks, they lay and waited for the help that would now bring release and succour to both parties. And each prayed a private prayer that his men might be the first to arrive, so that he might be the first to show honourable attention to the enemy that had become a friend.

Presently, as the wind dropped for a moment, Ulrich broke silence.

"Let's shout for help," he said; he said; "in this lull our voices may carry a little way."

"They won't carry far through the trees and undergrowth," said Georg, "but we can try. Together, then."

The two raised their voices in a prolonged hunting call.

"Together again," said Ulrich a few minutes later, after listening in vain for an answering halloo.

"I heard nothing but the pestilential wind," said Georg hoarsely.

There was silence again for some minutes, and then Ulrich gave a joyful cry.

"I can see figures coming through the wood. They are following in the way I came down the hillside."

Both men raised their voices in as loud a shout as they could muster.

"They hear us! They've stopped. Now they see us. They're running down the hill towards us," cried Ulrich.

"How many of them are there?" asked Georg.

"I can't see distinctly," said Ulrich; "nine or ten."

"Then they are yours," said Georg; "I had only seven out with me."

"They are making all the speed they can, brave lads," said Ulrich gladly.

"Are they your men?" asked Georg. "Are they your men?" he repeated impatiently as Ulrich did not answer.

"No," said Ulrich with a laugh, the idiotic chattering laugh of a man unstrung with hideous fear.

"Who are they?" asked Georg quickly, straining his eyes to see what the other would gladly not have seen.


A song for Christmas lingering

Enjoy a modern rendition by the highly talented Sufjan Stevens...

Come Thou Font of Every Blessing written by Robert Robertson (1758)...

"Ebenezer" refers to the Book of Samuel (1 Samuel 7: 12) and the raising and marking of a great stone--Ebenezer--to remember God's help in achieving victory. This beloved English hymn also offers potential insight into Dicken's choice of name for his main character in A Christmas Carol.

Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy, never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I'm fixed upon it
Mount of Thy unchanging love

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Hither by Thy help I've come
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be
Let that grace now, like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here's my heart, O take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy, never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I'm fixed upon it
Mount of Thy unchanging love

...the world reveals itself to the silent listener...

~ Josef Pieper

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Top Painting: The Source by John Fabian Carlson

Middle Painting: The Journey of the Magi by James Tissot (1894)