Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Mt. Parnassus and Mt. Sinai

I neglected to post this last month, when school started at Highlands Latin School. It is Headmistress Opening School exhortation, available here:

Welcome parents, teachers and students to the 2014-2015 academic year.  It is a privilege to address you today at the beginning of this our fifteenth school year.  We thank God for our many blessings, for this misty fall morning, for Highlands Latin School, for our beautiful new athletic field at Spring Meadows, for a new school year, for the gift of life, the gift of children, and the gift of grandchildren.  Last year my grand-daughter who was in Kindergarten, greeted me after the Opening School Ceremony with this comment, “Nana, your speech was OK, but it was too long.”  Kindergartners, please bear with me.

In partnership with parents, and guided by the gospel, we are committed to helping students develop their intellectual gifts to the highest standards of the classical tradition.  We are committed to character and faith formation.  We are committed to helping students grow in knowledge, wisdom, and in the love of Our Lord, so that they may wisely use their gifts in the service of others and for the glory of Christ and his Church.

A Highlands Latin education is built on a strong and lasting foundation: a foundation of three universal languages, Latin, mathematics, and music; a foundation of reading the classics to develop wisdom and virtue, and the foundation of a living faith.

In the ancient world there are two mountains that symbolize classical Christian education:  Mt. Parnassus and Mt. Sinai.  In Greek mythology, Mt. Parnassus was the abode of Apollo, the great god of reason.  Climbing Parnassus came to be the metaphor for classical education, that glorious and sometimes painful journey of learning Latin and Greek.

Climbing Parnassus is an ascent up a steep and formidable mountain, where reason itself is enshrined on its snowy peaks.  It is not reaching the peak, however, but the climb itself, that molds character and develops virtue.  It is the climb itself that forms the mind and heart of the student and leaves him with a permanent imprint.  By aiming for a lofty summit, the student learns to fix his eyes upward and to always strive for excellence, for arĂȘte.

Enshrined on Mt. Sinai, on the other hand, is not human reason, but God himself.  Here is a mountain we cannot climb, a summit we cannot reach by our own efforts.  And so it was that from Mt. Sinai, God came down to us with his self-revelation, first in the Law and then in the Gospel.  It is through faith in this Revelation that we ascend the mountain of God.  Two mountains, one of ascent and the other of descent, one of human striving and the other of God’s grace.

Climbing a mountain, students, is not a race. There are no winners or losers.  It is not how far up the mountain you climb or who is first or last.  You can extend a hand down to someone who is struggling below you, and you can reach a hand up to someone who is above for help.  It is equality of effort that is the goal, not equality of results, so that each of you achieves as much as your ability and circumstances allow. As you climb your mountain this year, keep your eyes firmly fixed on these two lofty peaks, these two visions of greatness, Mt. Parnassus and Mt. Sinai.  Hold them both together as they support and defend each other, in your classical Christian education.

Students in a few moments you will be sitting in your first class of the year. Remember always to honor your parents, respect and obey your teachers, and extend a helping hand and a word of encouragement to your classmates, everyday.  Have a great year and work hard.  Strive for excellence, strive for arĂȘte.

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