This was Mr. Weber's second address to the JPII student body, given on August 11, 2008.
He was our school’s best athlete two years ago--our starting tailback in football and point guard in basketball. He was a guy’s guy—tough, gritty, not prone to emotion. The occasion was senior night in basketball, where we introduce players with their parents, and they walk out to half court together. His mother had a stroke a week earlier, and probably shouldn’t have been there but she wasn’t about to be at home when her son was playing his last home game.
When they called out her name, her son came from across the floor to get her in the bleachers, because she could hardly walk. He helped her, gently, come down from the bleachers and walked SLOWLY with her to half-court. The tenderness by which he treated his mother was a direct contrast to the way he presented himself to others, and all the students noticed it. There were even some tears welling up in the crowd.
But it was, after all, his mom. Mothers are special. Just look at any college football game when the TV cameras roam the sidelines. Whenever they do a close-up of a player, it’s not “Hey Dad” or “Hey Coach” from high school, but “Hey Mom” or “Hey Mom, love you”.
All of this helps us understand why Catholics seem to talk about Mary so much. This week, on Friday, we’ll be celebrating the Assumption, the belief that Mary was assumed into heaven, body and soul. Why all this fuss about Mary? We call Mary “first among the saints” for a simple reason: she was Jesus’ mom, and that puts her in a privileged place in our faith, just as Moms are held in a privileged place in our families and in our society.
And why do Catholics pay so much attention to dead people, even if that dead person was Jesus’ mom? For the same reason that we have pictures of our relatives in our homes and in our offices—so that we can be inspired by their example and can be reminded that we are called to live as they lived. There’s a picture of my grandfather in my office. My wife teases me because it’s much bigger than the picture of her. But there’s a reason he’s so prominently displayed. It wasn’t because he was a professor of orthodontics at the University of TN, or chair of that department for 37 years, or that he won 2 international awards in his field that only one other person in his profession has done. It was because every Friday, for 37 years, he went out to lunch with his graduate students, thus building a personal relationship with them. His picture reminds me of the kind of leader I want to be for JPII—not just a head of school, but one that gets to know the students personally—it’s the reason I teach a class and have done so for the 20 years I’ve been either president or principal.
We celebrate the saints, and this week, Mary, as first among the saints, because they remind us that a Christian life is not only possible, but it’s been done already. And that ought to inspire us to believe we can live that kind of life, too.
In 1954 track’s greatest record was broken. It was such a tremendous human achievement that it didn’t just make the sports headlines; it made front page headlines all over the world. It was thought to have been humanly impossible—that if someone pushed himself that hard, his lungs would collapse. (Does anyone know what it was?) Roger Bannister, an English long distance runner, broke the 4 minute mile. It had never been done before, was thought to be impossible, and as a result, no-one ever did it. But that same summer, the world record had been broken 3 more times, and within 3 years, over 16 different runners had broken that barrier. Today the world record is 3 minutes, 43 seconds, a full 17 seconds off that once unthinkable barrier.
What happened? It’s pretty clear: Once folks saw that a 4 minute mile was possible, it empowered others to run that barrier, too.
All that happened to Mary in her life was the result of a simple prayer. When the angel Gabriel announced she was to bear a son who shall become Emmanuel, savior, she said only “Be it done unto me according to your word”. Let that simple prayer, and her faithfulness to that prayer, be an inspiration to all of us to live according to his word, his will. What she has done, we can also do. May we have the courage to say yes as she did. Amen.