Sunday, November 30, 2008

It's About Time

This is Mr. Weber's address to the JPII student body on Monday, December 1, 2008

In the early 1980’s, Domino’s Pizza was the first American corporation to deliver food directly to your house. They marketed themselves with the promise, “If we don’t deliver your pizza within 30 minutes of your order, you get the whole pizza free”. I had a good friend at Notre Dame who lived in the most remote dorm on campus, a good mile away from my dorm, and being poor college students, we would often synchronize our watches and order pizza at the exact same time from the local Domino’s pizza store. Since they did not allow cars on campus, it was physically impossible for the pizza delivery boy to get both pizzas to us within 30 minutes, and depending on which dorm he chose to deliver to first, one of us always got a free pizza—every time.

Since the early 1970’s, the food delivery service, and in fact, fast food service in general, has exploded in growth, from a 6 billion/year enterprise in 1970 to 110 billion by 2000. Whereas before, families (typically, the mother) would go to the grocery store to purchase the raw ingredients, then prepare the meal, then cook the meal in the oven, then serve, then sit down together as a family, today that is most uncommon—the typical American family eats out 4-5 times week, and on the other days, we nuke a ready made dinner in the microwave and serve it on the go. We even expect our fast food stores to be faster, adding drive-through windows, so we don’t have to get out of the car and stand in line, and yet, if you’re like me, if the drive through line isn’t moving fast enough after I order, I become impatient and leave before I get to the window.

We are, in fact, an impatient society. Instead of saving money for a big purchase, we buy on credit with money that we don’t have. The average family will add $1,000 to their credit card balances this Christmas, despite the fact that 12 million card-holders haven’t paid off their balances from last Christmas. The economic crisis we’re experiencing now is fueled largely by the fact that we have purchased houses that are more than we can afford, enticed by once ridiculously low variable interest rates which have now varied upward, making it impossible for many to make their monthly payments, causing them to forfeit their houses, leaving banks with many properties they cannot unload.

A society that seeks instant gratification is a society that has a problem with waiting. And yet, as we begin this first week of Advent, a time when we prepare for the coming of Christ, we are reminded that waiting is a good thing, a necessary thing.

We read an interesting reading this Sunday in church, from the prophet Isaiah. At the time Isaiah wrote, near the end of the Babylonian exile, the ancient faith of Abraham, Moses, David and Solomon was perilously close to being extinguished. In 586 B.C., the Babylonian king marched into Jerusalem, easily defeating the Israelite armies, and destroyed the Temple built by Solomon almost 400 years earlier—a terrible sacrilege. He then added to their horror by selling Jewish families into slavery, deliberately splitting families by sending mothers and fathers to different regions than their daughters and sons. They were now far away from the land 'flowing with milk and honey' promised to them during the exodus from Egypt, some 700 years earlier with Moses. The power of the Lord, revealed during the crossing of the Red Sea, the miracles in the desert, the battle of Jericho and all the great works of the Lord from the past seemed like children's fables. They were losing faith and losing hope. Into this desperate situation, Isaiah cries to God:

You, LORD, are our father, our redeemer you are named forever.

Why then, do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?

Return for the sake of your servants! Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard of from of old.
(Isaiah 63:16b-17)

In other words, come down, Lord and work your miracles of old, so that our enemies will be vanquished, our spirits will be rejuvenated and Israel can be restored. We are your people, doesn’t that matter to you? We’re tired of being trampled upon and we’re losing faith in you. Send us a savior. We cannot wait any longer.

This is the ancient cry of the Israelite people, and it is the cry of all Christians as we enter into this Advent season. Like the Israelites during the exile, our world is out of wack. Many of you heard about the Wal-mart employee who was trampled to death by 2000 shoppers who busted down the doors on the Friday after this Thanksgiving at 5 a.m. When the shoppers were told the store was closing because of the death, they were angry, claiming they had been there since late Thursday night in line, and when forced to leave, they lined up around the crime tape, impatiently waiting for the store to re-open. Our world is sick with greed, with self-centeredness, with excess. We are in need of someone to save us--mostly from ourselves.

And yet, like the Israelites, we must wait. From the time of Isaiah’s prophecies, the Jewish people had to wait over 500 years for their long hoped for Messiah, and he came in such an unexpected, unrecognizable form, that many of them did not realize their savior was among them.

During this Advent season, in which we symbolically re-enact this waiting of the Jewish people for the messiah to be born, may we use this time to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Messiah, so that we can better recognize his presence in all those we meet. May we use this time to seek forgiveness for those whom we’ve hurt and forgive those who have hurt us. Let us use this time to become a little less cynical, a little less judgmental, a little more patient, so that we can welcome Christ more fully together at Christmas.

This Advent, it’s about time.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


This is Mr. Weber's address to the JPII student body on November 24, 2008, just before Thanksgiving.

On my way to Nashville from Montgomery to be interviewed for this job last spring, I stopped at a gas station to fill up. A late model car pulled up on the other side of the pump, and an old man got out of the car, looked at me with some embarrassment, and asked me for $10 for gas. I told him when I went in to pay, I’d put $10 down on his pump. Casting his eyes downward, he said with some feeling: “Gratitude”.

Since I had little else to do as I drove home, I thought quite a bit about this fellow for the rest of the trip. Judging from his car, his clothes and his diction, he didn’t appear to have a job, or a good one at least, and his language suggested he wasn’t very well educated. His sad eyes conveyed loneliness, and I wondered if he had a family, or was close to them if he did, and guessed he may not have been. Few things are more humiliating than asking for a handout, but he was out of gas and so he had to swallow his pride to ask a stranger. And yet, despite all that, I sensed his gratitude was real.

To be honest, his gratitude was unsettling to me, for it forced me to compare myself to him, and in so doing, made me wonder if I who had so much in comparison was as grateful as he with so little. I think this may be a common feeling some of you have had when you’ve worked with the under-privileged in your Christian Service Internship, or for the few of you who have done a week of mission work with the poor during your fall or spring breaks. These people have so much less than we have, but seem to have something we don’t—a real spirit of thankfulness and gratitude for the simple and important things.

As students at JPII, all of you are on some level, a “success”. One of the great temptations of success is to begin to think “It’s all me. It’s all my doing. I made the 30 on the ACT, I was accepted to an elite school, Aren’t I smart? Aren’t I wonderful? “

We lose the sense, when things are going well, that we are dependent on God. Facing hardships, like an undefeated team losing its first game, reminds us that are NOT in complete control, that we need to work harder, that there are things we need to pray for and be grateful for.

I don’t know what kind of year it’s been for you. I know for some of you, it’s been a hard year. Your parents may be having marital difficulties, or perhaps they had those difficulties years ago, and you’re trying to straddle two families now—a particularly difficult thing to do during the holidays. Some of you have lost close relatives—a mom or dad, a grandparent, an uncle or aunt you’re close to. Still others of you may be lonely, without good friends, uncertain of your place in school or at lunch.

Perhaps because you’ve experienced these things, you are better able to be grateful people now, for you understand better than the rest of us that we ARE dependent on the kindness of others to lift us and the providence of a God who loves us and wants only the best for us.

I have one suggestion for you as we head toward Thanksgiving. Take about 30 minutes to write someone close to you a letter, telling that person all the things you’re grateful for about that person. It could be your mom or dad (who would cherish that letter forever!). It could be an older or younger sister or brother. It could be your grandparents, or even a teacher you know has gone out of his or her way to help you.

Let me suggest that writing such a letter will do three things: First, it will make a huge difference to the person who receives your letter. Second, it will make YOU feel good to write it—in fact, it’s now been scientifically proven that small acts of gratitude, done frequently, lessen stress and improve one’s level of happiness. Finally, in expressing gratitude to someone else, we’ll be more open to being grateful to the One who gives us everything.

I hope all of you have a great Thanksgiving with your family. Remember:


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Windows, not Mirrors

This is Mr. Weber's address to Our Lady of Lake CCD students on Wednesday, November 20, 2008.

I have something of a brainteaser for you.

There’s a true story of a corporation in Dallas that spent several 100 million dollars building a new corporate headquarters—a 50 story building featuring all the amenities. Besides giving their employees more room, the leaders of the corporation hoped that moving into this new building would improve corporate morale.

However, when the big day came for the employees to move in, they realized they had made a terrible mistake. Apparently, the elevator system they installed was too slow, such that all their employees began to complain. It got to the point after several weeks that the leadership began to think the new building was actually hurting morale, and were on the verge of ripping out the brand new elevator system to put in a faster one, which would have cost the company over 10 million dollars.

But before they made that decision, they decided to hire an industrial psychologist to study the problem. The psychologist came to the new building, rode up and down the elevators with employees several times, walked into corporate headquarters and made a suggestion that would only cost the company about $1,000. The company took his advice and from the moment they did, complaining almost completely stopped. The original elevator system is still in use today.

Q. What did the expert suggest?

A. Install mirrors inside the elevators. Once the mirrors were installed, the employees spent so much time primping and inspecting themselves, they forgot all about the slow elevators.

That’s a true story, but there is a kind of parable-like quality to it in terms of what it says about us. It is reminiscent, I believe, of the story of Narcissus from Greek and Roman mythology. You remember the story. Narcissus (Nar-SIS-us) became thirsty and went to drink from a stream. When he saw his reflection in the water, he fell in love with it, not knowing that it was himself. As he bent down to kiss it, it seemed to "run away" and he was heart broken. He grew thirstier but he wouldn't touch the water for fear of damaging his reflection, so he eventually died of thirst and self love, staring at his own reflection.

There is within us, I think, a certain amount “narcissism” –vanity and self-centeredness--that makes us unaware of our surroundings, and certainly unaware of the needs and struggle of others. The “mirror” becomes a kind of symbol of that, and perhaps even a symbol of our society today. We don’t need more mirrors. Instead, we need windows that help us look outside ourselves and see the needs of others.

My prayer is that the Christian Service internship is an opportunity for you to create windows in your life. May you see through those windows clearly and have the compassion and courage to act on what you see.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Go Make a Difference

This is Mr. Weber's address to the JPII student body on November 11, 2008.

We sing a song at our school masses occasionally, called “Go Make a Difference”. The lyrics are very simple: “Go make a difference, you can make a difference. Go make a difference in this world”.
Well, if you lean to the slightly cynical, as I do from time to time, you’re thinking: In the face of massive poverty, war, starvation in some parts of the world, and the all pervasive influence of sin, can we REALLY make a difference, or is this just polly-annish Christian do-goodism?

A thought experiment:

According to the World Data Base, as on June of this year, the world’s population was 6,673,286,767 and growing at an annual rate of 1.17%.

Suppose, by some catastrophic world event that shattered the faith of everyone in the world except for you, that you ended up the world’s only Christian. Since you believe it’s very important--most important, in fact-- you try and convert people back to the Christian faith.

Suppose a modest estimate is that you bring back only 2 people into the faith each year, and that these new Christians bring back 2 new Christians each year. So after year there are 3 of you, after year two there are 9, after year 3 there are 27, etc.

How many years would it take before the entire world became Christian, at that rate?

Just 21 years—the whole world could be Christian in just one generation.

But that’s starting from just one. Though estimates vary, there are approximately 2 billion Christians in the world today, or just less than 1/3 of the world. If we took our faith seriously, what kind of difference could Christians make in this world?

You may have seen those very effective Liberty Mutual commercials on TV, in which a good deed, done in kindness, causes others to do good deeds through-out the day. We forget, I think, the power we each have to make a difference in our families, in our school, and in this community—simply by going out of our way to be kind to one another.

Go, make a difference.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Time for a Tune Up

This is Mr. Weber's address to the student body of JPII on Monday, November 2, 2008.

Tomorrow will mark our 60th day on roll, which means we're exactly 1/3 of the way through the year.

By now, you freshman know what JPII requires of you. Many of you sophomores are beginning to get your driver’s license—and if not you, a friend—opening up a whole new world without having to rely on parents to take you places. Juniors, you are knee deep in our academic program. With ACT tests to take in the spring and many of you beginning to receive advertisements from colleges, the prospect of finishing high school and making big decisions about colleges suddenly doesn’t feel like such a far off thing. Seniors, many of you are feeling torn, wanting to enjoy these last days of high school with all your friends, yet pressed to now apply to colleges and make important decisions about your future.

For those of you who drive, you know that one of the things you have to do is get your car tuned up frequently. Does it need an oil change? Are the spark-plugs still firing at the right rate? Are the tires wearing correctly? Does the steering need adjustment? Of course, we could pretend these things don’t matter. A foolish friend of mine growing up told me proudly that he NEVER checked under the hood of his car. Within 8 months of that pronouncement, he had burned out his engine because he had no engine oil. Had he spent 15 minutes and 25 bucks at any Jiffy Lube, he’d still have had a car, but instead, he was grounded.

I’d like to suggest that 1/3 of the way through this year, it’s a good time to do a kind of personal “tune-up” to and make the necessary tweaks to reach peak operating condition. That begins with an honest self-assessment of your life. I have in mind four questions:

1) Are you getting enough sleep? Probably not. Experts say you should be getting a minimum of 8 hours/night and preferably 10. To get 8 hours, assuming you wake up somewhere around 6 a.m. for school, you’d have to be asleep by 10 p.m. each night to get 8 and by 8 p.m. to get 10. I suspect that’s not happening. A national survey found that 28% of teens fall sound asleep in class at least once/week (surely not at JPII, though).

Though we like to pretend we can operate with significantly less sleep—the truth is we’re less quick witted, less creative and probably less friendly. Take naps. Use the weekends to do some catching up. Get to bed early a couple times/week. Amazing how much better you feel at 6 a.m. when you went to bed at 10. You’ll notice it right away. Give your body a break.

2) Are you getting enougb exercise? According to the American Council on Exercise, it’s likely that 60% of you are not—that’s the national average. Experts recommend 45-60 minutes a day. It could be a run, a walk, a pick-up game. Whatever you love doing that makes it likely that you’ll keep doing it is what you should aim for. Aside from the obvious benefits of exercise: that it burns calories, keeps you looking good—I’d suggest that exercise is important at a school like JPII because it relieves stress.

3) Are you spending enough time studying? I once taught a fairly smart kid who’s life goal in high school was to do as little work as possible to make a C. He made a B in my class one quarter and was mad at himself for miscalculating and working too hard!

Now some of you may have minimalism down to a science—the least I can do to keep my grades in the OK range—but is that your life’s goal? Do you want the epitaph on your tombstone to say: “ He did just enough to get by?” Sometimes, we delude ourselves into thinking “Well, I’ll work harder once I get to college”. But the truth is, we are creatures of habit, and the habits we set for ourselves now become defining traits later.

Give yourself a chance to excel. Challenge yourself. You’ve probably heard the experts’ rule of thumb—they recommend ten minutes per grade level, so that 9th graders are doing 90 minutes/night, 10th graders 100, etc. At a place like JPII, if you’re not averaging somewhere around 2 hours of homework each night, you’re probably selling yourself short.

4) Are you spending enough time praying? We are not simply physical creatures. The problem is, in American culture today, we cram as much noise and as much busy-ness into our days as possible. When we’re alone in our cars, what is the first thing we do? Turn on the radio or call a friend on the cell phone. We are carrying around burdens and hurts, and our faith tells us we have a God who loves us and wants to lift these burdens from us, but we’re too busy to even give them to him. Look, I recommend 15 minutes of simply talking to God each day, reading a scripture verse, reflecting on it. If you know yourself and that seems unlikely, use the time in the car between school and home to tell God what’s worrying you and ask him for your help, thank God for the people who have brought joy to your life that day, and finish it with a few Our Fathers or Hail Mary’s. I think you’ll find that doing this will bring you a greater sense of centeredness and peace.

One final comment: People my age are apt to tell you “These teenage years are the best years of your life—you better enjoy them.” I remember when someone told me that when I was a teenager, I thought to myself “If these are the best years, then my life is really going to be terrible”. It’s a lie. These are some of the hardest years of your life. It gets better—way better. But take care of yourself in the meantime. Sleep more. Exercise more. Study hard. Pray. You’ll not only get through these tough years, you’ll feel proud of yourself along the way.