Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Least of These

This is Mr. Weber's address to JPII students on August 30, 2010.

This afternoon we will have representatives from many of the volunteer agencies that you support through your commitment to Christian Service. We have asked them to come out today so they can explain what their particular ministry is and give you a chance to ask questions, so that you can find an agency that you feel good about giving your time to. There’s a huge array of choices, ranging from ministering to the elderly, to tutoring young children, to working with the homeless, to supporting an inner city outreach to the poor via Saturday morning football clinics and tutoring. I ask that you take this time seriously, so that you find the right place for yourself this year.

My 21 year old daughter Cynthia spent a month in India working with a Catholic school there that teaches girls from the streets of Calcutta. Her comment coming home was that we here in the United States have no concept of the kind of poverty you see there. Walking the streets, she said, often gave her the feeling that she was violating a family’s privacy, because families, without homes, would often be in the middle of giving their kids a bath, or using the bathroom right there on the streets, or involved in some sort of intimate moment with their child. But the part that gave her nightmares was the day at the Calcutta train station she spent with a young woman who volunteered with Mother Theresa’s center for the aging and dying. It is apparently fairly common that poor families, unable to care for their parents or grandparents any longer, will abandon them at the train station between stops, telling them they’ll come back for them when in fact they have no intention of doing so. Droves of elderly men and women, without food, without anything really, sit there at the station, waiting for their children to return. Each morning, Mother Theresa’s volunteers come to try and persuade them to leave the station and come to the center, so that their needs may be cared for, but they often refuse, stubborn in their belief that their families are returning for them. So they wait hopefully, searching for their families each time people get off the train. Many in fact die there, waiting. The Calcutta police often place them back on the train, passing them down the line so they’ll be some other city’s problem.

My daughter is right: We are blessed to live in a country where we’re not so poor that we’d feel compelled to abandon our parents. But we DO have the opportunity, as part of our Christian Service Initiative, to minister to elderly who feel alone, who crave for attention, who need someone to spend time with them. Perhaps that’s what God is calling you to do this year.

Look, I understand—all of you live crazy, busy lives. When you’re taking a demanding academic load, doing homework, playing sports, involved in clubs, rehearsing for a theater production, applying for college and all the other things you do, it can often feel like the Christian service piece is just another burdensome requirement that makes your lives even crazier—another thing to cross off your list. But I encourage you to go beyond that kind of minimalist position. Since you have to do it, throw yourself into it. Invest yourself into the lives of the people you meet, give them your attention, use it as a chance to make a difference in someone’s life.

“When did I see you hungry, or thirsty, or imprisoned, Lord?” we may ask Jesus when we come face to face with him one day. " I tell you solemnly", Jesus will tell us, “what you did to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did unto me.”

Monday, August 23, 2010


This day in history, August 23, 1305, William Wallace, the Scottish patriot, was executed by the English for treason.

Many of you saw the movie “Braveheart” , one of my favorite movies, starring Mel Gibson as William Wallace. At the end of the movie, Wallace has been captured, but before he is put to death, the executioner tortures Wallace, trying to get him to recognize the king of England as his rightful king. Despite being “racked” and pulled apart by ropes, Wallace refuses to honor the king and shouts instead, at the climax of the movie, “FREEEDOMMMMM!” just before he is beheaded.

Here’s a guy who is completely bound in shackles, brutally tortured, with no hope of ever escaping and death certain, and yet, in a very powerful way, he is FREE.

That’s a very different idea of freedom than most of us have today. We tend to think that “freedom” is license to do anything we want, to be unencumbered by responsibility or obligation. I am “free” if I can do as I please, when I please, to whomever I please.

But that’s not freedom so much as it is the selfishness of a spoiled child. Ironically, people who live the undisciplined life of a child, giving in to every craving and desire in the name of freedom, end up being slaves to those desires, like a dog reacting to a smell, controlled by habit or instinct, unable to order their lives by delaying gratification or virtue.

True freedom, our faith reminds us, derives from living virtuously, in discipleship to Christ. Yes, that means there are things we must be disciplined about and not do, just like a husband can no longer date other women! But as couples in good marriages will attest, being married to someone who knows you deep down and accepts you is liberating, just as living as Christ desires gives us an internal freedom that far surpasses the supposed "freedom" of living as one pleases.

So on this, the 705th anniversary of William Wallace’s death, let us remember that no matter what pressure we’re under to do something wrong, no matter the circumstances we find ourselves, we have the power to resist evil and choose what is good. If we do so, we will have a kind of inner freedom which liberates us. May we all have the courage and the grace to live as free men and women.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Last Friday, I spent some time in the basement and enjoyed observing your classes there. I’m very excited about what our science program is doing with modeling and was fascinated by the discussion in the 8th period Advanced Chemistry class as you argued with one another about the accuracy of each group's diagram. There’s good, scientific thinking going on there!

I also like comparing your habits as I visit rooms. I noticed an interesting difference between how seniors and freshman tackle math problems, which was the inspiration for this talk.

Typically freshman students have a very low tolerance for not understanding something. When you’re assigned problems, if you look at them and don’t instantly understand how to do them, your tendency is to ask the teacher to show you how. What you’re really asking of the teacher in these situations is the recipe for solving the problem—the step #1, 2, 3 way to do it.

But that’s very different, for example, from a junior or senior level Math class. Seniors understand that it is likely they WON’T instantly recognize how to do things, that it may take 5-10 minutes or so of studying a problem before they know how to do it—or maybe not, even then. The typical A.P. Calculus exam might only have 4-5 questions, so it’s obvious that the teacher expects each question to be a 10-15 minute struggle.

“Struggle” is an often misused word in our culture today. About ten years ago, there was a sophomore that wasn’t doing his English homework, wasn’t paying attention in class, and wasn’t making very good grades. His mom called me to ask that her son be taken out of class, saying that “He’s really struggling in this English class, which is really creating a lot of stress on him.” “All due respect”, I told her, “he’s NOT struggling at all. He’s not doing his homework. He isn’t paying attention in class. So of course he’s doing poorly. But that’s precisely because he ISN’T struggling to do well.”

Teachers and coaches have very similar jobs. One way of phrasing it is their job is to make you uncomfortable. It’s to challenge you to achieve a level of performance that you haven’t already obtained. The football team hasn’t been practicing in 100 degree heat because they are satisfied by where they are as a football team. They’re trying to get better. Classes should not be easy here; if they are, we probably need to bump your schedule up a bit. We want you to struggle some. "If you're growing", John Maxwell once said, "you're always going to be out of your comfort zone." We want you to tackle your classes with a kind of blue collar, roll up your sleeves, bring your lunchbox to work attitude. Struggling is a good thing; it means you are grappling with the task in front of you.

But here’s what is also very important: Our teachers are here to help you through the struggle. You are not alone. If you’re having difficulty in class, seek out your teachers and tell them. They won’t remove the obstacle—they can’t, because they are commissioned to teach a curriculum and must guide you through a certain set of standards, but they will help you overcome the obstacles if you are willing to work with them through it. Attend tutorials, ask questions in class, seek out help from your classmates. Tackle your classes with a swagger—not the swagger that pretends life is supposed to be easy, but the one that says, “I shall overcome!”

That’s what self-esteem is all about anyway. Self-esteem isn’t the result of you being TOLD that you’re great or wonderful. You see through false praise instantly. It’s about what you achieve—it’s obtained when you fight through something which is hard or challenging and come out the other side with success.

So here’s an odd way of summarizing my hopes for all of you this year: I hope that you struggle some. I hope that we can make your life a little uncomfortable.

But in the end, we're here to see you through. Lean on your teachers. Seek help. Ask for God's grace and stamina. If I can help you, some see me. One day, whether that’s next May or four Mays from now, I want to personally shake the hand of each person in this room as you receive the JPII diploma. And when you get it, I want you to know that you’ve earned it—not because it was easy, but because you fought through your most difficult classes and conquered them.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Finding a Groove

This is Mr. Weber's address to students on August 9, JPII's first full week of school for the 2010-2011 school year.

Good morning. I've been speaking to a lot of last year's graduates from JPII recently. Most of them are leaving for college this week or next, including Aaron, my son, who will be leaving for Notre Dame on the 17th.

Freshman year is generally the toughest year of college--not, so much, because of the difficulty of the courses, but because of everything else. I remember there was a guy in my section of the dorm at Notre Dame--a good guy with a very impressive set of high school credentials, who completely unraveled during his freshman year. He drank on Wednesday through Saturday night, recovered from his 4 day hangover on Sunday, tried to squeeze in a week's worth of work on Monday and Tuesday, and starting drinking again on Wednesday. At the end of the first semester, he had a .8 grade point average (and it was only that high because he had P.E.) and by the end of his freshman year, despite the fact N.D. was his life's dream, he ended up having to leave the university for a local community college.

Many freshman do poorly in their first year. Why? Because quite suddenly, there's no one there to order their lives. Do you wake up in time for class? Mom isn't there to wake you up. Do you go out drinking on Thursday night? Dad isn't there to say no.Do you keep your room clean? Do your laundry? Attend classes faithfully? Go to church on Sunday? Pay your bills on time? Do your homework? All of those decisions are your own to make, or avoid making.

When we were children, our lives were structured by our parents, as was proper. Nap times, chores, meal times, homework times and bed times were imposed on us by our parents. Psychologists agree that kids are creatures of habit and need these patterns. If you have a baby brother or sister and go on trips when their sleep times are disrupted, you know what I mean. They're generally cranky and out of sorts for the entire trip. So there was security as children in the routines imposed on us by our parents: our lives had a certain rhythm; we knew what to expect and what was expected of us.

The challenge of high school, in large measure, is that you must start setting up these routines for yourself. What time you go to bed, how much sleep you're getting, how much homework you're doing, when you're doing homework, are largely your own decisions. And as tempting as it is to assume the opposite, as young adults and as older adults, we are STILL in need of a routine to function well. No, we're not babies who get cranky when they miss nap time. But we do feel it when our lives lack order, when we're "winging it" day after day, without a pattern or structure to our day. We feel out of synch with ourselves.

So this week begins the first full week of high school in 2010-2011. The preliminary classes where teachers talk about grading and homework requirements are out of the way. The introductions are over. Now is the time to figure out which routines work best for you, and once you find out what these routines are, to stick with them. Are you a bus rider? Do you find you're able to do math in the bus on the way home? Are you an athlete who gets home around 6:45 and need an hour or so to clean up, eat and wind down a bit before hitting the books at 8? Or maybe you function best, if you get home earlier, in knocking out all your work before dinner so you can relax and talk with friends after dinner? Whatever works for you, cultivate it. Practice it consistently. Find your groove.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

I Dare You!

This is Mr. Weber's address to JPII students on the first day of the school year.

Good morning JPII!

I hope that all of you have had an excellent, amazing summer and that you’re well rested and ready to have an excellent, amazing school year.

A special welcome to our new students-- 193 of you!—165 freshmen and 28 sophomores, juniors or seniors who are here as transfers from other schools. We’re also happy to have 10 students from Great Britain who are visiting us as part of the Loughlin scholars program—welcome to our visitors from across the pond. Also in our midst are five German students who are enrolled as seniors here—welcome! May you have a wonderful year here in America (the best part of America, I might add—the south!) We hope to get to know you better. It's going to be a great school year.

As I look out at you this morning, I see an extraordinary group of young men and women. You are scholars of the highest caliber. You are dedicated athletes. Some of you are excellent musicians, artists, or actors. Whatever your gifts, whatever your talents, whatever your passions, I hope you will pursue them with great gusto this year. We don’t want you to be average!

We all have a tendency to play it safe, to shoot for the middle, to avoid standing out. It’s like wind-sprints after practice—to keep from being yelled at by coaches, you don’t want to be the last one to finish, but you don’t want to be first too often either, because if you end up first a lot, the coaches might expect you to always be first and start yelling if you end up in the middle later on. So you run just hard enough to avoid getting noticed.

This is not, however, the attitude of the greats. Jerry Rice, legendary receiver for the San Francisco 49’ers, who is to be inducted into the Hall of Fame next weekend, not only pushed himself to finish first in every wind-sprint, but when practices were over, he was often seen running steps in the stadium on his own, pushing himself so that in the 4th quarter, he was the best conditioned athlete on the field, able to run past winded defensive backs.

John Mayer, perhaps the most talented guitarist of his generation, practiced 6, 7, 8 hours/day as a youth, perfecting his craft.

Michelangelo, the great Renaissance artist, once said this:

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting out aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low it too low and achieving our mark.

God has given you great gifts. When you use these gifts to “Be all that you can be” you honor your creator by giving back to him what he has given you. Seek his help to become the kind of person he has destined you to be, make what you know are the right choices, and if you do so, God will bless you and help you achieve your goals.

So on this, the first day of school for the 2010-2011 school year, I dare you. I dare you to be great. I dare you to aim high. I dare you to shoot for great grades. I dare you to try and be the best athlete on the field, the best actor or musician on stage. I dare you to have audacious goals for yourself. Don’t aim for the middle!

May all of you have an excellent, amazing school year.