Sunday, November 28, 2010
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. The word “advent” means “coming,” and of course, it’s a reference to the coming of Christ at Christmas. So over the next four weeks, we await the coming of Christ.
We’re not very good at waiting. We want everything immediately! Think about it: The fast food industry has grown exponentially in the last twenty years because people want their food quickly, and don’t have the time or patience to cook it at home. We have fast food drive-through lines because it’s way too much work to park the car, walk several feet and stand in line to order. And even with drive-through lines, if you’re like me, you become impatient if the line is not moving quickly enough! The Internet now provides us with information instantaneously, which is fantastic on one level, but dangerous on another, as it’s too easy to send off an email when we’re angry at someone before we’ve given ourselves a chance to cool down and say things we regret later or post things on a blog that are hurtful to others. We have overnight printing, overnight mailing, instant food, microwave ovens—all things that allow us to get what we want now, without waiting. If we want something and can’t afford it, no need to wait and save for it—we have credit cards! The average American adult has an alarming nine open credit card accounts and carries an average debt on those cards of $8,000. Financial experts agree it’s the worst kind of debt, too, because the average interest rate is 15%, unlike owing money on a house, where one can get loans for as low as 4% right now.
So it’s hard for us to wait for Christmas—we hardly wait for anything else. Retailers are already in the full court press mode, pushing us to get all our Christmas shopping done. I was in a local store in October, before Halloween, and they were already playing Christmas carols over their speakers! So in Church we’re singing “O Come O Come Emmanuel” but everywhere we go we’re hearing “Joy to the World, the Lord has Come. “
I want to suggest two simple things we can all do that may help us step back from the helter-skelter world of the instant, the “now” that we all live in—two things that might help us better focus on the event we will celebrate on December 25 and thus help us have a better Advent.
The first is this: Nothing helps us tune into the true “reason for the season” better than helping other people. Unless you are WAY AHEAD OF THE CURVE, many of you have lots of Christian service hours left. There’s not a better time to do it. If you’re working at an elderly home, the Christmas season is a very lonely time for many elderly, as they miss their spouses who have died, or perhaps their children who don’t visit them enough. You can be there for them. Organizations who work with the poor need lots of volunteers to serve meals, deliver presents, and work soup lines. You can be there to help. You know, it’s pretty common that we, too, can get depressed or start feeling blue at this time of year, and our tendency is to say to ourselves, “I need some time for myself”, some “me time” but that’s exactly backwards. The best way to get us out of our funk is to focus on the needs of others, to make others happy. This is a great time of year to do it.
My second suggestion to get us ready for Christmas, to help us more fully appreciate this Advent season, is to spend about 10-15 minutes/day in prayer, asking God to lead you, bringing your worries before him, seeking him for guidance on decisions you must make about college, friends, personal situations. To pray doesn’t mean we must isolate ourselves and burn incense somewhere! Maybe it just means when we’re driving to school or home from school, we turn off the radio and cell phone and have a conversation with God and bring our worries before him. We don’t lean enough on God—but unless we lean, we cannot feel him pushing back, holding us up. And so we put all this pressure on ourselves to make good grades, go to the right schools, have the right relationships, instead of sharing those worries with God and asking him to help us.
If we go outside of ourselves to help others, if we pray and lean on God during these next few weeks, I think we’ll find this Advent season, this time of waiting, will help prepare us more fully for the most important event in human history. May we use this time well.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
This is the assembly address to the students of JPII on November 21, 2010.
After winning the Nobel Prize for Physics, Max Planck was in high demand to give lectures on his research. So he toured the country, driven around by a chauffer, giving essentially the same lecture. Soon he grew tired of the talk and said so to his chauffer. His chauffer said: “Dr. Planck, I’ve heard your lecture so many times I think I could give it, and no one would know the difference. “ Planck thought that was a wonderful idea, so they traded clothes, with Planck driving his chauffer to the next lecture. His chauffer, as he promised, gave a brilliant talk and received a standing ovation at the end. But what they did NOT anticipate was a question and answer session. A scientist raised his hand and asked a question. Of course, he had no idea about the answer but thinking quickly, he responded: “I am surprised to be asked such an elemental question in a gathering such as this. Why the answer is so deceptively simple, I am going to ask my chauffer in the back to answer it for me.”
There’s an interesting point to this story, I think. People can be amazingly proficient at appearing to be proficient, when in fact, there’s nothing of substance underneath. The old Canon camera commercial said it succinctly: Image is everything.
Is image, everything? Is appearance what matters? Billions of dollars are spent by Fortune 500 companies on ad campaigns that try to convince you that it does. And they’re largely successful at it. If you don’t believe me, let's do a thought experiment: “If I could convince you that the Kmart brand of generic tennis shoes were made of the exact same materials as Nike tennis shoes and were exactly of the same quality, but only ¼ the price, would you lace up your Kmarts for your next basketball game? If I could show you that Walmart brand shirts were the equivalent of Tommy Hilfigers, would you proudly wear your Walmarts to your next party?
We often pay too much attention to appearances. There was once a good looking junior boy at my old school that had impeccable manners. If you asked him a question, he’d look you right in the eye and say “Yes, sir, Mr. Weber” and he’d shake your hand very firmly. But I learned quickly, with regret, these outward manners were just a pretense. He used this act to earn freshman girls’ trust—they were so flattered that a good-looking, well mannered older boy took such an interest in them—but he would misuse their trust and cast them aside like used furniture once he had obtained what he wanted from them.
There’s a saying that “Character, like a photograph, best develops in the dark.” It’s when no one is watching that we truly reveal who we are. Ethical people don’t cheat because they’re afraid of getting caught; they don’t cheat because it’s dishonest and they’re committed to learning, not to the pretense of learning. Ethical people don’t use God’s name in vain or curse because adults may hear them and they might get in trouble, but because it disrespects God and is crude or vulgar.
Our challenge as Christians is to live privately as we live publicly—to try and be the kind of people God wants us to be even when no one is looking. Otherwise, we are just play-acting at best, or acting as hypocrites, at worst. This is what St. Paul means in Ephesians when he challenges us to live as “children of light” and turn away from the darkness.
May God give all of us the courage and grace to live our lives in the light, so that our example may encourage others to do likewise.
Monday, November 08, 2010
This is Mr. Weber's address to JPII students on November 7, 2010.
As you’ve no doubt observed, we are hosting a number of prospective families for tours of the school. Today we had “Coffee with the Headmaster” whereas tomorrow we have “Open House”. My thanks to all of you who are helping us with Open House. You are what is most impressive about JPII.
As I’ve been showing people around the school, I have come to appreciate some of the features of this school that I am now so familiar with that I otherwise don't notice. I’ll bet you’re the same way: Does anybody remember what the two Scriptural quotes are in the gymnasium and the weight-room?
In the gym: Teach me your ways O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.” (Psalm 86)
In the weight-room: “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.” (Phillipians 4:13, note Tebow's eye patches)
I’d like to speak about both of these Scripture sayings with you this morning.
My mother, when she was 18 years old, felt like God may have been asking her to be a nun. So a few days after graduating high school, she entered the convent as a trial period to further discern if that was right for her. From the moment she entered the convent, she was unhappy. Finally, after a month of being miserable, she went to see Mother Superior, in tears: “I know God wants me here, “ she said between sobs, “but I am so unhappy.” Mother Superior smiled. “Why do you think God wants you here?” “Because I am so unhappy,” my mother said.
I think there’s a twisted fear in all of us that if the Lord really does teach us, that if we really did “walk in his truth,” we’re going to be miserable. Perhaps it’s because we remember so well Jesus’ admonition: If you wish to be my disciple, you must take up your cross and follow me.” But suffering is not the same thing as unhappiness, and we need to know the difference.
There have likely been brief stretches in your life when things were just “right”. You were staying on top of your school work. Your relationships were in good order--with your family, your friends, your boyfriend/girlfriend. You’re were going to Church and building on your relationship with God. You were getting enough sleep. For athletes, this sometimes occurs in mid-season when you get into a good rhythm coming home from practice, taking a bath, doing your homework, going to bed on time. Your life was “clicking”. And here’s the most interesting part. It’s during those times we are most happy. Our life feels right. We’re proud of ourselves!
It’s when we really screw up—when we SIN—that we’re filled with guilt and shame, weighed down, like a depressing blanket that we put over ourselves. The Christian life is a joyful life! When we “walk in the way of Truth” we are happy, fulfilled, satisfied—because we are living as God created us to live.
Look, sometimes doing the right thing is hard. When my daughter was a senior, she went to a party and came home around 9 p.m., unhappy looking. I didn’t ask—It was hard enough that her father was the principal of the school she attended--so I tried to give her some space. But I knew what was going on: she had gone to the party and there were things going on that she didn’t want to get involved with, so she left. No doubt she felt lonely, especially since she had friends involved.
Sometimes doing the right thing will make us feel lonely. But here’s the promise God makes to us. If we rely on him, “We can do all things in Christ who strengthens us. “ Ask him to help you. He will.