Monday, May 27, 2013

The legacy of John Paul II

As headmaster of Pope John Paul II, I am often asked to talk about our school's aspirations for our students. In this respect, I need not look much further than our namesake, one of the most prolific and profound writers of the twentieth century. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from Pope John Paul II: 

The way Jesus shows you is not easy. Rather, it is like a path winding up a mountain. Do not lose heart! The steeper the road, the faster it rises towards ever wider horizons.

Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.

When freedom does not have a purpose, when it does not wish to know anything about the rule of law engraved in the hearts of men and women, when it does not listen to the voice of conscience, it turns against humanity and society.

Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.

Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.

True holiness does not mean a flight from the world; rather, it lies in the effort to incarnate the Gospel in everyday life, in the family, at school and at work, and in social and political involvement.

It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Before and After

Note: This is Mr. Weber's last assembly address of the year, directed especially to seniors six days before their graduation. 

The juxtaposition of these two pictures (click on each one)--one dated to 2001 as construction for JPII was just in its beginning stages, and the second dated twelve years later this year--gives dramatic “before and after” witness to the vision of our founders and the success by which that vision was brought to reality by the community of Boards, faculty, leadership teams and students who followed. 

But this isn’t the most important “before and after” shot at JPII. Seniors, in just six days you’ll be walking across the stage at Grand Ole Opry, and the bishop will be handing you your diploma.  Four years ago, most of you entered into this school a bit nervously, unsure of yourself, unsure who your friends were going to be, unsure in some cases if you could handle the academic program. Here you are now, on the cusp of graduation.

What kind of person are you becoming? Our school’s most important wish for you, our deepest desire, is that you strive to become the person God has designed you to be.  Therein lies your life’s happiness. No matter how beautiful this campus, no matter the quality of your teachers, the strength of the academic program, the fond memories, the affection you may have for your friends, the kind of person you’re becoming is the most important thing.

Embrace God’s plan for your life. And remember, attending Church next year is an important way to stay connected to him and hear his voice.  Our Church is not perfect—no church is. They are run by men and women who have the same tendency to sin as all the rest of us. But God is present there. The Holy Spirit resides there, despite however we may muck it up, and the Holy Spirit will help you through college and in all the choices you will make in the next 4-5 years: your major, your friends, where you will live, your career, perhaps even your spouse. It’s easy to be the critic of the Church from the outside. Think of the stained glass windows. All you see of the window from the outside of the Church are dull, blackish, ugly things. But from within the Church looking out, the stained glass windows tell the story of our faith in beautiful, majestic artistry. We can only understand our faith from the inside the Church looking out.

It’s been a real honor to be your headmaster these last four years. I am proud of all your achievements. I am proud of the people you’re becoming. 

Come back and see us. This will always be your school. This is your alma mater. God bless you.  

Sunday, May 05, 2013

God's pleasure

Eric Liddell was a Scottish missionary to China and an Olympic runner. He was the central character of the 1981 Academy Award winning movie, “Chariots of Fire.” Liddell was a sprinter by training, specializing in the 100-yard and 220 yard races, good enough to represent England in the 1924 Olympic games, where he was favored to win the 100.

In the middle of his training for those Olympic games, however, Liddell found out that the preliminaries for the 100-yard dash occurred on Sunday, the Sabbath day, and Liddell, as a devout Christian, believed it violated the third commandment to compete on that day. To the astonishment of the world, he withdrew himself from that race and instead entered the 440-yard dash as an alternative.

As people on the track team will attest, the 440 (today, the 400 meters) is really considered a middle distance, not a sprint, and requires different training. That’s why it’s common to see the same person compete in the 100 meter or 200 meter, but very uncommon to find a person who runs the 100 and 400. But Eric Liddell was not an ordinary man, and as it turned out, he not only ended up winning the Olympic 440, but setting what was then a new world record.

To be good at anything requires an extraordinary time commitment. One of the central conflicts in Liddell’s life was that his commitment to track pulled him out of his missionary work in China for a period of several years. Liddell struggled with that: was he pursuing vainglory for himself through athletic achievement instead of serving the Lord through his missionary work?  Was he prioritizing his life on the wrong things?

That’s a worthwhile question for all of us. Think of the enormous time it takes to get good in something like baseball, or softball, or soccer, or lacrosse, or music, or anything else. You might have started playing baseball or softball when you were 6, then you moved to rec league, to all stars, and then to travel teams that play nearly year round.  At the high school level, to be the best you have to weight-lift, give up a big chunk of your summer, train in the off-seasons. It is too much? Are we prioritizing our lives on the right things?

There’s a fantastic moment in “Chariots of Fire”, the climax of the movie. As Liddell runs the 440 yard dash in the Olympic final, as he rounds the final corner to the home stretch, the action moves to slow motion, and the camera zeroes onto his face as he strains to push himself for the final hundred or so yards. With the theme music playing, the director overlays Liddell's voice, saying: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” And as he says “feel his pleasure,” as he pushes for the last 50 yards, his face lights up, ecstatic with joy, almost as if, yes, he can feel God’s pleasure in that he is doing well what God gave him the talent to do.

St. Irenaeus once said, “The glory of God is the human person, fully alive. “I believe that when we commit ourselves to excellence in our lives, when we use the talents God has given us to be the best student, athlete, artist, brother, daughter, son, sister, teacher, father or mother we can be, we are accepting God’s gift to us and glorifying him. 

Let us work then, to be the best we can be in all of these things. Finish the seasons well in athletics. Work hard in your studies, on the upcoming AP exams and finals. Continue to hone your craft in music and the arts. In all of these pursuits, however, give yourselves to the Lord, so that he may show you how to use these gifts for his purpose and so that we may feel his pleasure for us. 

May all of us have the courage to pursue the path for our lives according to his will.