Sunday, August 25, 2013

Finding Your Groove (in a groove-less world)

Student assembly address:

I usually go to the 11 a.m. Mass at Our Lady of the Lake on Sunday—there were significantly fewer people there this week. If you live in Sumner County, you know why—Beech High School played Station Camp on ESPN2 beginning exactly at 11 a.m.

The natural order of things is that high school games are played on Friday, college football is played on Saturday, and pro-football is played on Sunday afternoon. There are a few exceptions to that—for the last 44 years, there’s been one NFL game on Monday night and some times there’s a high school, college or NFL game on Thursday night.  We’re playing Fr. Ryan on Thursday in October. ESPN has started airing some college games on Tuesday night, featuring two teams that the only people watching are the parents of the players. Never, ever, however, has there been high school football on Sunday morning. I understand a few area churches re-structured their entire Sunday schedules so that people could be at the game.

As I was coming home from Church, it occurred to me that we’re living in tough times. Times are “tough” not because we lack things, or lack things to do. Really, they’re tough for the exact opposite reason: we have too much, and there’s too much to do. Why is it, for example, that people feel compelled to text-message while they’re driving, even though they know it’s dangerous to do so? I think it’s because we live in such a culture of immediacy, and action, and noise, that we almost have an allergic reaction to silence, and if we sit down and drive somewhere without multi-tasking, we feel like we’re wasting time.

This crazy pace, this busy-ness, this unrelenting dash, creates imbalance in our lives. We can only juggle so many balls. We can only play on so many teams—some of you are playing one two teams right now, one for JPII, one for your club team. By Sunday night, having played in a tournament all weekend, you’re exhausted from a week of school and 4-5 games from the tournament, hardly in a position to do homework well or come to school alert and refreshed on Monday. Some of you are studying too much, giving yourself only a few hours of sleep each night—that’s an unsustainable pace. Some of you are near addicts with text-messaging and social media, spending hours and hours each day, constantly interrupted.

I’m the same way: I keep two email accounts active on this I-phone—a personal email account, and a school account, and when I see the red circle with the number on it, indicating I have that many emails, I feel compelled to open it. I also have three phone numbers feeding into this one phone.  So even when I am away from JPII, it feels like work is chasing me, as if I am always “on.”

Aside from saying “no” more often when people ask us to do things, I know of two remedies for being hyper-busy—just two. The first is exercise. If you’re an athlete in season, you get plenty of it. But if you’re not, and you have to wait 45 minutes for a bus, for example, why not run or walk a few laps around our track down there? Or why not do so before you drive home in your car? Take about 15-30 minutes each day, and you’ll feel the stress melting away.

The second is prayer. We have a wonderful chapel. If you have a tough situation you’re dealing with, or something is causing you worry, or if you just need to get out of the rat race for a few minutes, why not drop by the chapel and ask God to help you? Or if you can’t bring yourself to do that, turn off the radio and cell phone on your way home or way to work and bring those problems to God.

The big challenge for all of us in this ultra-busy, ultra-competitive, completely connected world is to find a groove for ourselves that allows us to keep our commitment to work, family, friends, school, faith in some sort of proper proportion. It used to be we could depend on social institutions to help us do that. We knew that when Friday came, we’d have the weekend to get away, without a phone call or email to suck us back in. When Sunday morning came, we could wake up a bit later and go to Church in the late morning without having to haggle with athletic schedules.

We can’t rely on the usual social structures anymore to help us find the right groove. We must make our own time to pray and to exercise and create that groove for ourselves.

God loves us. He wants us to be happy. But we’re not jellyfish that life happens to, floating wherever the waves take us. He wants us to be pro-active, to take charge of our lives, and to be very protective of our time and our commitments. Ask him for some help in doing so, get regular exercise, and I think this will be a great year for you.  

Friday, August 09, 2013

Audacious Optimism

These are my remarks to parents at our "Back to School Night" on August 8, 2013.

In my opening remarks to students on Monday, our first day of school, I encouraged your children to be “BOLD!” this year—to join new clubs, to try out for a team, to forge new relationships, to have the courage to make mistakes.

I want to encourage you to be bold also—bold to accept the mission of JPII and become a partner with us.  I often use an analogy from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity that best explains what we're trying to do here.  Imagine, Lewis says, we are a living house:

"God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, we understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one we thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. We thought we were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself." (Mere Christianity)

High school is a time of genuine growth and character development for teenagers. With an elevated vision of what's possible for them, with a clear understanding that genuine growth includes the development of their minds, bodies, characters and spirits, we believe that God can truly build palaces—cathedrals, even-- in the lives of our students and they, in turn, can turn his love outward in a life of learning and service to others. 

Optimistic? You bet. One of the greatest compliments we’ve ever been paid here came from a parent, who said in one of our annual surveys, there’s an “optimism for excellence” at JPII. 

But it’s not a superficial “polly-annish” optimism that believes that teenagers will always be gushingly positive and happy throughout their four years here. Growing up is tough. When God starts knocking about the house, as CS Lewis reminds us, it hurts. This is the time we must be bold as parents and as a school. There will be times that teens cling to their childishness, when we—you and us—must impose discipline. There will be occasions when students DON’T do well on a test, or when they come home in tears over what someone said. At times, they may even feel estranged from this place. During these times, let us take the long view. Remember that a teenager’s best friend can become an enemy in a day, a teenager’s favorite teacher can become a villain in one class. The life of a teenager is a roller coaster, but our job is to stay the course. Know that we are allies, not adversaries, and as adults, we must trust each other, and communicate with each other to help raise kids into the kind of people God wants them to be.

Our audacious optimism in kids, after all, is borne out of our abiding belief in God's grace and the magnificent things he can do with teenagers if they’re placed in a culture that challenges them to stretch for goals and provides support to them when they stumble. If we can do that in tandem--you as parents, we as school-- the sky's the limit for them.  

Raising teens to become the people God wants them to be is the most important thing that any of us in this room will ever do with our lives.  Let’s support each other in that magnificent vocation, or to quote from our country’s founding document:

With a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, let us mutually pledge to each other our lives, our Fortunes and our sacred honor.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The Big Picture

The classical virtues of temperance, prudence,
fortitude and justice
These are my remarks to faculty at our first Wednesday morning faculty meeting to begin the 2013-2014 school year. 

Perhaps it’s a “guy thing,” but I pride myself in learning how to get around in a city, and will often take back-roads to get to common locations just to improve my understanding. It drives my wife crazy.

But I was recently humbled when I flew into the Nashville airport.  From the vantage point of 1,000 feet looking down, I was completely lost as to what part of the city we were flying over, unable to discern the familiar landmarks that helped me maneuver on the ground. It was a whole different perspective.

Pat Bassett, the outgoing president of National Association of Independent Schools, was recently asked what advice he’d give parents raising children today.

He was very direct: “The bottom line,” he said, “is that too many parents are both over-protecting their kids on the one hand, and putting immense performance pressure on them on the other. …. The daily message from parents to their kids should not be “I want you to be happy,” nor “I just want you to be successful,” but rather “I want you to be good.”  It turns out our hyper-parenting and obsession with “happiness” and “success” produce kids who are unhappy and stress-riddled."

"But kids who are “good” (morally good, possessing the classical virtues) are much more likely to be successful and happy adults than kids who become adults obsessed with being happy all the time or being driven to distraction about some unobtainable, perfectionist definition of success. “

I think Bassett nails it.  And I think it’s instructive for us, as we begin the year, to remember that our success as a school--as proud as we are of AP scores, college scholarships, national merit finalist data—is not measured by these things, but by this simple question:

Are we producing good kids? Are we producing faithful kids?

Following Aristotle, who said that something was “good” if it fulfills its end (a good hammer is one that drives in nails well), an important part of being “good” is to fulfill that one function that separates us from the animals, the ability to think and to reason. So schools that challenge kids to think logically, to read and to write well, to contemplate truth, are helping their kids become “good.”

But education in itself isn’t enough to make us good. CS Lewis once quipped, “It may just make us “more clever devils.”

Similarly, John Henry Neuman, in his tract “The Idea of the University,” says eloquently:

Quarry the granite rock with razors, or moor the vessel with a thread of silk; then may you hope with such keen and delicate instruments as human knowledge and human reason to contend against those giants, the passion and the pride of man.

Being educated alone doesn't make us virtuous. We need God's grace for that. 

We are privileged to work in a school that understands that creating good kids— the heart of our mission—is a combination of challenging the mind through study so that we may think well and reason well, but also a matter of grace, of conversion of hearts and minds to the Lord. If we're successful in creating a culture where both of these things are happening, then we'll make a big difference in this world, and literally an eternal difference in the lives of our kids. 

Even as we are immersed in the details as we begin this year, let’s keep our eyes on the big picture. 

Sunday, August 04, 2013


This is Mr. Weber's assembly address to students of JPII on the first day of school for the 2013-2014 school year. 


Welcome back to our returning students, and welcome to our 190 new students—165 freshmen and 25 upperclassmen transfers, one of the biggest classes of new students in our school’s history.

I want to particularly welcome the ten of you who are here as part of our International Scholars Program.  We have three students from Germany, four students from China, two students from South Korea, and one student from Thailand.  We are glad you are with us and believe you’re going to add a lot to our school.

And, of course, we welcome our friends from “across the pond,” eleven exchange students and their two teachers from St. Edmund’s in England. In early June this summer, 11 students from JPII spent two weeks with these students as part of our Loughlin exchange program, and now, they are spending two weeks with us.  Could I ask all 13 of you to stand? Please join me in welcoming them.

And finally, a warm welcome our ten new teachers to JPII this year, including, for the first time in six years, a full time priest, Fr. McGowan, who will be teaching about half of you in the freshman class. Welcome, Fr. McGowan, to JPII! In case you haven’t noticed, we have a really nice mix of seasoned veterans and young, dynamic teachers on our faculty, an interesting blend of personalities, but what they share in common is they’re smart, committed and excited to be your teachers. 

It’s going to be a great year! Are you ready?

One of the big news events over the summer was the announcement that Pope John Paul will soon be canonized—he’ll be Saint John Paul, we think, as early as December 8, but the Vatican hasn’t announced a date. No matter—we’re going to spend a year to celebrate it with a series of events, including two weeks of studying and traveling this June to Krakow, Poland, where John Paul spent most of his adult life, a Youth Day in honor of JPII in January, where we’re inviting some really first rate musicians to celebrate with us and perhaps a ski-trip, among other things. 

So what are your goals for yourself this year? In the year 2000, Pope John Paul II, speaking to students your age, said:

(Young people), 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. (Pope John Paul II, at World Youth Day, Rome, 2000

That’s our goal for you here at JPII: to challenge you to do something great with your lives! Don’t aim for the middle, for mediocrity, for comfort. “The world promises you comfort,” Pope Benedict said recently, “but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness!” 


BE BOLD! Aim to be the best student you can be. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone in your studies and see how far you can go.  

BE BOLD! Meet new friends and establish new relationships here—we’re a great melting pot—in our student directory this year, there are over 50 different zip codes!

BE BOLD! Join some clubs that you might not have joined when you were younger, or try out for a new team.  Not a super athlete? Doesn’t matter—the right attitude can take you far.

BE BOLD! Develop a closer relationship with the Lord. Attend a Search this year. Pray more for those things that worry you—a relationship, a test, a family situation. Attend chapel in the morning, perhaps. Pour your self into Christian service this year to make a difference in someone’s life.

BE BOLD! Don’t be that whimpering, complaining, critic on the sidelines of life. Don’t be the student that disappears at 3:10 and reappears at 7:50 the next day. Get in the game, take some risks, "clear eyes, full heart."  Risk making some mistakes this year.

Go Knights!