Sunday, November 17, 2013

Losing Our Moral Judgment

Student assembly address:

Nationally, marijuana use among teenagers is trending upward, with 22.9% of seniors in this country reporting they’ve smoked marijuana in the last month, according to 2012 data released by National Institute on Drug Abuse. That’s up from 18.5% five years earlier. It also means seniors are likelier to smoke marijuana than smoke a cigarette, as only 17.1 % of seniors say they’ve had a cigarette in the past month.  Alcohol usage nationally has declined slightly, with 28.1% of seniors reporting they’ve been drunk in the last month, down from 30.6% five years earlier.

Our sense here at JPII is that those national trends are reversed—that alcohol usage is on the rise, whereas marijuana usage, while still present, has declined.  Mr. McLaren reports he’s been informed of a rising number of events that occur in our families’ homes where drinking is a prominent feature.

So let’s talk about that for a moment.

When people drink heavily, otherwise sane and normal people do stupid, bad things. I’ve told this story before to a number of you, but my roommates in college at Notre Dame were good, smart and decent guys. One Thursday night in January, with the temperature near 10 degrees, a group of them went to the bars and got drunk. I was in the study hall on the ninth floor of my dorm, and I heard them when they came back, laughing loudly about something. About 5 minutes later, one of my roommates came in, looking sick, and said to me “You have to stop them.” “Stop them from what?” I said. “They have…. a cat. I can’t stomach it. “

So I walked out to the commons area, and what I witnessed almost made me throw up. They’d found a cat that was frozen to the sidewalk on the way back from the bars, took it back to the dorm, pinned it up on a bulletin board and were throwing darts at it.  Just as I walked in, one of my roommates jammed a pencil up one of the cat’s orifices, as everyone laughed, drunkenly. I took the cat down; they swore at me; one of them even tried to take a swing at me—a drunken swing, he missed—and I yelled at them to go to bed.  The next morning, after he sobered up, the roommate with the pencil came to find me and ask me what he had done, because it was fuzzy, and when I told him, he was absolutely disgusted with himself.  As I said, these were good guys. But they lost their sense of decency because they were drunk.

Being disgusted with oneself the morning after is a common theme of individuals who get drunk the night before.  Girls who are otherwise moral, good persons often lose their virginity—or even worse, become objects for multiple partners.  Men mistreat women in ways that they’d never do if they were sober, and because they’re decent guys, are eaten up with guilt about what they’ve done the next day.  It isn’t just an issue of not driving while drunk; it’s about losing all of our moral judgment, which opens us up to doing all sorts of horrible things to each other. Gang rapes in dorms are all too common in universities, even local ones, and drinking is usually part of the reason they occur.

Your character, your reputation, your good name—these are far more important than your GPA, your athletic or artistic accomplishments. All those things are fleeting and temporary, but who you are and what you’ve done stay with you.

One of the greatest advertising campaigns of all time is the Las Vegas commercial: “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. “ It’s as if we can do whatever we want there, and then magically forget about it when we come back home to our regular lives. Except we can’t compartmentalize like that.  Location doesn’t matter, because we’re still the same person, whether we’re in Vegas, or in Nashville, or at home, or whether we’re drunk or sober. We carry that guilt, that burden with us.

Even so, God forgives. And when God forgives, he forgets—as if he takes a video of our lives and simply deletes forever those parts we ask him to forgive us for. If you’re carrying around some guilt, seek out Fr. McGowan for the sacrament of reconciliation, and unload that burden and seek God’s forgiveness. If you’re not Catholic, though Father can’t administer the sacrament to you, he is happy to listen to you.

God wants us to be happy, and to be free of emotional burdens. He wants to forgive us, but he respects our freedom. We have to ask for it. We have to seek him out. In the interim, let's do our best not to put ourselves in a position where we do harm to other people and harm to ourselves. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Honoring All Veterans

This Veteran's Day, we honor all those who have served their country in the protection of our freedoms. 

My uncle, Sam Coursen, was killed in the Korean War and awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously. Here is his citation:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress  March 3, 1863 has awarded in the name of The Congress the Medal of Honor, posthumously, to

First Lieutenant Samuel S. Coursen, USA

for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy:

Lieutenant Coursen, Infantry, United States Army, Company C, 5th Calvary Regiment, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity  above and beyond the call of duty in action on 12 October 1950 near Kaesong,  Korea. While Company C was attacking Hill 174 under heavy enemy small arms  fire, his platoon received enemy fire from close range. The platoon returned  the fire and continued to advance. During this phase, one of his men moved  into a well-camouflaged emplacement, which was thought to be unoccupied, and  was wounded by enemy who were hidden within the emplacement. Seeing the  soldier in difficulty he rushed to the man's aid and, without regard for his  own personal safety, engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat in an effort to  protect his wounded comrade until he himself was killed. When his body was  recovered after the battle, seven enemy dead were found in the emplacement.  Several of the enemies' heads had been crushed as the result of Lieutenant  Coursen's violent struggle with his rifle. His aggressive and intrepid  actions saved the life of the wounded man, eliminated the main position of  the enemy roadblock and greatly inspired the men in his command. Lieutenant  Coursen's extraordinary heroism and intrepidity reflect the highest credit on himself and are in keeping with the honored traditions of the military service.

(signed) Harry Truman

For more information on Sam Coursen's life, go here.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Speak Up! Speak Out!

Student assembly address:

The Emperor’s New Clothes is a Danish fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson, first published in 1837. You remember the story:

Many years ago there lived an emperor who cared only about his clothes and about showing them off. One day he heard from two swindlers that they could make the finest suit of clothes from the most beautiful cloth. This cloth, they said, was magic: it was invisible to anyone who was either stupid or not fit for his position. 

Being a bit nervous about whether he himself would be able to see the cloth, the emperor first sent two of his trusted men to see it. Of course, neither would admit that they could not see the cloth and so they praised how beautiful it was.

The emperor then allowed himself to be dressed in the clothes for a procession through town, never admitting that he was too unfit and stupid to see what he was wearing. For he was afraid that the other people would think that he was stupid.

Of course, all the townspeople wildly praised the magnificent clothes of the emperor, afraid to admit that they could not see them, until a small child said:

"But he has nothing on"!

This was whispered from person to person until everyone in the crowd was shouting that the emperor had nothing on. The emperor, too, realized he had been duped by the swindlers, but marched on with his head held high. He became the laughing stock of everyone in the village.

There’s a lot of truth to this story, isn’t there? Because we are so concerned about what others think of us, we often go along with the crowd and pretend to believe, say or do things publicly that we don’t really believe privately.

It often takes the clear voice of one person—in this case, a child—to “break the ice,” and say plainly what everyone is really thinking. And here’s the interesting thing: Once someone has the courage to say the truth, it gives everybody else the ability to admit what they were privately thinking, but were afraid to say out loud. One courageous voice, it turns out, ends up making a lot of difference.

One of the temptations of getting older is to become conformists—to lose our individuality so as to be part of the crowd, part of the socially acceptable group. And so, whereas God created us with really unique talents and unique views, whereas he made us to be really interesting people, we slowly, inevitably become like everyone else. In other words, we slowly become boring.

That’s not what I want for you here at JPII. Be creative. Speak up. Propose new things.  Mina Adeeb didn’t like what one of our speakers at the Colloquium said a couple weeks ago, and so after the talk, he came up and argued with him. I thought that was awesome. Keeley Bryan felt badly for Jessica Myers, the 5th grade girl from St. Joseph who has a cancerous tumor, so she asked if she could raise money here to support here. Daniel Al Nimri wanted to do something to support the cause of Mr. Mila, whose son has Cystic Fibrosis, so he proposed a “No-Shave November.” Jordan Lee came in a bit later and said the girls wanted to also support Cystic Fibrosis and proposed Crazy Sock November.

That’s the kind of school I want at JPII. Maybe I can’t approve everything you want to do; sometimes, there’s so much going on here, I have to say “no” to protect our most important task—learning—but I like the fact you’re thinking creatively, individually, willing to shake things up some, willing to call things out.  Be respectful of others, and respectful of your teachers, but be yourself. It makes for an infinitely more interesting school.