Monday, March 10, 2014

To Look at a Second Time

Student assembly address:

Let's take a JPII Trivia quiz--five questions, keep your own tally:

  • What is the Scripture saying in the gym in huge letters above the bleachers
  • What is the inscription underneath the statue of JPII in the courtyard? 
  • Where do you see the Latin phrase “Fides et Sapientia” on this campus?
  • Who is the donor of the Marian statue in our athletic center, according the plaque underneath the statue?
  • There is an inscription on the wall just outside the front of this auditorium—a rather long one. Who wrote it?
How did you do? I have a confession to make. I’ve been here six years and made up this quiz while I was at home, but when I came to the school this morning, I had to check my answers.

Just a brief thought about all this. It’s very easy, when we become familiar with where we live, to not pay close attention to the things around us. In our own homes, it’s easy to not notice the furniture.  It’s easy to do that with people, too. We see each other so much that we almost fade into the background of each other’s lives—there, but unnoticed and unappreciated. That’s even more so the case in this, the age of smart phones: I was recently on a bus full of adults, and every single one of us had our smart phones out, answering email or checking social media. So there we all were, crammed in together, but none of us was paying a whit of attention to each other.

The quality of our lives is determined by the quality of our relationships, and the quality of our relationships is determined by our attention to one another. Let us respect each other. “Respect” is an interesting word, because it literally means “to look at a second time.” May we respect those people around us, noticing who needs our attention, noticing who needs the word  of encouragement, who needs someone to listen to them, or perhaps simply needs a nod of acknowledgment.  No one likes to feel like the furniture.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Keeping Doors Open to Find God's Will

Student assembly address:

Welcome to the month of March!

February is a tough month in the life of a high school—for students, for teachers, and yes, even for administrators. Christmas is a distant memory, the winter drags on, everyone is familiar with each other—sometimes too familiar--and spring break seems a thousand years away.  The cumulative effect lends itself to crankiness and pessimism, and it’s easy to forget our sense of purpose and all the blessings of our lives.

But February is behind us now, and we welcome March, with new possibilities, with spring break on the horizon, course signups for next year, the spring sports schedule in full gear, the spring theater production this week, choral concerts and art shows soon to follow. When we get back from spring break, it’ll be just a few clicks until senior walk, baccalaureate mass, graduation and the summer. Seniors, you're rounding the bend in your final lap! 

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, and traditionally, Lent is a time for fasting. Most of the time, when people “fast,” they think in terms of food, but that’s not the only kind of fasting, and in my mind, not even the best kind. My proposal is that we fast from being negative, from putting each other down, with a firm resolve to look for the good, rather than the bad, in others. 

Here’s the thing about negativity: it not only harms others, it harms us. God wired us in a way we might not have guessed; when we compliment others and do good things for them, it boosts us up, too. When we tear others down, whatever brief satisfaction we get from making others feel small, the satisfaction evaporates quickly, leaving us feeling small, too.  If you know people that are truly "happy", observe their behavior carefully. They are almost always building others up and complimenting them. 

God desires us to be happy. I’m not sure we really believe that--there’s part of us that believes to be Christian is to be miserable and not to have any fun.  When my mother was in high school, she thought God wanted her to be a nun, so the summer of her graduation from Auburn High School, in Auburn, AL, she went to a convent in New Orleans. My mother says it was the worst summer of her life. Toward the end of the summer, she went to see the prioress weeping, and said, “I know that God wants me to become a nun, but I am so unhappy. “ “Why do you think God wants you to become a nun?” the prioress asked her. “Because I am so unhappy. Isn’t that what Jesus meant when he said to deny ourselves and take up our cross?” “No, that isn’t what he meant at all,” sister said. “If we find out God’s plan for our life and follow it, yes—there may be some self-denial, even some suffering—but much deeper than the denial will be joy, and happiness, and contentment. “

Finding out that path, God's plan for you—that’s the most important thing for your life, and the reason this school exists: so that you can find your passion, what brings you joy, and that you may then bring joy to others. Our emphasis on becoming a “renaissance” person isn’t so you can pad your resume for college, but to encourage you to open many different doors, take a look inside, and see if that’s the path that leads to his plan. 

Walk through the many doors that are opened for you at JPII. Some time in the future, it will be appropriate to close a few doors, but not yet. Maybe you've got a pretty idea you're not going to be a math major, but we’ll make you take four years of it anyway, because one day you may want to be an architect, and fluency in Math is a pre-requisite. Maybe you don’t get too excited about 3D art, but one day you might want to be an interior decorator, and the artistic vision you begin to develop here will help shape your work later. Perhaps English is your least favorite subject, but the ability to write well will open many other doors down the road. 

It's human nature to avoid risk, but each of us has a creative spark within us, and each of us is different. Finding that spark, kindling it into a flame, and then becoming happy, joyful people because we're doing what we love and what we're good at--that's God's desire for us. 

"I have come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly," Jesus said. May he give us the courage to seek out his will for our lives, so that in finding it, we may have this abundant life.