These are my opening remarks to students to begin the 2014-2015 school year, August 4, 2014.
Good morning and welcome back! It is good to see all of you again, and I think our year is shaping up to be something special. A special JPII welcome to our many new students and teachers—though our mission is constant, your presence gives us a new chemistry and allows us to recreate ourselves each year, keeping this place fresh and interesting. We are glad you are with us!
The gospel reading from yesterday is worth reflecting on as we start the year together. You remember it—it’s very familiar: Jesus has been preaching all day, and crowds are getting bigger and bigger, and it’s now late in the day and people are hungry, so he tells his apostles to go find some food to feed the nearly 5,000 people. After scrounging around, they can only find five loaves of fishes and two fish, so they come to Jesus and tell him that it’s not enough, and advise him not to even start down the path of trying to feed them. But Jesus says feed them what they have, and as you know, as they begin to do so, he blesses their efforts, and they end up with food left over.
As we start this new school year, it occurs to me we’re a lot like the apostles. We want to be successful, but often, as we size things up, it doesn’t look like we’re going to measure up, so our natural tendency is avoid failure and keep from even trying. You’re likely hearing from a lot of different people—it was my advice to new students last week—to “get involved.” But maybe you’re thinking to yourself, “I would get involved, but I’m just not good enough.” Coach Joslin is looking for more freshman for the freshman team, for example, and perhaps you’re thinking, “Yeah, I’d kind of like to play football, but I’m not that good, and certainly not as good as some of the guys I know are already on that team, and I don’t want to embarrass myself.“ But the message of the parable of the loaves and fishes is “give your best, and let God take care of the rest.”
Maybe in a couple of your classes this semester are difficult, and you hear that voice inside your head say “There are a lot of smarter kids in that class than me and I’ll never be able to get an A, so I’m just going to do as little as I can to get by. Better to shoot for the minimum than to be disappointed missing the higher mark.” Maybe there’s a club that interests you, but there’s people who are more talented, more socially gifted, or more clever in that club and that intimidates you from joining up because you’re worried about being awkward. But the message of the story of the loaves and fishes is, “dare to take that first step, and trust the Lord to bless your decision.”
We’re obsessed in our culture with perfection. If our favorite team isn’t winning the national championship, the season is a failure. Our cultural standard for beauty is impossibly high—as if everyone is capable of looking like Beyonce, recently named by People Magazine as the “most beautiful woman in the world.” Our sports heroes are the best players in the world: Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Peyton Manning or Adrian Peterson. The problem is, if Beyonce is our standard for beauty, then the rest of us are ugly; if Lebron is the measure for basketball, then the rest of us have no game. We can get paralyzed by the gaping distance between them and us, and our human tendency is to shut down.
There’s a wise saying that “Perfection is the enemy of the good.” It means that if perfection is the standard, we often avoid being good, because being just “good” isn’t good enough. But that’s wrong, and it’s not what God expects of us.
However smart or not smart, however athletically talented or klutzy, however beautifully we sing, or play, or do art—or not--the Lord wants us to bring that to him and do our best this year, and he’ll take us from there. We don’t have to be perfect. We don’t even really to carry with us the burden of being “successful”—that’s really God’s burden. Our responsibility is to be faithful and to try. The apostles started feeding the five thousand with a puny amount of food, but God multiplied their efforts and fed his people.
Jump in this year. Join things. Do your best in the classroom, on the stage, or on the ball-fields, and let God take it from there. If you do that, I think you’ll be pretty excited about the amazing impact this school, its teachers, its coaches and its students, will have on your life.
I am looking forward to getting to know you. It’s going to be a really fun year!