May 25, 2012

Beginning of the end

We had a wonderful retreat this morning with the senior class at Blessed Sacrament Church.  We began our morning with prayer followed by three wonderful talks by Mr. Martinez, Mr. Sheehan '76, and Mrs. Brown.  From 10am-11:40am, the seniors had an open mic in which they could get up and share some thoughts with their classmates.  Some of their words were very, very poignant.  Following open mic, we went upstairs to the main Church for a special presentation.  I won't say what as this is always a surprise but let's just say there were lots and lots of tears!  Tonight we will cap a wonderful day together with the prom.

During our prayer, I offered some words of reflection which I have shared below:

Abraham Lincoln was never baptized, never joined a church, and rarely mentioned Jesus.  His widow, Mary Todd Lincoln, once remarked after his death, “He was a religious man always but he was not a technical Christian.”  He did go to church services on occasion in Washington.  On one of those occasions, President Lincoln listened intently to the sermon.  After leaving church, the president was asked by his secret service guard, “What did you think of the sermon, Mr. President?”  Lincoln paused and said with obvious hesitation, “It was...good.”  The guard inquired, “You didn’t like it?” to which Abraham Lincoln responded, “He never asked us to do something great.”
Nine months ago we all gathered to start the school year at Saint Anselm College.  At that time I suggested that your class use the following quote from Saint Ignatius of Loyola to guide you through the year:
“Go forth and set the world on fire...”
Mrs. Henning gave you a beautiful reflection on that quote and concluded it this way:
This year, ask yourself: “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” This year, you have the opportunity to make your mark, to leave an impression. This year, you can contribute your own verse. What will it be? This year, you have the opportunity, if you choose to take it. 
Are you willing to dream? To believe? To dare? And to do? 
You can all set fires. But who among you will keep them lit? Who among you will be the ones bold enough to go forth and set the world on fire? 
We’re waiting. Trinity is waiting. The world is waiting. Go. 
I hope you used your final year of high school - the final year of your youth - to leave your mark on Trinity High School and to make the most of the precious time you had left here.  Now as you’re about to leave, we gather together for one of the final times to reflect on the past four years and to consider your futures.  
Your senior year has had a number of references to fire and light:
  1. The quote I just mentioned, “Go forth and set the world on fire.”
  2. Today’s scripture reading about letting your light shine
  3. Your senior candles which you will receive next week
  4. The candles you will light at the end of your Baccalaureate Mass on June 11
This is very intentional.  In the Catholic Church, “light” is a symbol of Jesus Christ.  We use candles and references to fire to remember that Jesus Christ is the light of the world who has brought light to a darkened world.  But as Mrs. Brown read, Jesus also expects all of us to be light to the world.  Jesus is not here physically anymore, He will not come again until the end of time.  Until that happens, it is up to you and me to be light in the world, that is, to be Jesus.
Just this past week, Mr. O’Leary gave his Vietnam War presentation to my AP US History class.  While he does not look upon his experience in Vietnam with warm memories, he said it did have a silver lining.  If he never served in the military, his life would have been completely different.  He never considered teaching until he got out of the military and it was because he decided he wanted to do something great with his life other than just make a lot of money.  
I can’t agree more.  There is certainly nothing wrong with making money or being wealthy but if you are going to be light to the world, you have to make sure you spend your life doing something you love.  Don’t just become a businessman or woman because that’s where the money is.  Don’t just become a lawyer because of the prestige.  If you do something in life just because of the money or power or prestige, you will not be happy, I can promise you that and I speak from personal experience.  If you do something that you’re passionate about and something that makes you excited to get up in the morning, you know you’ve found your calling in life.  
I know that at 18, 19 years old you don’t believe me but life goes by quickly.  The past ten years have been a blur and I cannot believe Kevin starts kindergarten this fall.  I will celebrate my 7th wedding anniversary in a couple of weeks (although my wife said it feels like 700) – it feels like yesterday.  I remember making fun of my father when he turned 50 and got his membership card from the AARP.  Whose laughing now – that’s just 14 years away for me.  Trust me folks – before you know it, you’ll be ready for retirement.  You want to make sure that you retire from something that made you happy. 
Consider this quote from George Bernard Shaw:
I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no "brief candle" for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
Ladies and gentlemen of the Class of 2012: DO SOMETHING GREAT.  If that means being a successful businessman, a doctor, an engineer, a priest, a sister, a teacher, a lawyer, a stay at home mom, so be it.  But whatever you do, do it because you love it and because it drives you.  Follow your passions, not the money.  If life doesn’t turn out exactly how you planned it, don’t worry.  I went from wanting to be a French teacher, to a politician, to a financial services employee, to a priest before I finally figured out what I wanted to be when I grow up! It wasn’t until I was 30 that I found my passion and my vocation…and I’ve never been happier.  It’s like that saying from Saint Augustine: “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.”  My heart was restless until it found Trinity High School.
Mr. Andrew Nelson, our former Campus Minister, used to like to tell a wonderful story about the Bridge of Tears.  As you know, millions of Irish immigrated to the United States over the past 150 years.  In many instances, those who were leaving would walk to the port and be accompanied by their family and friends.  In some villages when they arrived at a certain bridge, the family and friends would stop and the traveler would walk over the bridge alone.  His family and friends had gone as far as they could and it was time to say goodbye.  The traveler would now go on his own to face the challenges and the future.  As the traveler walked over that bridge, the people would stay behind and say goodbye from the other side and watch and cry, hence the name “Bridge of Tears.”
Ladies and Gentlemen – we have taken you as far as you can go.  We have done all that we can and it’s time for us to stop and let you go.  My mother always told my sister and me, “I gave you roots but I also gave you wings.”  You will always have roots at Trinity High School but we have spent the past four years preparing you to move on.  There will be tears at your graduation and we hate to have you leave us.  But we know that your best years are ahead of you and your futures will be bright and you will be a light in the world that so desperately needs it.
May you live Jesus in your hearts.  Forever.

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