May 31, 2016

Senior Day of Reflection

One of our finest traditions here at Trinity High School is the Senior Day of Reflection, held on the morning of prom.  We gathered this past Friday at Blessed Sacrament Church in Manchester for this year's event.  As always, we began with a prayer service that included the students praying Psalm 139 monastic style, the gospel reading about not hiding your light, a reflection by me, and some final intentions and prayers.  Following a break, a group of teachers offered a series of talks, all varied but with the same message really - don't be ordinary, take chances in life, thank your parents, etc.  Mr. Smith our dean of students wrote up a series of questions and had students ask him the questions.  He did a brilliant and funny job answering the questions and he got really choked up when reminiscing when the class shaved their heads in solidarity with a classmate battling cancer and chemotherapy.  Mr. Smith is a tall, imposing man and to see him breakdown the way he did was powerful.  The next question broke the tension when he had to talk about the time he had to leave commencement due to a "bathroom emergency!"

Following the teachers' reflections, the students had almost two hours for open mic.  Essentially the students were able to get up and tell stories, apologize for past hurt, talk about their experiences, etc.  I always worry that 2 hours will drag but every year. the kids always get up and pour their hearts out or tell some hysterical stories.  I was never as articulate as some of them are when I was in high school, it's always so impressive.

After the open mic, we headed upstairs for the final portion of the morning that is a special surprise and that leaves the students in puddles!  I won't elaborate so as not to spoil the surprise for future seniors.

Here is my reflection from the prayer service:

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.”

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, to, as St. Ignatius of Loyala would have said, set it on fire (thankfully not literally).  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.  

The final days of your senior year will have a number of references to fire and light:

Today’s scripture reading from Matthew’s gospel about letting your light shine
Your senior candles which you will receive next week at the Senior Farewell Mass
The candles you will light at the end of your Baccalaureate Mass on June 13

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. Brewitt just read, Jesus also expects all of us to be light to the world.  Jesus is not here physically anymore and 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.  How can we do that?  How can we be happy being Jesus to others?  

Consider Mr. and Mrs. Bielik.  Two years ago, they left behind their families, their jobs, their home, money, and so much more to dedicate the next two years of their lives to the Peace Corps.  But despite giving up almost everything, they certainly have never been happier.  How about Miss Girard, remember her?  She gave up a boyfriend, a stable job, her family, and the possibility of getting married and having children, to serve God and His people as a religious sister and a teacher.  Despite this, if you’ve received a letter from her or seen her in the past few years, you will see that she is one of the happiest people in this country. 

What about those of you who went to St. Francis Inn, Guatemala, or Montana over the past year or two.  While there, you had no televisions, you were surrounded by poverty, you worked hard among the poor, and you had little to no creature comforts.  But remember how happy and fulfilled you were?

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.  Ask Mr. Sheehan someday about what he was doing before he started teaching at Trinity High School.  He was making a fortune in insurance and trading stocks...but he was so incredibly miserable and unhappy.  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 I am 40, have four kids, and that I will celebrate my 11th anniversary in a few weeks.  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 10 years away for me.  Trust me folks – before you know it, you’ll be overweight, in debt, balding, and 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.

I cannot stress it enough - DO SOMETHING GREAT WITH YOUR LIVES.  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.

Father 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.”

We at Trinity High School 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 from the moment you arrived in August of 2012 we have been preparing you to leave.  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 the light of Christ in a world that so desperately needs it.

May you live Jesus in your hearts.  Forever.


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