Pruned by Humble Faith

“I am the vine, you are the branches…By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
(John 15:1-8, the gospel at Holy Mass today)

I know my memory is slipping, but I could have sworn that I just gave you a homily on this very passage.

Last year, on the fifth Wednesday of Easter, we discussed the pruning of the branches. God pruning our little shoots of ego can cause even more pain than that other type of cutting that they debated at the apostolic Council of Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit taught the first generation of Christians that Baptism suffices to engraft Gentiles onto the vine. The Greek men rejoiced.

“You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.” (John 15:3)

Almighty God has spoken in Christ, and we have believed. The “we” including: our parents, godparents, and/or other guardians who carried us to the baptismal font when we were infants, most of us. And all the other people whose strong faith has sustained us, especially our patron saints up in heaven who have prayed for us our whole lives.

Grim Babushka painting anon artistGod’s pruning the tendrils of our egos involves our constant engagement with the faith of our great family, the Church.

And this may be the most humbling thing of all: Namely, for me to acknowledge that my mind, powerful as it may be; acquainted with Shakespeare, or astrophysics, or high finance, or detailed mechanical engineering as it may be; as brilliant an orator, or tactician, or interior decorator, or pet trainer as any of us may be individually… These great minds of ours, in fact, can do no greater thing than to believe what countless generations of short, little, stubborn, simple-minded Russian babushkas have believed: that Jesus Christ is God.

Smart, clever, talented: all great things, to be sure. But humbly believing in what our grandparents and great-grandparents believed in, in what St. Francis and St. Joseph, neither of whom had any real delusions of grandeur, believed in–believing the faith of the Church, because it is bigger than me: that’s even greater than talent, smarts, skill, success.

Humbling, yes. But hopefully consoling also.

Peace Together

Matthias Grunewald Isenheim altarpiece

Matthias Grunewald Isenheim altarpiece

“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you.” (John 14:27)

Baby Princess of Cambridge just got born in England. But our Lord Jesus Christ isn’t just the prince of this or that place. He is the Prince of…

Peace. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of peace.

What is the opposite of peace? War. Yes. But what about: hatred, anger, violence?

In the beginning, Adam and Eve lived in a peaceful garden. But they disobeyed the Creator. What happened between their two sons Cain and Abel? Cain became jealous of Abel and killed him. God said to Cain, ‘Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!’

What is the fifth commandment?

This commandment doesn’t just prohibit intentionally murdering an innocent person. Hopefully none of us will ever even be seriously tempted ot do something like that.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurchBut the fifth commandment also teaches us the fundamental attitude we need to have towards other people. When the Lord Jesus explained the fifth commandment, He said: Anyone who is angry with his brother violates this commandment.

Now, sometimes people do things that make us angry. Sometimes we do things that make other people angry. We do things sometimes that harm our neighbor. That’s called being a sinner, which all of us are.

What the Lord is saying to us is: Never forget, no matter what happens, that we are all in this together. We human beings make the pilgrimage of life together. We all have one Father in heaven. He has a plan for all of us to get to heaven. That plan involves our living and working together.

If I get angry, or if someone gets angry with me, what we have to do is: Not give up. Not fall into hatred. Not resort to violence. We have to work for peace. Seek peace. Talk. Try to understand each other. Speak the truth, make amends, forgive, and start fresh.

Since Jesus has made Himself our Prince of Peace by dying on the cross for us and rising from the dead, we can live in the kind of peace where not only do we not fight each other, but we help each other. After all, how are we going to succeed without helping each other? We’re not.

But when we serve the Lord together, bearing with each other patiently, appreciating each other’s good qualities: then there’s no limit to the awesomeness of what can happen for the children of the Prince of Peace.

Easter Letter

of St. Athanasius* for AD 332. A couple of paragraphs:

It is well, my beloved, to proceed from feast to feast; again festal meetings, again holy vigils arouse our minds, and compel our intellect to keep vigil unto contemplation of good things. Let us not fulfill these days like those that mourn, but, by enjoying spiritual food, let us seek to silence our fleshly lusts.

For by these means we shall have strength to overcome our adversaries, like blessed Judith, when having first exercised herself in fastings and prayers, she overcame the enemies, and killed Olophernes. And blessed Esther, when destruction was about to come on all her race, and the nation of Israel was ready to perish, defeated the fury of the tyrant by no other means than by fasting and prayer to God, and changed the ruin of her people into safety.

St. AthanasiusNow as those days are considered feasts for Israel, so also in old time feasts were appointed when an enemy was slain, or a conspiracy against the people broken up, and Israel delivered. Therefore blessed Moses of old time ordained the great feast of the Passover, and our celebration of it, because, namely, Pharaoh was killed, and the people were delivered from bondage. For in those times it was especially when those who tyrannized over the people had been slain, that temporal feasts and holidays were observed in Judæa.

Now, however, that the devil, that tyrant against the whole world, is slain, we do not approach a temporal feast, my beloved, but an eternal and heavenly. Not in shadows do we show it forth, but we come to it in truth. For they being filled with the flesh of a dumb lamb, accomplished the feast, and having anointed their door-posts with the blood, implored aid against the destroyer. But now we, eating of the Word of the Father, and having the lintels of our hearts sealed with the blood of the New Testament, acknowledge the grace given us from the Savior, who said, ‘Behold, I have given unto you to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy.’

For no more does death reign; but instead of death henceforth is life, since our Lord said, ‘I am the life;’ so that everything is filled with joy and gladness; as it is written, ‘The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice.’ For when death reigned, ‘sitting down by the rivers of Babylon, we wept,’ and mourned, because we felt the bitterness of captivity; but now that death and the kingdom of the devil is abolished, everything is entirely filled with joy and gladness. And God is no longer known only in Judæa, but in all the earth, ‘their voice has gone forth, and the knowledge of Him has filled all the earth.’

What follows, my beloved, is obvious; that we should approach such a feast, not with filthy raiment, but having clothed our minds with pure garments. For we need in this to put on our Lord Jesus, that we may be able to celebrate the feast with Him. Now we are clothed with Him when we love virtue, and are enemies to wickedness, when we exercise ourselves in temperance and mortify lasciviousness, when we love righteousness before iniquity, when we have strength of mind, when we do not forget the poor, but open our doors to all men, when we assist humble-mindedness, but hate pride.


St. Athanasius died 1,642 years ago today.

True Self


During the Easter season we read from the Acts of the Apostles. It takes us back to that original time, when the Lord Jesus first demonstrated how Christian life works. That is, how He gives us a share in His transcendent power, how He unites Himself with us from within, how He grafts us onto the living vine and makes us His branches.

The young Saul of Tarsus thought he was ‘being himself’ by prosecuting strict fidelity to the Law of Moses, the law of his people. Saul thought that he was really coming into his own as a man, marching east and west, north and south, to stamp out all the foolish nonsense about a so-called Galilean Messiah who had risen from the dead. Then Christ showed Saul how “coming into your own” really works.

One of the most important ideas we have to help others grasp is this: There can be no ‘competition’ between me and God, when it comes to determining who I really am. If I try to assert myself over against God, with God as a rival for power in my life, then up in heaven all the angels look down and laugh sadly at the spectacle.

Trying to compete with Almighty God is patently ridiculous. And it’s sad. He made me, after all, and He alone can open up the path for me, by which I really can ‘find’ myself. He does not see our relationship as a contest. God no more thinks of competing for power with me than a mighty killer whale thinks of racing a tadpole across the Arctic Sea. If I try to beat God at the game that only He truly understands, I lose before I even begin. Why would I fight?

Prince WilliamOn the road to Damascus, Saul beheld the truth of Christ: God united with man. Saul heard the voice of the Creator, and it was the voice of the Galilean, the one whom all these rubes were calling the Messiah.

Saul realized: I am fighting a pointless battle. I am actually a million miles away from my true self, with all this self-righteous militancy of mine. If I really want to come into my own, I have to try and forget about what I think, and learn what God thinks.

And God thinks this: I will take a beautiful Bride to myself! The Church. I will unite the scattered individuals of this lonely world, whose pride isolates them from the people they need the most—I will unite them by loving them Myself, through each other.

Let’s try to imagine for a moment just how little Saul of Tarsus had in common with the other Christians he met when he was first converted. Saul grew up a well-to-do diaspora Jew, in a commercial city in what is now Turkey. Saul was a Roman citizen. He had received a meticulous education. If Saul had ever gone fishing, it was when he was a kid, just for fun.

When Saul first went to Straight Street in Damascus, to meet up with Ananias for baptism, it was kind of like a member of the British royal family going to a backstreet in Tijuana, looking for a guy named Pepe to give him a tattoo.

Christ wills to love us Himself—through each other. We become ourselves together. If we don’t come together, each of us individually trails off, into some strange, distorted side-street of my particular personality.

But by coming together regularly—by learning that who we are is: branches on the living vine of Christ… All of us, totally dependent on Him, rejoicing to share in that utter dependence together… When we become, and live for years as, people who attend Mass every Sunday—by doing that, we open ourselves up to the possibility of becoming the loving brothers and sisters in God’s family that He made us to be.

pope-francis_2541160kHere’s a little quiz. I can’t claim to have the answer to this one. I just have my impression… What is Pope Francis’ favorite image of the Church?

Certainly not “institution.” Of course, the Church is an institution, but that’s not all She is. And Pope Francis clearly does not think of the Church as primarily “an institution.”

I don’t think “Bark of Peter” is Pope Francis’ favorite image for the Church, either–though we certainly do sail in a windswept sea these days, as a world-wide family of faith. At one point, the pope said the Church must see herself as a ‘field hospital.’

I think Pope Francis’ favorite image for the Church is: A loving mother.

The pope invoked that image in his Apostolic Exhortation on the New Evangelization. And he also invoked it as he concluded his declaration of the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy. If I might, let me quote a sentence from his Apostolic Exhortation. The paragraph is entitled “Mother with an open heart,” and the pope writes:

If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life.

Mother Church can give birth to our truest selves. Mother Church has the sap of the ancient vine living in her. She gives birth to us, to the people God made us to be, by the power of divine love that comes from Christ. To be a branch on that vine is the greatest thing any of us could ever aspire to be, and the vine grows in church. The sap flows from the altar.

We can go ‘looking for ourselves’ hither and yon, from Milwaukee to Timbuktu, from yoga classes to Springsteen concerts to off-road derbies with Jason Aldean blasting from somebody’s boom box. But the only place any of us can really find ourselves is under the roof of Mother Church, together. Because who we are is: branches on the vine, the divine vine of Christ.

St. Joseph and Bernie Sanders

st-josephA double blessing is a double grace.
Occasion smiles upon a second…

…feastday for the heavenly patron of our parish. On his first feastday this year, we blessed the new addition to our building (in Martinsville). Which of course could not have gotten built without carpenters and other workers.

God Himself was called ‘the carpenter’s son.’ God laid down ‘the law of work,’ as we pray in today’s Mass.

What does this mean, ‘the law of work?’ Catechism of the Catholic Church 2427-2428:

Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another. Hence work is a duty: “If anyone will not work, let him not eat.”

Work honors the Creator’s gifts and the talents received from him…In work, the person exercises and fulfills in part the potential inscribed in his nature. The primordial value of labor stems from man himself, its author and its beneficiary. Work is for man, not man for work.

A new candidate has entered the race for the presidency, and he calls himself a ‘democratic socialist.’

Before anyone calls the House Un-American Activities Committee, let’s recall the problem with socialism. Socialism isn’t wrong just because it isn’t capitalism. Socialism is wrong because it denies God, because it’s atheist.

Pure Marxism misses the most important aspect of the very thing that it tries to focus on, namely the nobility of honest labor. Honest labor is eminently noble. Because it proceeds from the power embedded in man by the divine Hand.

workers posterIMHO we have two scandalous blind-spots as a nation in AD 2015.

1. We continue to slaughter the innocent and defenseless unborn in an on-going holocaust that makes the Nazis look nice by comparison.

2. We continue to believe blindly in an ‘invisible hand’ that supposedly makes selfishness into justice somehow.

I don’t mean to get all political. But it’s hard not to, on the 129th anniversary of the Haymarket Riot and the feastday of our patron, the Worker.

We need to be pro-life God-fearing socialists. To me, the abortionist and the one-percenter look like mirror images of each other. Both are blind, cannot perceive the work of God.

A pro-life, God-fearing socialist insists that all human beings have the rights to: life, from conception to natural death; just compensation, with a minimum established by an authority more rational than ‘the market;’ eight-hour workday, with leisure time and the opportunity to go to church; health care, education, and full citizenship for all law-abiding residents of our land.

Hillary people and Fox-News people, have at me as you will! The one thing you have in common is selective reading of the Catechism.

100% Catechism adherence = pro-life, God-fearing socialism.

Two Antiochs

Every year during the Easter season, Mother Church has us read Acts 13. The Apostle Paul has sailed to Cyprus, and now to Asia Minor. Then he traveled inland to Antioch in Pisidia.

antiochs-mapSidenote: There are two kinds of people. People who clearly understand the difference between Antioch in Syria and Pisidian Antioch, and people who can’t even spell Antioch or Pisidia or Syria.

The two New-Testament locations named Antioch were separated by the same distance that Martinsville, Va. is separated from Cincinnati, Ohio, which is a little further than the drive from Phoenix to Los Angeles.

One of the ancient Antiochs was a major commercial and cultural center, one of the great cities of the world. Namely, Syrian Antioch. The other was a small outpost, high on a plateau, a retirement village for pensioned Roman centurions. Pisidian Antioch.

No offense to anyone, but people who want to be taken seriously as readers of New Testament are required to be in Category #1, when it comes to knowing about the two Antiochs.

Because: When Paul arrived in Pisidian Antioch, it was a place where people had heard of God. A lot of them had heard of Moses and King David. Some of them had even heard of John the Baptist. But no one knew that the Christ had come. So St. Paul told them.

My point is that this is where we live. In the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, St. Paul gave a nice straightforward speech. He explained what had come to pass–namely the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. He explained how this affected his audience, namely that now they had a chance to repent and believe. Some of them did.

We live under similar circumstances, and we have the same opportunity. St. Paul, pray for us! That we might have the same zeal for souls as you had. That the Lord might use us, like He used you, to help souls find Christ and get to heaven.

Setting Sail from Syrian Antioch

Sent forth by the holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there sailed to Cyprus. (Acts 13:4)

Speaking for myself, I feel a fairly deep sense of reverence for the verses of the Acts of the Apostles that we read at Holy Mass today. Barnabas and Saul sailed from Antioch on the Orontes, and they made for Salamis, on the east end of the isle of Cyprus. And thus began…



The missionary journeys of St. Paul. The one whom St. Thomas Aquinas calls “The Apostle.”

Anyone ever heard of Odysseus and Aeneas, the heroes of the ancient pagan epics? Crafty, brave, muscular warriors, irresistible to the ladies. Odysseus and Aeneas sailed like Barnabas and Paul sailed, hoisting canvas in the Mediterranean wind, putting their future entirely into the hands of higher powers, into the hands of destiny.

But the drama of the ancient heroic pagan epics does not hold a candle to the adventure lived by the Apostle, the bookish Pharisee from Tarsus. Odysseus and Aeneas had wind, wit, will, and wanderlust. St. Paul had the Gospel of salvation and the power of the Holy Spirit. Odysseus and Aeneas left the legacy of successful sons of fortune. St. Paul built up the Church of God.

What the Apostle bequeathed, time has not erased. And I don’t just mean his letters–written in the throes of complicated circumstances, the particulars of which we can only begin to grasp–letters which nonetheless deliver to us the enduring Word of God.

No, not just his letters in the New Testament. St. Paul’s amazing adventure across the Mediterranean gave birth to Christian communities, to local churches, flowing with the sap that gives life to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ.

Even though St. Paul lived a celibate life, he became a father in a way that Aeneas never did. Aeneas was revered by the ancient Romans as their father. But the chaste Apostle makes the lady-killing Aeneas look less-than-virile by comparison.

The Apostle sailed the Mediterranean in order to give to the poor the Good News of Jesus Christ. He hardly did it by swashbuckling, dashing gallantry. He made extra money by spending his days making tents. Not exactly romantic.

But, sailing hither and yon across the Mediterranean, St. Paul lived the adventure of divine love. Every day he grew closer to Christ, by sharing what he knew of Christ with others. And what greater adventure could there be?

Don’t we want to be on the boat, setting out from Antioch, with Barnabas and Saul? The wide sea opening before us, with the prospect of souls on all the father shores, with whom the Lord is asking us to share His love?

That adventure awaits us even now. That ship is sailing even now. The adventure that St. Paul lived is by no means over. In truth, it has only just begun.

Hamlet (Deleted Scenes)

ASC HamletRecently saw a semi-competent performance of Hamlet, shortened to approximately 2.25 hours running time by extensive cutting of lines. And something dawned on me…

With each passing year, I relish all the more the two unabridged Hamlets that I possess: The Arkangel Shakespeare audio, on three CDs. And my most-prized worldly possession, my DVD of Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, 1996.

I listen/watch to both at least once a year, religiously. It takes a number of sessions to get through these unabridged renditions, to be sure. Four or five late evenings to watch, six to ten drives hither and yon to listen.

Now, I do of course recognize that actually performing Hamlet on stage poses the enormous challenge: So many friggin lines. And people don’t like to sit for four hours.

But I would like to go on record officially; I would like to proclaim to the world: If you are going to mount a Hamlet; if you are going to perform Hamlet, but Marcellus (after the crowing of the cock, and the fleeing of the ghost, in Act I, scene i) –if, in your Hamlet, Marcellus is not going to say:

Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.

…If these lines are going to be skipped, in the interest of time, then I would prefer to go for a walk. Thank you very much; all the best; good luck with your production. But I had rather go for a walk than sit for a Hamlet with a lot of missing lines.

jacobi branagh christieHamlet contains two marvelous ‘mysteries,’ in the religious sense of the term.

1. None of the truly important events of the drama actually occur on-stage. And the most important plot element (the history of the genuine love between Hamlet and Ophelia) never even gets mentioned explicitly. To understand just how much they truly loved each other, one must read between the lines of their respective ravings.

2. The plot of Hamlet does not particularly matter. The plot does not satisfy, in and of itself. The plot serves as the trunk of the tree, on which hang the fruits of people saying incredibly interesting things.

At the Hamlet I recently saw, all the appropriate people lay dead on the stage at the end of the play. And we, as the audience, more or less understood why. But it was as if we had just eaten a BLT with no mayonaise. A McMuffin with no egg.

I present here a brief laundry list of lines culled in the production I saw. Tragedy of tragedies, to leave such lines unsaid!

Continue reading

Two Good Priests Among Many

Conclave Mass 2005 St Peters

Mass “Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice,” April 18, 2005


“I am the good shepherd,” says the Lord.

Exactly ten years ago last Saturday, two men sat together under the dome of St. Peter’s basilica. Since that day, both of these two men have become very famous. It was the Mass to begin the papal conclave in 2005, concelebrated by all the Cardinal electors. One of these two men soon became Pope Benedict XVI. Eight years later, the other one became Pope Francis.

That day, the first of these two men actually gave the homily. Cardinal Ratzinger was then the Dean of the College of Cardinals, so it was his duty to preach the sermon at the beginning of the conclave. In his homily, he made the point that Christ had brought a time of jubilee, the ‘year of favor,’ to the earth. Pope Francis cited the same idea when he recently declared that we as a Church will celebrate a jubilee year, a Year of Mercy, beginning this December.

Christ has revealed the face of the Father, by dying on the cross for us. Now we live in the time of grace, the time of sincere love, the time of divine mercy. Cardinal Ratzinger said that in April 2005. Pope Francis said it in April 2015.

Pope John Paul II with Cardinals Ratzinger and Bergoglio

Pope John Paul II with Cardinals Ratzinger and Bergoglio

I know it might make me sound nostalgic and old, but I think it’s a good idea for us to imagine both Cardinal Ratzinger and Cardinal Bergoglio concelebrating that particular Mass on April 18, 2005.

They both grieved the loss of a beloved friend who had died two weeks earlier. They both, I am sure, could hardly imagine the world without Pope John Paul II.

I am also sure that neither Cardinal Ratzinger nor Cardinal Bergoglio had any serious thought at that moment about becoming pope himself. They were praying fervently at the holy altar, praying that Christ the Good Shepherd would guide them, together with all the Cardinals, to do their sacred duty well.

Cardinal Ratzinger’s homily that day made a mark on me personally. Of course I was paying attention to everything, watching all the Youtubes, and reading all the translations of everything. It was in that homily that Cardinal Ratzinger gave his famous diagnosis of the “dictatorship of relativism,” the contemporary tendency to tolerate everything except the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We must have the courage to preach the truth with love, he said.

Now, I myself don’t claim to be any kind of particularly respectable priest. I hope I teach orthodox doctrine, since I hardly have anything else to offer. I have above-average skills in solving crossword puzzles, but that’s about the extent of my talents. So I don’t hold myself out as any great shakes.

But I can honestly say that I have been, and am, willing to die for the fact that there is such a thing as truth, such a thing as The Truth. And that Jesus Christ teaches it, that Jesus Christ is it. If the dictatorship of relativism asks me to choose between Christ the Truth and more days on this earth, I hope to shout Viva Cristo Rey while they shoot, God help me.

Pope Benedict, that day before he became Pope Benedict, was saying: ‘The truth is that Christ brings the Father’s loving mercy.’ Now, ten years later, Pope Francis is saying, ‘The truth is that Christ brings the Father’s loving mercy.’

Benedict Francis kneelingNewspapermen, breathless anchorwomen, and other associated television chatterers have a tendency to paint a bad Pope Benedict/good Pope Francis picture. Meanwhile, plenty of bloggers, magazine columnists, and experts on the Sacred Liturgy, like to paint the good Pope Benedict/bad Pope Francis picture.

But I really think we should meditate on the two of them concelebrating that particular Mass on that particular day, April 18, 2005. Let’s see them there, beneath the huge dome, among their brother Cardinals, praying the Mass at the tomb of St. Peter. Praying that the merciful Lord would guide His Church into the future, so that all the people of the world could reach true fulfillment as children of God.

Neither of them were praying, “Lord, make me the pope!” We can say that for sure. And we can likewise be sure that neither of them were praying, “Lord, whatever you do, don’t make Bergoglio pope!” or “Don’t make Ratzinger pope!”

I think we can imagine that they were both humbly praying something like, “Lord, give us the shepherd we need. May Your holy will be done. Give us the loving shepherd, after Your own Heart, that You have chosen.”

Now, how do we know so clearly that they both prayed more or less like this, in their innermost hearts, on that day? Because we know what they both are, deep down. We know what they both have in common, which makes their differences, real as those differences may be, seem small.

Both of these two men, Ratzinger and Bergoglio, Pope-Emeritus Benedict and Pope Francis—both have lived their long lives as devout Catholic priests. They are both the same, fundamentally: prayerful, dutiful priests. They both have really only wanted to do one thing: shepherd the flock according to the Heart of Christ. I, for one, admire them both and love them both very much. Above all, because they are such beautiful priests.

Let’s thank the Lord especially at Mass on Good-Shepherd Sunday for all the prayerful, dutiful shepherds He has given us in our lives. None of us would be here right now, if it weren’t for the shepherds we have had. The priests who gave us our sacraments of initiation, who have heard our confessions, and who have fed us from the holy altar with the medicine of immortality, the flesh and blood of Christ our God. Thank you, Lord, for guiding us through the shepherds you have given us!

And Viva Papa Francesco!

Roanoke Catholic School 125th Anniversary Homily

Roanoke Catholic School

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life. (John 6:54)

I am not especially good at anything in particular. I do very much enjoy running.

My dear fifth- and sixth graders, I think I was your age when I discovered that I love running. My father ran a 10K, and there was a “Fun Run” for the kids. About a mile or so. I got it into my head that I would run the Fun Run. I remember feeling like I was going to vomit when it was over, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Now, at such a ripe young age of ten, the idea of trying to run a mile in less than five minutes never even entered my wee mind. It was when I was your age, dear eighth graders, that I first met the most demanding man I have ever known in my life. My high-school track coach.

The immortal Coach Oliver 'Skip' Grant

The immortal Coach Oliver ‘Skip’ Grant

The feeling that I was about to vomit …it happened again. A lot. Through many merciless workouts presided-over by Coach Grant.

Then, when I was your age, dear 10th graders, all the stars aligned. It was a crisp spring afternoon. I never owned a pair of racing spikes, but that day one of the seniors on the team had a new pair, so he lent me his old ones. Our meet was held at the school with the finest track in the conference. And I managed to run a mile in 4:56. I guess I have been basking in the quiet glory of that moment ever since.

My point is: I started in one place, a place where the idea of running a sub-five-minute mile didn’t even exist. Then Coach Grant kicked the butts of all his runners into the kind of shape that none of us had ever imagined we could be in. A whole new kind of accomplishment lay within my grasp. I had a new horizon. Thanks to workouts that seemed designed to kill, I managed to reach the goal.

Seems to me that this is what “education” is. We start in one place, where the world is hemmed-in and small, even though we might not even realize it. Then someone generous gives us exercises to do, which we do not want to do.

But, by doing them anyway, we wake up one day, and the world is bigger, wider, brighter, and more interesting. Not only that. Now, thanks to all the toilsome work I have done under the guidance of someone who wants to see me succeed, I actually have the mental and psychological strength to accomplish something beautiful and impressive in this grand world.

For 125 years, right here on this lovely little plateau, teachers have been giving homework. For 125 years, students have been saying to themselves, “I really do not feel like doing all this homework.” For 125 years, parents of Roanoke Catholic students have been hollering in the house, “Have you done your homework yet?” And for 125 years, students here have been getting smarter, and more creative, and more interesting, and more capable.

But that is not all. Sub-five-minute miles come and go. Truth is, all our successes in this world come and go. Smarter and more creative and more capable—all of these can be for the good, but they can also be for the bad.

There is yet another horizon.

little last supperLike I said, when I was 10, I didn’t even know what running a sub-five-minute mile meant. When I was 15, I ran one. When you’re 14, it feels like endless studying and tons of homework. When you’re 23, you realize it means that now you have some skills that you can use to make the world better. The whole time, while you’re a pilgrim on earth, you wonder, What’s the meaning of life? And Jesus Christ answers: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will live forever.

There is yet another horizon of ‘education.’ And there is only one coach, only one teacher who can lead us to it, help us reach it, carry us there: Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus, Who says, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. Who says: Give, and more will be given to you. Who says: Whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me. Who says: Repent of your sins, and believe.

This school rightfully takes pride in all of our success as an educational institution. We commit ourselves to upholding the high standards that have been set by all the Roanoke-Catholic students and teachers and parents and coaches and administrators and staff that have gone before us. This is a celebration of the horizons of success that have opened up in this world for all the people who have come together here to form this institution.

But, above all, we praise and bless and adore our Father in heaven, Who has made us His children in Christ. Roanoke Catholic School has a lot of impressive ambitions. But the most important of them all is: We want to give glory to our heavenly Father.

We say we believe that Christ feeds us with His very own Body and Blood from the altar. That’s the faith of the Catholic Church; that’s the faith of Roanoke Catholic School. The world might think we’re crazy for believing in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but we don’t care. We believe it anyway.

This isn’t just an excellent school with an illustrious 125-year history. This isn’t just a place of academic and extra-curricular success. This is a place where we meet Christ, the Son of God. This is a place where we learn from Him as His disciples, where we seek His mercy, and where we grow strong in spirit by feeding on His Body and Blood. We have a lot of grand horizons. But the most important one is: Eternal life with God.