Congratulations. As of today, you are freshmen. In a year or two, you will be driving. In four years, you will be heading off to college.
But first, you will have high school to negotiate. And you will find that it is not as hard as you feared. You will also find that it is hard in ways you never expected. So this morning, by way of preparing you for the high school, I will leave you with three pieces of advice. (I had twelve, by the way. I plagiarized them all from Saint Benedict’s “Ladder of Humility.” But twelve pieces of advice would make for a very long homily. Besides that, I have some advice for your parents, too. So I’ll stick to three: Three for you and three for your parents.
So first, to your parents, I say, if you want your kid to thrive in the high school
1. Keep the computer and cell phone in a public place.
2. Limit video games to 1 hour/day or four hours on weekends (sorry, guys. I call ‘em like I see ‘em)
3. Take your kid to church every Sunday
(I realize that last suggestion doesn’t fit in so neatly with the first two, but believe me, Sunday morning is when you show your kid what your priorities are. All the rest of your house rules and your very integrity will balance on that singular obligation.)
Now...gentlemen…having just ruined your social lives, summer vacations, weeknights, and most of your weekends for the next four years, allow me to regale you with three further instructions. Here are my three rules for success in high school. And again, I stole them directly from the Rule of Saint Benedict.
1. Don’t be true to yourself. In the words of Saint Benedict: “Do not be in love with your own will, but put into practice that word of the Lord which says: "I came not to do My own will but the will of Him that sent Me” (John 6:38).
You see, what feels best for you may not be the best for the people around you. For that matter, it may not even be good for you. A man of real integrity understands that self-fulfillment is not about self-satisfaction. Thus he is willing to deny his own desires for the sake of the future, for the sake of his soul, and for the sake of the people around him. So don’t be true to yourself. Anyone can do that. If you want to do something really courageous and admirable, try being true to someone better than you—like, say, Jesus.
2. Don’t follow your dreams. Or, in the words of Saint Benedict: “For the love of God, be obedient to your elders, imitating the Lord, of whom the Apostle says: "He was obedient even unto death" (Phil 2:8)
You see, everyone has dreams, and if we all followed all of them, the world would collapse into chaos and ruination. Some folks have stupid dreams, unhealthy dreams, scary, self-defeating, reckless, or just plane evil dreams. So how do we know which dreams to follow? We seek the advice of someone older and wiser than ourselves. G. K. Chesterton said, “We don't need a church that is right when we are already right. We need a church that is right when we’re wrong.”
A lot of folks think that growing up means you no longer have to obey anyone. Once you’re an adult (they say to themselves), you no longer have to do anything that anyone tells you. Well, that attitude is wrong. The truth is, maturity demands a higher level of obedience. An obedience so true that it anticipates the rules, and goes beyond them. Imagine a school where the students tried to guess what their teachers wanted from them and then did it before being asked. Imagine a school where each student was determined to outdo the others in love. St. Benedict envisions such a school in his Rule for monks. He calls it “A School for the Lord’s Service.”
And lastly, I will repeat for you something that was said to me by the valedictorian at my high school graduation. He said: “Nothing is impossible if you just put your mind to it.” That statement is a lie. You will find over the course of the next four years—and every year thereafter—that lots of things are impossible, some of the possible things are bad, and others end in failure. In fact, before you graduate, I predict that you will fail at something: you’ll lose a game, get your heart broken, bomb a test, get made fun of. And if you’re anything like me, you will fail profoundly, ridiculously, dramatically, publicly, and repeatedly.
And that is not okay. But if you are faithful to prayer and never stop returning to God in humility and repentance, you will discover for yourselves the truth in what Mother Theresa used to say: “God does not expect us to be successful. He expects us to be faithful.” Unite your failures with Christ’s suffering, and they will transform miraculously into earth-shattering triumphs, because you will be participating in the redemptive suffering of Christ.
So… it is not the case that you can do anything so long as you just put your mind to it. In fact, you are destined for failure. And that is very, very sad. But it’s also kind of thrilling because your God had his heart broken and was bullied. Your God was humiliated and scorned and abandoned. And that means that your dignity is not bound up with your success. You are sons of God. You have been divinized. And in the end, when you lie on your deathbed as we all inevitably do, without trophies or diplomas or accolades or even your bodily health, ALL that will matter is your existence as a son of God, and that will be enough. That will be more than enough. That will be everything.
Laus Tibi Domine.