Friday, October 28, 2016


Sermon to the saint Louis Priory School on October 28, 2016

In one of the greatest scenes of Western literature, the enraged warrior, Achilles, unbeaten and unbeatable, stands outside his tent on the beach of Troy, while three ambassadors beg him to rejoin the battle.  Achilles, unmoved by their arguments and their tears, answers, “I hate that man like the very Gates of Death who says one thing but hides another in his heart.  So I will say it outright.  Will Agamemnon win me over?  Not for all the world…Not now that he has torn my honor from my hands.”
It is a shockingly powerful passage—shocking and heart-wrenching—but also somewhat confusing.  After all, we moderns have to ask ourselves, how could anyone steal another man’s honor?  Well, scholars have written whole books on the topic, but the long and short of it is this: The Greeks of the Bronze Age measured their honor in stuff and in reputation: time´ and kleos were the words they used—sometimes you hear it translated “honor and glory”.
Time´ was measured in stuff.  The more stuff you had, the more honor.  And if someone took your stuff, they literally took your honor.  If someone stole a Greek hero’s cow, they stole one cow’s worth of honor.  Similarly kleos (or glory) was determined by popular opinion.  So if someone insulted a Greek warrior in public, he literally damaged that man’s glory.
So when Agamemnon, the general of the Greeks, publicly seizes Achilles’ slave-girl, he literally steals one slave worth of honor, and Achilles never gets over it.  Because honor is a zero-sum game.  The more of it you get, the less I have.
Now the reason I tell you this story is to give you a sense of how radical Christianity was when it came along.  That story, The Iliad—it was the Bible of the Ancient Western World; but when Jesus showed up, he turned their whole system of honor on its head.  Jesus said that the poor would rule the kingdom of God and the humble would inherit the earth.
Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Apostles Simon and Jude—two men who owned nothing and about whom we know very little.  Saint Jude was confused with Judas so often that he eventually became the patron of lost causes. What’s more, the gospel writers themselves couldn’t seem to keep his name straight: John calls him “Judas – but not the Iscariot!” Luke calls him “Jude the brother of James,” and Matthew calls him “Thaddeus.”  Nothing is said about him in any of the gospels except that he asked one question, and not a very good one.  He says, “Lord, what’s this?” (Jn 14:22).  And that’s it.  There’s a New Testament letter that bears his name, but most scholars agree that someone else probably wrote it for him.  And we know even less about Simon.  Mostly, he goes by “not Simon Peter”.  Luke calls him “Simon the Zealot,” Matthew and Mark call him “Simon the Canaanite.”  And that’s pretty much it for Simon.
A Feast like this would have baffled Achilles.  Simon and Jude died without time´ or kleos.  No honor or glory here—not by Ancient Greek standards.  And come to think of it, Simon and Jude come up rather short by modern standards as well…even by our standards here at this school. You compete for honor and glory with other schools and in athletic events; you compete among yourselves.  Priory is, as they say, a “highly competitive school.”  Many of you hope to attend “highly competitive universities.”  And that’s a good thing.  I mean, no one enters a competition hoping to lose, right?
I remember, though, when I was on the swim team in high school, there was a poster in the locker room that read: “No one remembers who came in second.”  And that, in retrospect, strikes me as rather the wrong attitude as well.
            So what is the right attitude?  Well, Saint Paul says, “Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize?  So run to win.”  And Saint Benedict actually encourages his monks to compete with one another.  “Let each strive to be first,” he says.  Though, as usual, the logic of true Christianity moves in a radically new direction.  “Let them strive to be first” says Saint Benedict, “first to honor one another.”  They must compete with one another in obedience.  No one, he says, should pursue what he judges advantageous to himself, but rather what benefits others.  Imagine a race where all the runners were trying to help each other win.  Admittedly, it wouldn’t be much of a spectator sport.  But true honor—the honor that comes from a virtuous life—that is not a zero-sum game.  Because the prize is infinite.  Every athlete exercises discipline in every way,” says Saint Paul, “They do it to win a perishable crown, but we do it for an imperishable crown.  Heaven is the finish line, and there’s only first place when you get there.
            Now, there have been great saints who were famous authors, brilliant scholars, powerful politicians, and successful businessmen.  There have even been great saints who were great warriors.  [I’m going to go off-script here for a second so I can tell you about one of my favorite saints.  His name was Gabriel Possenti, and he was an Italian Seminarian at a time when Italy was more or less run by gangs of armed thugs.  Anyway, one afternoon, one of these gangs came into town and started stealing stuff and burning down houses.  Gabriel Possenti came running out of the seminary to find the thugs in the middle of the town square torchuring a young woman.  So he ran into the middle of the group and started shouting for them to stop.  Of course, they wouldn’t listen to him, so he wrestled a pistol away from one of them and said, “I’ll shoot the next man who touches her.”  One of the thugs pointed out that there were only six bullets in the gun, so Saint Gabriel (who, it turned out, happened to be a sharp-shooter) turned around and shot a lizard off the wall behind him and said, “Now there’s only five bullets in the gun.  Who’s next?”  The brigands were so impressed, they went around to the various houses and returned what they had stolen—and helped put the fires out!  Now that’s my kind of saint!  That’s the kind of saint who would have impressed Achilles.]  But today, we are celebrate the Feast of two anonymous saints, and they are just as important.  Saint Therese of Lisieux put it this way: “The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of it’s scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.”  Yeah, it’s corny.  But it’s also true.  Some of us aren’t ever going to be rich or famous or powerful.  But we can all be saints.  And this feast is for us.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Wednesday Reflection by Priory School Senior, Colin Limp

Chapter 2: What Sort of Man the Abbot Should Be
When a man is elected abbot, he should govern his disciples by a twofold teaching; namely, he should show them all that is good and holy by his deeds more than by his words… Let him so adjust and adapt himself to each one according to his character and understanding–that he not only suffer no loss in his flock, but may rejoice in the increase of a worthy fold.  And let the abbot always bear in mind that he will be held accountable by God Himself for both his own teaching and for the obedience of his disciples.
Amongst all people, religious and non-religious, clergy and laymen, there are leaders.  Leaders exemplify qualities necessary to the fields in which they lead.  Leaders are people who demand respect, and—in the cases of abbot, teacher, and parent—obedience.
There are an infinite number of ways in which to categorize leaders; but perhaps the best way to do so is to sort leaders into two groups: those we elect, and those we don’t.
For those we elect, there is a lot of give and take.  These leaders have a great deal of accountability to those who elect them.  We choose these people.  There are a lot of examples of this kind of leadership: we elect the President of the United States; we elect mayors, councilmen and school boards; we even elect members to the most glamourous and important position of all, Priory Student council.  Since we choose these people, we expect them to perform to our satisfaction.  When they don’t, we’re able to express our displeasure with their performance through measures such as petition and impeachment. 
Even when these leaders inevitably disappoint us in some way, we still owe them our respect.  On the most basic level, respect is something that should be shown by and to all people.  That being said, we owe our elected officials more respect than just acknowledging their basic rights as people.  Being responsible for and accountable to others is a huge job, no matter what level of governing it takes place at.  And while we have every right to disagree with what that person says or how that person acts, we still have to respect their authority.  For example, look at President Obama.  Personally, I disagree with him on a lot of his policies and opinions; however, I completely respect his authority as the leader of this country, and I don’t question his right to believe and impose those policies, even though I think he’s dead wrong.
What we do not owe elected leaders, though, is obedience.  Not only are these leaders very prone to error, but they have sought this leadership out—they have “ran for office”.  To quote Thomas Jefferson, elected leaders “Are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”  We give them the authority they hold.  We can also take this authority away from them.  Because of this, we are not and should never be obedient to this type of leader.
There is, however, a second kind of leader.  This person is not elected.  He is not chosen, voted for, or even asked for.  While with unchosen leaders—people I will refer to as superiors—there is in some ways slightly less give and take than with those who are elected.  They in return owe more to their followers.  As it says in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 783-786, Jesus calls us to serve as Priest, Prophet, and King.  When it says King, it means “not to be served, but to serve”.  If a person is in a position of authority that is thrust upon him, that person owes it to his followers to truly serve to the fullest of his ability.  Some examples of superiors would be teachers and parents. 
Does this call to service mean that these people will be infallible?  Of course not.  Our parents will make mistakes.  Our teachers will make mistakes.  Even the monks will make mistakes.  However, as with elected officials, we still owe them our respect.  The difference is, with superiors, we also owe them obedience.  You are to obey your parents, and your teachers.  Why?  Because their authority is derived from something higher than just a democratic process.  Their authority comes from God.  From a Catholic perspective, all you have to do is look at the Fourth Commandment for proof of this.  And, in a classroom, “Honor thy mother and Father” extends to teachers as well.  But even in a secular sense, obedience to parent and teacher is part of the natural order of human interaction, and can be explained by Natural Law.  Now, does “obedience” mean do everything that this person tells you, even if you know it is intrinsically evil?  No.  Obedience means heeding the direction of those superiors, even if you disagree, because those superiors are still being held accountable, but not by you—by God.
The position of Abbot doesn’t fall perfectly into either of these categories.  The abbot is elected; I cannot tell you exactly what that election process entails, but regardless, there is a great deal of choice by the rest of the monks as to who their abbot will be.  However, the abbot commands obedience; perhaps even more obedience than is commanded of all of you by your parents and teachers.  On the surface, this is somewhat frustrating, as I am someone who likes for things to fit into categories whenever possible.  But instead of being an outlier, the Abbot position is a union between the two categories of leadership—in the same way that Christ is the union between two categories: God and Man.  As Father Augustine stated in a previous reflection, “For a monk, the abbot takes the place of Christ in this world”. 
This connection with Christ that the abbot shares is also shared by the rest of us to some extent.  We are all called to be Priest, Prophet, and King.  We are all called to be Christ to others.  Frankly, we are all called also to rise above the mundane and simple system of elected leadership.  There are more important things than being President, than being mayor, than being on Student Council.  There are even more important things than being parents and teachers and abbots.  Showing respect and obedience to Christ is chief among them.
As you are all undoubtedly aware, we are in the midst of the most bizarre and comical election season in decades.  This is a prime example of the first kind of leadership.  I’m not here to offer my opinion on who you should support; especially this time, since both answers seem like wrong answers.  What I will encourage you to do is to be mindful of your conscience when choosing who you want to lead you.  And more importantly, whoever turns out to be our next President, I implore you to remain respectful of that person—but not obedient.  Please stand.