Chaplain’s Conference – At the Beginning

the Beginning

Sacred Heart Catholic School
Chaplain’s Conference – High School
Thursday, September 7, 2017

Here we are at the beginning of a new school year. Day 3. The nerves are starting to wear off as we settle in. We are figuring out the routine. We are learning the schedule. Students are learning their teachers and teachers are learning their students.

We stand just inside the doorway of this new school year. We stand at the beginning. I would like to reflect a bit this morning on the importance of beginnings. I think that beginnings offer us a unique opportunity, an opportunity that can be easily lost in the hustle and bustle of the school day if we don’t pay attention. Beginnings, especially this beginning of a new school year, offer us an opportunity to pause, to look at where we are now, and to look at where we are going.

What is in store for you this year? How will you have changed by the end of this school year? How will you have grown, or not grown? How will you be different?

Who do you desire to be at the end of this school year? Perhaps more importantly, who does God desire you to be?

I know who God desires you to be.

He desires you to be a saint.
He desires you to be young men and young women of integrity, men and women of character, men and women of virtue.
He wants to set you free from the sins that enslave you.
He wants you to flourish.
He wants you to be joyful.
He wants you to be bold and confident. He wants you to be a leader. He wants you to know what your life is about.
He wants you to learn to love more deeply.
He wants you to live your life to the full.

He loves you infinitely, and he wants you to know of his love for you.
He loves the person sitting next to you infinitely, and he wants you to love them with His heart.
He even loves the person you can’t stand – your enemy – infinitely. And he calls you to love even them, especially them, with His heart.

He desires for you to learn to love, to truly love, because love is of God, and it is love to which we are called. Love is not a feeling. Love is a choice, just like sin is a choice. To love is to will the good of another. To love is to choose the good of another. You can love someone even if you don’t like someone because you can choose the good of the other person even if you don’t like them.

You are called to love. You are called to love with the Heart of God. You are called to love with the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ under whose Lordship we place this school!

Brothers and sisters, that starts here. That starts now. That starts today. At the beginning.

If we do not choose to practice love of God and love of neighbor here, now, today and every day this year, how can we expect to learn it? How can we expect to get where we are going?

The road to Heaven, the road to sainthood, is paved with your choices, your daily choices, your hourly choices, the choices of each moment, to live the great commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31).

Here at Sacred Heart, you are given the means to do this. You are given everything you need. You are presented with opportunities every day to practice loving God and loving each other.

Here at the beginning of this school year, I would offer a couple of suggestions if you would take up the challenge to become men and women who love deeply and live fully.

First: pray.

You are given ample opportunities here to pray. You have Mass on Friday. You have a prayer period every day. You are given opportunities to lead prayer in your classrooms. Learn to pray.

Prayer is a relationship. If you are going to learn to love God and to love others with the heart of God, you must learn to pray. You must encounter the living God. This requires something of you. You have to give yourself to prayer. You must give yourself fully to prayer and seek to praise God, to thank God, to ask God for what you and for what others need with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. You cannot learn to pray if you simply stand on the sidelines with everyone else. You have to get in the game. So often we end up just going through the motions. Going through the motions, or just “being here” while prayer is going on, is not prayer. It is a waste of your time.

In the Mass, the priest says “Lift up your hearts.” We respond, “We lift them up to the Lord.” When I was in the seminary, our rector would command us to do this: “Lift up your hearts!” We would exclaim “We lift them up to the Lord!” That command would always snap me out of my lukewarmness and cause my heart to surge. Prayer requires that of us. It requires energy, it requires strength, it requires you to choose to give yourself over to it. It requires you to choose to say the words, to speak up with enthusiasm, and to mean what you say.

Brothers and sisters, in our celebrations together this year, as we pray together, I challenge you to “lift up your hearts!” I dare you to turn your prayer into true worship. Say the words with vigor and with enthusiasm, and mean what you say. Think about what you say. Be bold! Lift up your hearts and voices and sing the songs of praise to God. Think about the words you sing and mean what you sing. Give yourself over to prayer and your heart will learn to love more deeply. Give yourself over to prayer with all of the strength at your command and it will stretch your heart so that it can contain the love of God Himself, a love that you can then pour out to others.

Pray.

Pray together in the Church. Pray together in your classrooms. Pray alone in the Chapel.

Ask your friends and classmates to pray for you. Ask them to pray with you. Pray in your own words – in a heart-to-heart conversation with God. This is risky. It will be awkward at first. But if you practice it regularly you will see friendships deepen – your friendship with God and your friendships with each other. Take the risk. Your love will deepen.

As we strive to love, we will fail at times. We will fall. We will sin. When that happens, acknowledge it and repent – turn away from it – and turn toward the Lord’s mercy in the confessional. Regular confession is something that will greatly help you grow in your ability to pray and to love God and each other more deeply. There is more joy over one sinner who repents than over 99 people who have no need of repentance. How often do you go to confession? I challenge you to be bold and go regularly. Once a year is the bare minimum. Once a month is a good rule of thumb. When your conscience pricks you, when you have sin weighing you down and getting in the way of your prayer and your relationship with God, come to the confessional. God’s mercy awaits you.

This year, you will have three opportunities every week for confession. A priest will be available to hear confessions during the Prayer Period on Tuesday mornings when Adoration is taking place. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, a priest will be available in the chapel during the lunch periods. Fr. Paul Kuhn of Holy Family, Fr. Kyle Metzger of St. Michael’s and I will take turns covering these periods. We are available to hear confessions or for spiritual direction or counsel. We are available to teach you how to pray. If you want to speak to a priest about what is going on in your heart, come and talk to us. We are here for you.

Something I used to think as a teenager, and something I have already heard several times as a priest, is this: “I could never confess this sin to a priest” or “I could never confess my sins to this priest – he’d think badly of me.” This is a lie from the Evil One to keep you enslaved to your sins. Brothers and sisters, you cannot free yourself from your sins. Only Christ can free you from your sins. Turn to Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He has given real power to the words of his priests, power to forgive your sins in His name. You will find mercy, not condemnation. I promise you that.

Pray.

Second: Study.

Work hard at your studies. Apply yourself to your studies. Pay attention in class. Ask questions. Strive to learn. St. Thomas Aquinas once described the approach to theology, which is the study of God, as “faith seeking understanding.” That’s a great way to approach our learning. We know that the truth is out there. The truth is in here. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus Christ is the truth – truth is a person. Seek to understand the truth because the truth is real. Ask questions not for the sake of challenging or for winning an argument, but ask questions for the sake of deepening your understanding. If you find yourself disagreeing with something you are learning, ask questions and try to understand what your teacher is saying. Ask someone else to help you understand. Learn to seek the truth, to seek Jesus Christ, with your minds and hearts and not just with your emotions. I hope that you experience Sacred Heart as a place where you can ask honest questions. What you are learning matters to your life. It makes a difference in your life.

Study.

Finally: Serve.

Throughout the coming year, you will have many opportunities to serve. Seek them out. Look for opportunities to serve each other. Volunteer when volunteers are needed. Volunteer before you are asked! If you see a need, look for a way to fulfill the need.

When a teacher asks for someone to volunteer to lead prayer in class, step up and volunteer.
When people are needed to assist in the cafeteria or to serve at Mass, step up and serve.
Serve not out of a need to fill your commitment hours, but serve out of gratitude to God for all that He has given you.

Love manifests itself in service. Learn to serve with joy and you will learn to love with joy.

Serve your teachers. Serve your classmates. Serve your teammates. Serve each other.

Saint John Paul II once said that man…cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself. You will not find yourself until you make a gift of yourself. Jesus said, “He who loses his life for my sake will find it.” You will find true joy and true happiness when you learn to serve others out of love.

This is great training for your future vocation. What type of husband and father do you desire to be? What type of wife and mother do you desire to be? What type of priest or religious do you desire to be? Do you desire to be the type of person who gives, who is selfless, who loves, who makes life easier for his family by bearing their burdens? Or do you desire to be the person who takes, who waits to be served, who places a heavy burden on his family? Your vocation as a husband, father, wife, mother, priest, or religious is not about you. It is about others. Your vocation is about giving your life in service to others, ultimately to help them to get to Heaven.

Your training for that starts here, now, today…at the beginning. 

Brothers and sisters, the choices you make today, at the beginning, will form you into the person you will be tomorrow. Laurie Hernandez said it well: Your future doesn’t start ten years from now, 10 months from now, 10 days from now, or 10 minutes from now. It starts today.

It starts today. It starts now. At the beginning.

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