In a few more weeks, when completed, we will be inaugurating the newly built Arroyo Quad. Located where the old pool was, this green space sits at the center of our school’s 33-acre campus and will serve as a much-needed respite for students, faculty, and staff from all the hard work that life at Belen normally entails. Not only will this park help beautify our campus, but it will also stand as a reminder of our sacred history and the great men who worked tirelessly to get us where we are today. That quad is an expression of gratitude to those giants on whose shoulders we now stand.
Named after Fr. Felipe Arroyo, the Jesuit priest whose vision brought Belen out of its humble beginnings in Little Havana to this sprawling campus we call home today, the quad looks to recognize all of the Jesuit priests and brothers, who throughout our 58-year history in Miami, worked so hard to preserve and promote our legacy. Men such as Fr. Luis Ripoll, Fr. Jorge Sardiña, Fr. Jose Maria Izquierdo, Fr. Daniel Baldor and many others whose lives were given to forming men and engraining in them a passion for God and the service of others.
For those of you who are returning, the following is a reminder. For those of you who are here for the first time, the following is a lesson.
When in 1961 the Castro regime closed the doors of our beloved Belen in Cuba, confiscated the campus, and marched the Jesuits at gunpoint on to a ship in Havana harbor exiling them to Spain, a small group of undeterred Jesuits drove a car clandestinely on to the last ferry leaving for Miami. Not ones to mope around and wallow in the mire, this band of brothers made its way to a land they did not know, communicated in a language they did not speak and began to rebuild with resources they did not have. Even though an evil communist regime with its false and worthless ideology took from them all they had worked hard for, it was not able to take from them their passion for Jesus Christ, their commitment to Catholic education, and the courage to face adversity right in the eye and punch it right in the nose.
Almost 60 years later, we are still here and we are thriving. I often wonder if our founding fathers ever thought that we would come this far, but we have. Today, Belen Jesuit is a beacon of academic excellence and a training ground for Christian men who live their lives as men for others. And all of it is due to the tenacious spirit of a small group of Jesuits and their desire to remain faithful to the Ignatian mandate of setting the world on fire.
Gentlemen, you are the heirs of this great legacy and spirit. You have not been called to this place simply by the generous intentions of your parents who want for you an extraordinary education and solid religious formation. You have been called here by a much higher power to follow the example of these great men, who in the face of adversity and injustice, did not complain or declare defeat, but rolled up their sleeves and got to work. As they toiled for every success, fought for every acre of land, labored for every building, and worked for every accolade through the sweat of their brow, so must you.
In light of our glorious history, in the tradition of our sacred practices, let me be very clear and begin this academic year with an important revelation that will hopefully echo in your ears and settle permanently in your hearts: the world owes you nothing, therefore, work and fight for what you want.
Gentlemen, remove yourselves from the flimsy and false pedestals that our enabling society oftentimes wishes to perch you on creating in you a false sense of security and comfort. You are owed nothing by anyone unless you work hard for it. I want to be sure you understand, at Belen you will not receive an A in any class, a trophy in any sport, or a position of leadership in any club unless you work hard to earn it. There are no freebies here, nothing will be handed to you on a silver platter, you don’t deserve it. You deserve what you work hard for; you will reap abundantly what you sow. That is the expectation because that is what it means to be a man at Belen Jesuit.
There is a despicable word often uttered by Cuban mothers and adults when referring to children in moments of failure, sadness, or distress. That word is “pobrecito.” It means, “poor little one.” If you fall and skin your knee… pobrecito. If you fail a test… pobrecito. If you lose a game… pobrecito. Well my brothers, you are not poor. If you are here, standing in this central patio, you are not poor. You have a family who loves you, a faculty and staff that will educate you, friends who will support you, and a school that will nourish you. As Belen students, you have a brotherhood of alumni who will always have your back and a rich and valiant history that will define you. You are not poor and therefore it will be expected of you to work for what you get. The only handouts here will be the expectations that will be placed on your shoulders to work and work hard.
There is a phrase in the Gospels that I believe to be very appropriate. Speaking to his disciples, Jesus says to them that they “are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). What does that mean; why salt?
In the time of Jesus, salt was a precious commodity. It was so valuable, that the Romans used salt to pay their generals and soldiers. It’s where we get the term salary or salario. Salt was used to preserve food at a time when there was no refrigeration. In addition, salt was also used, as it is today, not to overpower food, but to enhance it. When Jesus refers to his disciples as the salt of the earth, he is telling them that they are called to preserve the goodness of the world and through their hard work and encouraging words, keep the world from going bad. Like salt, they were not to rob the world of its goodness, but enhance it and labor almost unassumingly.
But there is another quality of salt that also applies. Salt makes you thirsty and inclines the body to quench that thirst. My brothers, your presence in the world should leave the men and women who know you thirsting… but thirsting for Jesus. Every service project you perform, every speech that you give, every job you complete, should leave others wondering and longing for what makes you tick. I am here to tell you that what makes you tick, what makes Belen tick, and has made it tick for 164 years is Jesus Christ. Whether the world knows it or not, whether you know it or not, the world thirsts for Jesus. You, students of Belen, are here to quench that thirst.
So, this is the mandate and the theme for the year: “Be worth your salt.” Don’t let others do it for you, don’t let others limit what you can do, don’t let others discourage you or deter you from the path you must walk. Don’t let others tell you that it is not about Jesus or discipleship. That’s exactly what it is about. Be men, run to the fire, do not be afraid, be worth your salt and when you do it, do it for the greater glory of God.
Let us together with one voice ask our Blessed Mother in song to watch over us…
Our Lady of Belen… pray for us.