(This speech was delivered by Father Willie to the student body and faculty online on August 27, 2020, to kick off the 2020-21 school year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, classes are being held virtually for the time being.)
In 1599, Catholic playwright and poet William Shakespeare wrote a play titled Henry V. It’s based on the life of King Henry of England who reigned from 1413-1431 and is considered to be one of the greatest warrior kings of England. In Act IV of the play, Shakespeare portrays King Henry with his small army in northern France on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt, one of the battles of the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. The day of the battle fell on the feast of St. Crispin. The English were severely outnumbered and things didn’t look good. So, in order to build up his soldier’s morale, he gave a speech that is famously known as the St. Crispin’s Day Speech.
In this speech, King Henry reminds his men that though they are few, it is they and no others who had been called together as one to do battle for the glory of England. The king tells them that while there are hundreds of thousands of men in England who are in their homes safe and sound, sleeping comfortably in their beds, surrounded by their families and loved ones, he wouldn’t want a single one of them with him in battle because by his side he only wants the chosen few. He only wants those who have been chosen for their courage, their passion, their focus on the task at hand, their willingness to fight.
King Henry believed these qualities were more important for success than mere numbers. For King Henry, it’s all about what Mark Twain said almost 500 years later, “it’s not about the size of the dog in the fight, it’s about the size of the fight in the dog.”
Listen to the king’s words:
From this day to the ending of the world,
we in it shall be remembered—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
Did you hear how King Henry refers to his men … “we band of brothers.” He doesn’t simply refer to them as an army of soldiers or a mercenary group, he refers to them as “we band of brothers” and it is with this band that he is willing to go into the fight.
Gentlemen, these words of the warrior king apply to you. You few, you happy few, you band of brothers have been called to do battle, to wage war against the evil that all too often lurks in the world that surrounds us. You few, you happy few, you band of brothers have been called to Belen Jesuit so that armed with your spiritual, academic, and physical formation you may be a living example to those around you that the world, created by God and endowed with His grace, has the potential to be a good and holy place.
And like Shakespeare’s play, you too have a king who calls you to arms. In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola includes a meditation titled “the Call of the Temporal King.” In it, our founder encourages the person doing the meditation to “see Christ our Lord, as the King eternal, and before Him all the entire world, each one in particular He calls, and says: ‘It is My will to conquer all the world and all enemies and so to enter into the glory of My Father; therefore, whoever would like to come with Me is to labor with Me, that following Me in the pain, he may also follow Me in the glory.’”
It is Jesus Christ who calls you here. It is not by some chance that you are students at Belen Jesuit. It is not simply because you are related to an alumnus or because you fell in love with the campus or because you had heard of the good education and the Belen Jesuit network that extends far beyond Miami. You are here because you have been called by Jesus Christ, the eternal King, to prepare for a great battle and to win the world back for Christ.
Gentlemen, don’t think of your education here at Belen simply as a means for self-aggrandizement. No, your education here at Belen is for the purpose of preparing yourself for the sanctification of the world. You heard correctly. You few, you happy few, you band of brothers have been called by Christ to be the ones who will help sanctify the world; to take the message of Jesus Christ as far as humanly possible, to the ends of the earth.
There is no question that this a monumental task. But do not be afraid because, at Belen, no one stands alone. No one should have to face his trials and tribulations without the support of his brothers. It doesn’t matter whether you are in the sixth grade or a senior in your final year. It doesn’t matter whether you prefer biology to calculus, history to economics. It doesn’t matter whether you are black or white, whether you are from Venezuela or Brazil. We are a band of brothers who stand firmly together under the standard of Jesus Christ. Listen to the words of St. Paul who writes in his letter to the Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (3:28).
To band together under the banner of Christ is a very real and powerful thing.
I have seen young men from Belen band together for prayer every night at 9 p.m. for months to support their brother who lies in a hospital bed fighting for his life. I have seen these young men band together to collect food and supplies for the doctors and nurses who are working around the clock to make sure their brother has a fighting chance. I have seen these young men band together in support of their brother’s mother and father as they stand faithfully at their son’s side; these few, these happy few, this band of brothers.
The examples abound. It is only as a band of brothers that our cross-country team has not only won a record 11 state championships, but is also ranked the ninth-best team in the nation, and the best team in the southeastern United States and Florida. It is only as a band of brothers that an innovation center, aquatic facility, and chapel can be built. And it is only as a band of brothers that we can respond to the needs of the homeless in Miami, the poor in the Dominican Republic, and the suffering in Venezuela and Haiti.
There is no question that the task that lies before us is a great one. One only has to glance at the world to see that it is marred with conflict and violence and fear. But do not be fooled. These are only fruits of those who have allowed themselves to be deceived by the power of evil. Yes, evil. For it is a real thing. The world oftentimes tries to sweep it under the rug, to mask it as any number of things so we let our guard down. But the wiles of the devil are real and we have to be conscious that it is with him that we do battle. We must understand there is no greater tool the devil has than fear, there is no greater tactic the devil has than to divide. So, it is with courage and solidarity that we respond because there is greater courage when we come together as one and leave no man behind.
Gentlemen, as we stand at the door of this new academic year, I would not venture to stay that this will be a good year. No. I would venture to say that this has the potential to be the best year. This has the potential to be the best year because like never before you, the young men of Belen, are presented with a great opportunity. In the face of such great adversity, in the presence of such unprecedented obstacles, you are given the opportunity to excel. Never before in our lifetime has there been a greater need for heroes. The stage has been set and never before has the scene called for young men to stand in the midst of the challenges and side by side vow to overcome. Among our ranks, there are 1,385 potential heroes. Yes you, gentlemen of Belen, you few, you happy few, you band of brothers are poised and placed in a position to be great and show the world that it takes a lot more than a virus to keep you down.
Do not lose heart. Do not allow the fear and the concern distract you from the task at hand. With your parents, teachers, and Belen alumni and brothers at your side, you will overcome. There is no option but success and I assure you if we face every trial together as one under the gold and blue standard, emblazoned with the cross of Jesus Christ, and under the protection of his Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Belen, we will not simply survive our ordeals, you will be better men because of it. You will be stronger, wiser, more resilient, and better prepared to deal with the future that lies ahead.
I have often heard it said that the youth are the future. The youth are the future of the world, the future of our society, the future of the Church. The future? Why the future? There’s no need to wait. Be the present, be the here and now. There is so much that you can do now and you have proven it in the past. You don’t have to wait. There are people all around who need you now, not in the future. There are problems we are facing now, not in the future. There are members of our Belen family who are suffering now, not in the future. Don’t sit back and expect others to respond. You few, you happy few, you band of brothers are the response.