In Hoc Signo Vinces

Fr. Willie ‘87 | President
(This speech was delivered by Father Willie, S.J. ‘87 to the student body, faculty, and staff to kick off the 2023-24 school year.)

Approximately three hundred years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Roman Empire had continued to not only exert its power around the world, but expand it. Practically all of the known world back then flew the Roman legions flags over their lands. While politically, economically, and militarily the Romans clearly dominated, underneath the surface a religious movement promulgated by a handful of fishermen from the Middle East was transforming civilization.
Christianity was taking root. Even after the death of the apostles and thousands of other Christian men, women, and children, Christianity was clawing its way into the hearts of thousands of people. There was a lot being done to destroy it. But these Christians were a resilient bunch. Publicly put to death, they only came back stronger and in larger numbers. Stripped of their citizenship, ridiculed, threatened, beaten, and scourged, they remained faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ. It seemed as if the blood of their martyrs only made them stronger and created the sort of foundation that allowed them to reach even further.
Then, something miraculous happened. It came in the form of a great woman. Her name was Flavia Julia Helena, and after pondering the teachings of the Christian community, she decided to surrender her life to Christ, to be baptized, and to become a Christian. But her conversion to the Catholic faith was not like any other. What made her conversion so important was the fact that she was the mother of the Roman emperor, Constantine. Now, if Rome were to persecute the Christians, they would have to persecute her.
For years, Helen encouraged her son to open his heart to Christ. For years she prayed for him, spoke to him, and offered Masses for him. Then, one fateful morning in the year 312, on the battlefields just outside of Rome, a miracle happened. As the sun began to rise, Constantine, sitting on a great stallion perched on the Milvian Bridge over the great Tiber River, looked up into the sky and claimed to have had a vision. Dangerously threatened by a rival faction and severely outnumbered, he prayed to the one true God, the God who was yet unknown to him. Then, in a flash, he saw a bright cross of light as high as a mountain emblazoned against dark clouds in the sky. On this cross was an inscription that read, “In hoc signo vinces” – “In this sign you will conquer.”
This vision was the critical step in the conversion of Constantine. Not only was he successful in battle, but thrived as the first Christian ruler. Because of his faith in that sign, the cross of Jesus Christ, the Church grew and it was Jesus who was crowned the true and eternal king. Because of those powerful words, “In hoc signo vinces,” it can truly be said the sun will never set on Christianity.
So, what is it about this sign that inspired the great Emperor Constantine? What is it about the cross that assures us we will conquer? Why do the words, “In hoc signo vinces” become this year’s theme?
There is no question that at one time under Roman domination, the cross was a symbol of death, shame, and failure. But it was the body of Jesus, when nailed to it, that transformed this instrument of death into a vehicle for life. What this cross represents is now two very powerful and fundamental things, both of which are key to our victory as Catholic men, assuring our claim of being conquerors.
First, the cross represents love. The gospel of St. John tells us: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son” (3:16). The love of Jesus Christ for all of mankind, so powerful that even though he was God, He lowered himself to our human condition and sacrificed it all for our sake. He took upon his shoulders our sinfulness and shame and surrendered his life for us. The cross does not only represent love, it is the ultimate expression of love.
And, the simple fact is, love conquers all. More powerful than any sword, mightier than any military force, is the great power of love. One of the most amazing things about this love of God expressed perfectly in the person of Jesus Christ is that it has no limits, no conditions. It doesn’t matter if you’re a believer or not, doesn’t matter if you're black or white, doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, male or female, American, Cuban, Venezuelan, Italian, Greek… whatever, Jesus loves us and we are called to do the same. Notice how Jesus takes it a step further. He calls us to love not only our friends, but also our enemies. He calls us to turn the other cheek, to go two miles with one who asks us to go only one, to give not only our shirts, but our cloaks as well.
This, I know, is a tall order, but it is an order that Jesus gives and the law of love must reign supreme. It is only by living that law of love that we can expect to be victorious. Oh, maybe not victorious in this life, but definitely victorious in the life to come. And as Jesus so boldly proclaims in the gospel of St. Matthew and is later echoed by St. Ignatius of Loyola when speaking to St. Francis Xavier, what good is it to gain the whole world and lose your soul in the process.
Second, the cross represents the truth. Notice I said “the” truth and not “a” truth. There is only one truth. Jesus boldly claimed it. We find it clearly stated in the Gospel of St. John when Jesus responds to Thomas and claims, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (14:.6). There is only one way to the Father and that is Jesus Christ. There is only one truth and that is Jesus Christ. There is only one life and that is Jesus Christ.
So, what is this way, this truth, this life? It is simply this, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, and, on the third day, rose from the dead. This is the truth.
Do you realize what this means? It means that every other truth necessarily stems from this one universal and absolute truth. Because of Jesus, his life, death and resurrection, then we can boldly proclaim that every act Jesus performed, every sermon he preached, every sin he condemned and every good he commended is the truth. Truth is the fact that every man and woman was created by God as a man or a woman in His image and likeness. There is no confusion there, no questioning of identity, it is not fluid, it is truth. And every one of those men and women, no matter who they are or what they believe, from the moment of their conception in their mother’s womb to the moment of their natural death is loved unconditionally by the God who created them. That is also truth.
So let me be clear, let me clarify any possible confusion, because the cross represents both love and truth, then we have to conclude there is no such thing as love without truth, no such thing as truth without love. These two things necessarily go together. I say that because we oftentimes think that love means anything goes, even if it is wrong or lacks truth. I am here to tell you that is wrong, it is impossible. Love does not mean you have to accept lies or have to say them. Believe me, the world will accuse you of not loving unless you accept the lies it spins and pushes out through baseless ideologies you hear on social media. That is not truth and that is not love.
This is why this year we want to emphasize our embrace of the cross. It will be the standard we will use to measure ourselves. No longer can we simply rest on our laurels. No longer can we simply ride the wave of 168 years of success, but must continuously reexamine ourselves to make sure the cross of Jesus Christ is at the forefront of everything we do. Already, this summer we put together a team of teachers who will reevaluate our theology curriculum. Their task is to examine our theology classes to make sure that every class from middle school to high school meets the standard of the cross of Jesus Christ.
And it will not end there. Every class from Social Studies to Science, from English to Math will stand the test of the cross. We will make sure to work diligently to revamp every subject so when it is held up to the cross it will meet the lofty standards of love and truth. We need to make sure that every sport we play, every club we sponsor, and every activity we engage in we play, sponsor, and engage in the great light that emanates from the cross of Jesus Christ. We need to make sure every teacher we hire, every family we admit, every Jesuit who stands up at this altar, is hired, admitted, and stands in the light of the cross of Jesus Christ.
Now, more than ever, we need to define our identity as a school community as clearly and unabashedly Catholic and Jesuit. Let this be our trademark, let this be what we are known best for. Not our college acceptances, not our SAT scores, not our state championships, but our identity as a Catholic-Jesuit school driven by the love and truth of the cross of Jesus Christ.
This is no easy task, but I assure you it is one that we are completely committed to. Like the Jesuits, there is a religious order called the Carthusians. Their motto is, “Stat crux dum volvitur orbis.” In Latin it means, “The Cross stands firm as the world turns.” It is the cross of Jesus Christ, it is truth and love that remains still as the world around it spins. It is this cross we will boldly embrace. And, it is this embrace that will help us overcome the great challenges that lie ahead.
Let me make clear the mission of Belen Jesuit Preparatory School: we are not simply here for the education of men; we are here for the formation of saints. That is true of any Catholic school. I assure you, if we remain true to this endeavor, if we focus on this as our goal, then in this sign we will most definitely conquer. In the words of St. Paul, “In all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

Click here to watch Fr. Willie's presentation to the middle school. 
500 SW 127th Avenue, Miami, FL 33184
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Belen Jesuit Preparatory School was founded in 1854 in Havana, Cuba by Queen Isabel II of Spain.  The task of educating students was assigned to the priests and brothers of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), whose teaching tradition is synonymous with academic excellence and spiritual discipline.  In 1961, the new political regime of Cuba confiscated the School property and expelled the Jesuit faculty.  The School was re-established in Miami the same year, and over the next decade, continued to grow.  Today, Belen Jesuit sits on a 30-acre site in western Dade County, only minutes away from downtown Miami.