My brother called me the other day to tell me that a colleague of his expressed his desire for his sons to attend Belen. This should not come as a surprise. Who wouldn’t want their son to receive a quality Catholic-Jesuit education? But what did catch my attention was the particular reason why this parent wanted a Belen education for his boys. He told my brother that he was at a store a few days earlier when he noticed a young man wearing a Belen t-shirt who made it a point to go out of his way to open the door for an elderly woman who was walking into the establishment.
That was it.
What attracted this parent to Belen was not simply the rigorous academic curriculum, the award-winning athletic program, the numerous extracurricular activities, or the expansive state-of-the-art campus. What caught his eye was the gentlemanly act of one Belen student. That is what makes Belen such a special place. That is what drives Belen and has driven us for such a long time; the formation of well-rounded men.
At the beginning of this academic year, my first as president of this extraordinary institution, I stood in front of the student body and introduced them to the various banners that flew above our central patio. As a starting point, I picked out the one garnished with the Latin words Esto Vir. “Be a man” has been the mantra of these last few months and its power lies in its necessity to permeate every component of the Belen Jesuit experience. In the classroom, central patio, cafeteria, chapel, athletic field, bus-ride home, during the week or on the weekend, the Belen student is called to be man.
At a time when our world suffers from a void of true leadership, evidenced in part by the drama of the recent elections where few were left completely satisfied, leaders are needed. But it is not a kind of leadership that is simply inherited by position or status. It is a leadership of clear conviction that addresses the absence of a solid moral compass and is indifferent to the jeers and mocking of an often amoral society.
More than ever our world needs men who can lead without compromising, under any circumstances nor for any reason, their Christian conviction to serve others before serving self, of professing through word and action their faith in Jesus Christ, of standing up for life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death, of defending the poor and destitute, the marginalized and forgotten. We need the men from Belen to lead that charge and to fill that void.
On Sunday, November 20th, the Church celebrates the Feast of Christ the King. It also marks the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis on March 13, 2015. In his papal bull entitled Misericordiae Vultus (“The Face of Mercy”) the Holy Father reminds us that, “Jesus affirms that mercy is not only an action of the Father, it becomes a criterion for ascertaining who his true children are. In short, we are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us. Pardoning offences becomes the clearest expression of merciful love, and for us Christians it is an imperative from which we cannot excuse ourselves” (9).
Men of mercy, men of compassion. These are the qualities with which we strive to raise our young men. But it is important to clarify that it is not a mercy and compassion absent of a need to assume the responsibilities of our actions, to understand that actions have consequences and that we are responsible for them. Even the good thief who repented on the cross next to Jesus recognized his fault and accepted the just penalty for his actions. The mercy and compassion of Jesus towards the repented sinner was made possible because of that man’s humble acknowledgement of his crime.
This is what Belen wants. This is what the world needs. Men of chivalric character who politely open doors, generously give up their seats, confidently shake hands and look you in the eye without earbuds in their ears or cellphones in their hands. Men who strive to be honest when it is easy or profitable not to, but who humbly recognize when they fail to. Men who are humble in victory and gallant in defeat. Ultimately, men for others.
Fr. Willie ‘87