Like clockwork, every year during the last week of December, the media puts out a series of lists focused on the year in review. They come out with neat segments that recap the major events that took place throughout the previous year. You will notice that unfortunately, the vast majority of them are about the great tragedies that befell our world; the people who died, the natural disasters, the wars, the scandals, the heartaches. As a matter of fact, the only lists I could find that were somewhat positive were centered on sports. It seems that the media is telling us that the only people who were happy in 2016 were the fans of the Broncos, Cubs, and Cavaliers.
Now, there is no doubt that 2016 had its fair share of disgraces and heartaches. And because bad news sells more newspapers than good news, it makes sense that the media would focus on those things. But when I did my own personal review of 2016 I ended up with a list that was a little different. You see, not only has my Jesuit upbringing instilled in me a need to pray the Examen, a prayerful evaluation of things that have happened, but it has also instilled in me a conviction, that through the Examen, I can find the presence of God everywhere and in everything. I can find him in my days, in my years, and in my life. The most powerful part of that exercise is that if you look carefully enough, you can even find God in the darkest, most difficult of moments. You can discover that God was not only with you in those moments, but He was actually carrying you through them.
You see, that is the problem with the secular world out there and its ever-present newspapers and media outlets. It divorces itself from God in the name of political correctness or inclusiveness. It is society’s choice, but understand that in doing so it has cut itself off from the only true source of joy and hope, from the author of life, it has cut itself off from God. And because man needs joy and hope more than so many other things, it tries to fill the vacuum with temporary happiness. The world sends you occasional YouTube videos of cute cats or puppies, vine compilations of practical jokes or magic tricks, or snapchats of slips and falls. Don’t get me wrong, nobody has laughed more over Scarlet taking a tumble on YouTube than I have or cried more tears of joy watching servicemen surprise their loved ones coming back from Afghanistan or Iraq a couple of days earlier than expected.
But that joy is temporary. It ends when the video runs out. And when something really bad happens, when someone you love dies, when someone you love gets sick, there is no funny or cute YouTube video that can fill you with the hope and joy that can only come from Jesus Christ. Gentlemen, the beauty of hope it is that it can take any incident, any event, any experience, whether good or bad, and help you see the presence of God in it.
Reviewing 2016 from the perspective of the individual who believes in the resurrected Christ and is convinced of the real and awesome presence of God in all things, allows that individual to see light in all things, no matter how dark or gloomy they may be.
Let me give you an example… USA Today came out with an article on December 31st titled: People We Lost in 2016. True, but how tragic. The Christian author would have written an article titled: People Heaven Gained in 2016, or People Surrendered to God’s Mercy in 2016, or People Who Await the Resurrection in 2016. I know those titles aren’t as appealing. Or maybe they are too offensive or politically incorrect. But they are titles that speak of hope and new birth. They are titles that remind us that for as difficult and sad an event has been, there is hope that fills us with the grace to move on and look forward.
So, as president of Belen Jesuit I want to make a very important proclamation this morning as we begin a new calendar year.
You see, several years ago, someone, somewhere decided that we were no longer going to use the “offensive” terms B.C. (before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini – year of our Lord) to refer to dates of the calendar year. We were no longer going to say July, 356 B.C. for the birth of Alexander the Great or October, 1854 A.D. for the founding of Belen Jesuit Prep School. Instead, we will use B.C.E. (before the common era) and C.E. (common era). Now, my intention here is not to get into the reasons why that decision was made and why history books and journals and newspapers were changed to incorporate the new way of referring to the years of human history, this eradicating the life of Jesus Christ as a reference point. No, I can’t speak for the whole human family and its usage of terms for referencing time, but I can speak to and for the Belen family.
And so, I will!
My brothers and sisters, on January 1st, at Belen Jesuit, we began the 2017 A.D., Anno Domini. I am emphatically and publically declaring to you today that this year belongs to the Lord. It is His. And, by the way, because it belongs to him, there is nothing common about it. This school, these classrooms, your life, my life, in 2017, from January to December, belongs to Jesus Christ. And I encourage all of you to be fully aware that no matter what happens this year, whether good or bad, it belongs to Him and that He will be powerfully present at every moment. Whether we win the soccer state championship again or not, whether we prevail at Model United Nations tournaments or not, whether we put on a musical production or not, whether we finish building our new aquatic center or not… the year belongs to the Lord.
Let me take it one step further and be abundantly clear about it. Our personal acknowledgment or denial of the Lord’s presence throughout the year does not, in anyway, add or diminish his presence in it. In other words, the disbelief of some or the inability to recognize of a few does not, under any circumstances, reduce his reality. Just as the stars and planets exist in the sky whether we see them or not, or the Great Wall of China rolls across the eastern plains of Asia whether we have been there or not, or just as my deceased grandmother once lived and breathed whether you met her or not…. the Lord is, whether you like it or not, whether you know it or not.
2017 at Belen Jesuit belongs to the Lord, it is an Anno Domini.
To the majority of you who do believe, I encourage you to look for him everywhere and in everything. Never doubt that He is here, that He loves you, that He rejoices in your joy and weeps in your sorrow. Do not, under any circumstances, be discouraged when the few among us laugh at us or mock us for having faith in Jesus Christ. Belen belongs to Jesus Christ, you belong to Jesus Christ, they belong to Jesus Christ, therefore believing in him is the norm not the exception. Don’t be disheartened by classmates or peers who persecute you for being a Christian. They are only responding from a want, a desire, to have what you have.
To those of you who doubt, I encourage you to search for him everywhere and in everything. I encourage you to keep searching, to keep asking, to keep wanting, because I assure you as God is good that you will find Him. Searching is the trait of the pilgrim who is on a journey to discover the truth and, because Jesus Christ is the truth, then you will eventually and truly find him. Speak with your brothers who have already found him and have faith, dialogue with your teachers, parents and mentors about your concerns and questions. The Bible assures us that it is in the least of our brothers that we will see Christ, that we will serve him, that we will find him. Keep searching.
And to those very few of you who do not believe and have abandoned your search, who have abandoned hope, this is your moment and your place to turn back. Don’t be close-minded, but open your heart to Christ. Don’t be bitter, but allow the sweetness of Jesus to fill you with joy. Don’t be blind, but open your eyes to the truth in Jesus Christ and the unconditional love he has for you.
To those who claim not to believe, I assure you that Belen Jesuit will accompany you on your trek towards discovery, but understand this: It is not Belen that will conform to your disbelief, but you who will hopefully one day conform to the Truth of Jesus Christ. What is absolutely unacceptable is to ridicule those of us who do believe. It is not us who should be made to feel uncomfortable here for being men and women of faith, for living our Christian-Catholic values, but you who should be uncomfortable with the burden of incredulity. Like a rock in your shoe, you should feel a graceful discomfort as you struggle to understand how so many can have faith in that which cannot be seen or heard, dissected with a scalpel or examined under a microscope. The presence of so many believers should make you feel uncomfortable because you know that, like everything in the universe, there has to be a reason why things exist, there has to be a why and not simply a how. There has to be a deeper meaning that the study of science and mathematics alone has not been able to answer for thousands of years. The presence of so many believers should make the non-believer feel uncomfortable having to face a world that filled with moments of violence and death cannot genuinely respond with compassion and hope unless we face the world with a compassionate and hopeful God.
Gentlemen, Belen Jesuit is a place of learning and learning occurs only when there is an environment of respectful dialogue and exchange. To believers and non-believers alike, respectful dialogue and exchange must always reign true, but never at the expense of having to negotiate with our school’s conviction that Jesus was, is, and always shall be Lord of this year and every year of our lives.