Neither cynical nor naive

It’s been five years since the death of Shimon Peres on September 28, 2016. Today was my first time watching the address that Barack Obama delivered at his funeral.

It is a remarkable eulogy, and it is hard for me to think of other statesmen or leaders about whom such a tribute has or could be given.

Below is the full speech on Youtube and here is the link to the transcript:

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“The Saint Makes the Difference”

The other day I asked a visiting priest responsible for Catholic higher education to speak to us about the most influential teachers in his life.

To this, he immediately responded that he has had many teachers throughout the course of his life who were alright but rather unremarkable. He noted that he thinks this is the case for most people. But, he insisted, there are, of course, those one or two teachers who stand out and whose influence upon you is something you will remember and cherish for your entire life.

As he said this, it was clear that he was conjuring up his own recollections of these special and extraordinary teachers. Gradually, he told us a few anecdotes about them.

Then, he encouraged us not to expect every teacher to be extraordinary but insisted that we do establish the hope of encountering at least some of them who are truly excellent.

“Given the choice between 5,000 decent but mediocre and lukewarm people or 4,999 heretics and one shining saint, I would definitely choose the heretics and the saint,” this priest said. “The saint makes the difference.”

Roberto Clemente’s Immortality

Today while visiting my friends John and Sarah Beth in Houston, John brought home a book to show us titled, Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero by David Maraniss.

“I don’t find it easy or natural to think about death, but when I think about this book…” John began, excited to share with us the story of a noble life and death.

I had never heard of baseball player Roberto Clemente before but John’s sincere enthusiasm – and even reverence – for Clemente immediately signified to me his undeniable importance.

John told us that his passion for Clemente’s story was piqued in third grade. An excellent teacher had given the assignment of doing a biographical book report on any famous person he wanted to learn about, admired, or found interesting.

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The Sweetness of a Short Life

Today my friend Max told me the story of a turning point in his life.

It was summer vacation and he was a seventeen-year-old teaching English in Spain at a camp for boys.

During the camp, he came across this prayer card with a short description of Venerable Montse Grases, a young woman who “knew how to find God in the loving fulfillment of her work and study duties, in the small things of each day.”

Montse had been diagnosed with bone cancer as a teenager and, “throughout her illness, she never lost her infectious cheerfulness or her capacity for friendship.”

Max was totally struck by the fact that Montse died when she was 17 – the same age he was then.

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