Good morning and welcome to Austin Prep’s 2019 Convocation. The faculty and staff join me in extending warm greetings to the parents and grandparents who are here with us this morning. In a special way, I’d like to acknowledge the Class of 2020 as they begin the final leg of their journey at Austin Prep.
Many schools mark the beginning of their academic year with convocations, and masses, and assemblies. This event at Austin Prep – at least in the way we do it – is unique to our community and our heritage.
On the first day of school this year at our first community meeting, I shared with all of you that we will continue to direct our focus on how we interact with each other in this Augustinian community. And one of the essential underpinnings of that focus is the Augustinian ethos of caritas. And from caritas flows the presumption of goodness, kindness, and civility that we ought to have for each other. I emphasized that the kindness is expected here and it’s non-negotiable. I also read a letter that Cindy McCain, the widow of the late Senator John McCain of Arizona, penned to the nation. If we begin with the presumption of goodness – that the person with whom you are interacting is a good and decent person – it makes it that much easier to show kindness and conduct yourself with civility.
In her letter, Mrs. McCain wrote:
So today, I am asking all Americans to take a pledge of civility by committing to causes larger than ourselves and joining together across the aisle or whatever divides us to make the world a better place.
The anger some Americans feel for people with opposing views seems to have become more vitriolic and intense. At times, given the amplifying power of social media, our differences, which are fewer and less important than the shared values that are supposed to unite us, appear to be all-consuming.
However sharp our differences, however vigorous and even intemperate our debates have been, they shouldn’t prevent us from respecting each other, from valuing each other’s dignity. That’s so contrary to our founding convictions and to genuine greatness — an individual’s greatness and the country’s.
For us as Austin Prep, it’s also contrary to our Catholic faith and our mission. That doesn’t mean we’re angels. There will always be moments of tension – even the Lord had moments of frustration and anger with some people he encountered. He tore through the temple turning over the tables of the money changers and merchants. He called out the phony people. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus said in part:
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice… They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger… Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted…Woe unto you , scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites.”
In another passage of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus used the metaphor of sheep and goats. Essentially, the sheep are the kind people and the goats are not.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”
They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”
He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me. Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Last week, I attended the funeral mass of Nelson Burbank with a delegation of student government officers. We had the honor of being present to celebrate the life of a man who exemplified kindness. He was one of the sheep that the Lord was talking about. You may know Mr. Burbank’s name – it’s part of the Burbank YMCA and the Burbank Ice Arena here in Reading.
Mr. Burbank was also extraordinarily generous to Austin Prep and helped make some of our projects possible like the construction of Meelia Hall, the dining room renovation, and the upcoming baseball and softball field and tennis court project, which is on the horizon.
Mr. Burbank had no substantial connection to Austin Prep. He was not an alumnus. He was not an Austin Prep parent. And he never worked here. But he was extraordinarily kind to us, probably because everything about him was extraordinary.
I was privileged to get to know him over the last several years. Mr. Burbank lived almost to the age of 99; he died 18 days short of his 99th birthday. He was married to the love his life, Rita, for 63 years.
He was a regular visitor to campus, he was a guest in the new dining hall, and we spoke frequently by phone. When he answered a phone call, he never said “hello.” Depending on the time of day, it was always “good morning, good afternoon, or good evening.”
He offered me helpful advice on various projects and plans and had genuine interest in our success. He was a father who proudly shared stories with me about his children, grandchildren, and great children. He served our nation in the Army Air Force during World War II, in the first B-29 Bomb Wing. He flew 33 missions as a remote central fire control gunner over China, Burma, Japan and India where he survived a crash landing. Among his decorations, he was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters.
At his funeral mass, his son shared a story about one of the missions. One night before one of those missions, his bunkmate gave him a Miraculous Medal of the Blessed Mother to keep him safe. The next day, just before the flight, the serviceman he was flying with asked him to switch seats. When the plane was hit, the other man was ejected and Mr. Burbank survived the crash. Mr. Burbank’s son said that event was a defining moment of his life.
In 1953, he founded Burbank and Company, a highly successful investment firm and he used the wealth that came from his successful business for the good of others. Austin Prep was one of his many beneficiaries. He was genuinely interested in our success as a school community. He followed our sports team and often complimented me on the many accomplishments of our athletic program over the last several years.
Each year, as Mr. Burbank’s birthday approached, I would send him a gift card to Longhorn Steak House, one of his favorite places to eat. But he never used the gift card on himself. He would save it for the next time we would make lunch plans. When I asked where he wanted to go for lunch, without hesitation he would say “Longhorn.” And when the bill came at the end of lunch, Mr. Burbank would pull out the gift card.
He was a resolute and determined man. Well into his nineties, Mr. Burbank was driving, climbing ladders for roof repairs, and operating his snow blower to clear his driveway. I remember one time I went to pick him up during the winter months, I arrived a few minutes early to find Mr. Burbank doing some touch up work to better clear the walkway.
These are anecdotal stories of man who exemplified kindness and civility, a type of kindness and civility that seems to be disappearing. You may not have known Mr. Burbank personally, but he – and the life he lived – models the kindness and civility we should all strive to emulate. If, we as a community, are unable to do that, there’s no hope for the larger community beyond this campus.
Kindness and civility start with us, not the other person. The moment we think the problem is out there, that very thought is the problem. I’ll end with this prayer I found posted on a blog that sums up how we should approach kindness and civility. It starts with humility.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, which is pretty much everyone, since I’m clearly not you, God. At least not the last time I checked.
And while you’re at it, God, please give me the courage
to change what I need to change about myself, which is frankly a lot, since, once again, I’m not you, which means I’m not perfect.
It’s better for me to focus on changing myself than to worry about changing other people, who, as you’ll no doubt remember me saying, I can’t change anyway.
Finally, give me the wisdom to just shut up whenever I think that I’m clearly smarter than everyone else in the room, that no one knows what they’re talking about except me, or that I alone have all the answers.
Basically, God, grant me the wisdom to remember that I’m not you.
And now it’s time for the Class of 2020 to raise their banner to its place of prominence here in Meelia Hall where it will stay until it’s lowered at the Baccalaureate Mass in May so you can march under it one last time before you graduate. Will the senior class officers come forward?
You made us for yourself, O Lord,…
...and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.
 Matthew 23: 2-13
 Matthew 25:31-41
 Accessed September 12, 2019: https://thejesuitpost.org/2012/11/a-new-serenity-prayer/