Xavier School


This homily was delivered at the Thanksgiving Mass for the Grade 7 students on 19 March 2013.

pgh joseph

St. Joseph, whose feast we celebrate today, was a man of few words. For such an important person, we have no idea what he actually said. He left no writing, and the two gospel authors who mention him–Matthew and Luke–do not quote him at all.  As a result, we know very little about him besides his trade, his family tree, and of course, his relationship to Mary and Jesus.

But if we ever found ourselves in the situations he found himself in, I think we would have more than a mouthful! Just think:

He found Mary to be with child, and he was sure the child did not belong to him. And then an angel asked him in a dream to marry her anyway. When they went to Bethlehem and it was time for Mary to give birth to the so-called Son of the Most High, they couldn’t even find any decent room!

And then when all that crisis finally got resolved, the same angel in that first dream asked him to take his family to Egypt and run for their lives.  Of course, later on, when our Lord didn’t ask Mary or Joseph permission to stay behind in the Temple of Jerusalem, it was Mary who scolded him. We heard nothing from his foster father.

Surely St Joseph must have been a man of few words–or we would have heard from him. But precisely because he was a man of few words, I’m sure everytime he spoke, everyone made sure to sit up and listen.

So you see, when it comes to words, more isn’t necessarily merrier.

pgh hemingwayErnest Hemingway is a master of words. He is the author of such great novels as For Whom the Bell Tolls and A Farewell to Arms. According to legend, he was once challenged to write an entire novel in just six words. And to think this was before the days of Twitter with its limit of 140 characters.

Anyway, inspired by this Hemingway legend, Larry Smith challenged his friends at Smith Magazine back in 2006. “If you could only use six words,” he told them, how would you tell your life’s story?” It’s not an easy thing to do since as good writers will be first to tell us, it’s harder to come up with a good short piece of writing than a long one.

This challenge became a global phenomenon, and the results were compiled into a book with a very long descriptive title: Things Don’t Have to Be Complicated: Illustrated Six-Word Memoirs by Students Making Sense of the World.

What would you write if the same challenge were tossed to you? What sort of six-word memoir would you compose to capture what your life is all about so far?

pgh bookSomeday you might be asked to do just that, and you have to be prepared. But for now, worry not, since we will not be asking you to whip one up here and now something as a requirement for acceptance into the high school. But high school should be a time for higher learning–for you to take seriously more than ever the lessons taught in the classroom.

Among the dreams we have for you is that each one of you become an eloquent communicator, able to express your ideas and your feelings effectively–and in the simplest and shortest possible way, when this is called for. You are fortunate because you have already had the opportunity to taste what high school is like by being part of the MIddle School this year. You were half in and half out. But after your graduation today, by the beginning of next school year you would be completely part of the high school already.

Some of the six-word memoirs included in the book I mentioned earlier might help us out here. I’ll share with you three such mini-memoirs, and I’ll ask you to choose the one you like best, whatever reason you might have.

(a) “They said to follow my dreams.” In her illustration you see an empty bed and a trail of those six words leading out a window and into the world.

(b) “Life punches me in the face.” – “Life punches me in the face”

(c) “Bears are my number one fear.” Next to a drawing of this scared kid you see a big bear with the words, “Humans are my number fear.”

I don’t know why you chose what you chose, but I think your choice might tell us a little bit of how you are, or maybe where you are in your transition to high school. These three memoirs was written by kids of different ages.

pgh dream etc

For those of you who chose (a), it was written by Odessa Blackmore, 15, sophomore, Piedmont High School in Piedmont, California.

Those of you who picked (b), the author is Jordan Smith, 12 year old, Grade 6, Harmony School of Innovation, San Antonio, California

Memoir (c ) is from Nava Krieger, 10 year old, fourth grade, Yavneh Hebrew Academy, Los Angeles.

It’s not about the age really; it has more to do with what the memoir is about. Each one of them shows a maturity about life that cannot be classified according to their biological age.

This first one is about the willingness to follow your dream even if it means leaving your comfort zone behind. Audacity, daring, boldness–these are different words that mean the same thing. The word I choose is PLUCK. You can’t follow your dream without the necessary pluck.

This one punches me in the face because it shows deep sorrow and pain. But you also somehow sense not only a certain acceptance, but also some kind of determination to survive. Resilience–the ability to roll with the punches, to survive–is an important value. The word for it is GRIT. To be able to make it out there in the world, you need grit especially during hard times.

And finally, some of you might think that the last piece is the most juvenile since it’s from a fourth-grader who writes about her fear of bears. The picture actually tells us there’s more to it than what meets the eye. She’s sensitive enough to guess that the bear might be afraid of her too. That’s an important value: Empathy and concern. The word for it is HEART. If you want to be happy and make others happy, you gotta have heart.


Today’s a good time to ask yourself where you are strongest and where you need to grow. Which is your strength and your weakness?

High school is a good laboratory for pluck, grit, and heart. That’s the best time to go out of your way to practice your pluck, grit, and heart so that you can develop them. In high school, expectations will be set higher, but they are set higher so that you can stretch yourselves and grow. The good news is that your teachers, your parents, and your friends will be right there beside you.

Images and slides courtesy of Karol Yee

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