Send three volleys of cheers on high for our Seniors! Hurrah! Hurrah! Hooray! As final exams end today, so begins your last week at Notre Dame. Be proud. Be gracious. Be generous. Be humble. But above all, be happy! For you have achieved something great. And you have achieved it together. When you arrived here as a herd of freshmen in 2009, did you think that in your Senior year you would see your classmates lead your football team to an undefeated season and a #1 ranking? Probably not. And so you have learned something – you have learned to believe. You see, we use football not just as a diversion, we use it as a teaching device. That’s the only way to be #1 on the field and #1 where we are now…graduation.
What, then, did you learn on the field and in the stands over the past four years? You learned that the only way to achieve victory is through very hard work, every single time. You learned that success is not instant – it is gradual and it requires both dedication and change. And you learned that to any goal which you ardently desire, you must devote your intelligence, your courage, and your strength.
In the classroom, which you have occupied far longer than the Stadium, and which you have shared not just with your classmates from the football team, but from every one of our tremendously successful teams, you have learned to think and to reason, to calculate and to deduce. In the classroom you learned to use your mind; in the stadiums and arenas, you learned to use your heart. And that is why, when you graduate, you wear a mortarboard on your head and a black robe across your chest. You are clothed in the uniform of achievement and victory.
But this cap-and-gown is really the Shamrock Series uniform of your life – it’s pretty funny looking, it’s comprised of a combination of odd colors, and you only wear it once. It also leaves out something essential…it leaves out your hands. You’ve learned to use your intelligence and your courage, your mind and your heart. But what about your strength? That’s in your hands. Hands that will write, compose, and design; hands that will care, heal, and cure; hands that will instruct, admonish, and encourage; hands that will pile up treasures and give away gifts; hands that will hold your children or be anointed with the oils of holy orders.
And it is onto your hand that is placed the most important symbol of Notre Dame graduation: The Ring. A beautiful ring that at graduation is taken off, flipped around, and put back on for the rest of your life. Our Lady’s Golden Dome on one side; Our Life, Our Sweetness, and Our Hope on the other; sprinkled throughout with the Irish symbol of blessing, the shamrock. It is not a symbol of graduation – it is a symbol of life.
Whenever you have the chance, look at the ring of an older alumnus. It is nicked and dinged, and there are chips missing here and there. So, too, will your life be marked by tests and trials, failures and losses. But these blemishes do not diminish the overall beauty of the ring; they make the ring unique to the wearer. And neither will these travails diminish the overwhelming beauty of your life; they will make it your life.
Whenever you have the chance, look at the ring of an ancient alumnus. It has been made smooth by age and years of hard wearing. All the sharp features are gone, along with all the scratches and scars, and it shines brightly all over. Let that happen to your life, too.
Make no mistake, your hands haven’t spent all of the last four years bent to work or folded in prayer. Your hands have caught footballs on the quad and held beer cans at parties. Your hands have clapped when your teams have won and when your friends have made fools of themselves in ridiculous situations. Your hands have stashed things in pockets, and executed pranks and dirty tricks. Your ring doesn’t somehow consecrate all these exploits, but it reminds you of all these good times that you’ve enjoyed under the Dome etched in its side – and in your hearts forever.
When you arrived here as a herd of freshmen in 2009, we said, “Welcome to Notre Dame!” As you graduate in 2013, we say, “Welcome to your lives!” No matter where you’re going, whether it’s across the country or around the world, you won’t be far. Because this place will always be here. And a good part of you will always be here…forever.
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” If you tell me that’s from a really cool folk rock band and you like to listen to it late at night when you’re drunk and nostalgic because it reminds you of your high school senior retreat, I’ll increase your Theology requirement from two courses to 16. It is Biblical Wisdom Literature, and in this fleeting season of dramatic transition, we turn to it for guidance. Classes have ended, papers are coming due, final exams loom, and bags are being packed. Soon all students will leave for home and Notre Dame will fall silent, if ever so briefly. Let us take just a moment now to reflect on the year past, the summer upon us, and the year to come – to reflect on our seasons and our purposes. Besides, it’s a “Reading Day,” and this is a lot more edifying than the beer labels, bar menus, and South Bend Silver Hawks tickets you’ve been reading for the last two days.
A time to be born, and a time to die. Figuratively, the year that was 2012-2013 is dying. But, oh, what a year it was! Grapes have to die to make fine wine, and one good school year must come to an end in order for a new one to be born. The vintage that has been 2012-2013 will find a place of honor in the cellars of Notre Dame du Vin. And it’s just a foretaste of the sweetness that will be 2013-2014, which is ready to be born in just three months’ time. Now let that sublime thought wash over you while grinding out that last Philosophy paper or studying for that Chemistry final. And knock it off with the wine, or you’ll fail both.
A time to plant, and a time to uproot. We have some lovely grounds, don’t we! Especially in Spring with everything is in bloom. When you step out in the last few days on campus, let the natural beauty of the place form a lasting memory for you, so that whatever unpleasant tasks you must complete, you will remember Notre Dame and rejoice in anticipation of your return. But don’t pluck any of the flowers, or you will find a groundskeeper revving his lawnmower right outside your window at 7:00 in the morning. And, groundskeepers, while your plantings are gorgeous, I wouldn’t be at all offended if you cut down those flowering trees that smell of profound body odor.
A time to kill, and a time to heal. Kill all those tiffs and grudges you’ve held onto throughout the year, especially with your roommates. You may not be living with them next year, and you may not be living anywhere near them next year. But – who knows – you may never see them again either. You don’t have to part company on great terms, but at least go your separate ways on civil terms, because you yourself were no prize to live with. And if you’re having trouble healing the wounds in any friendship, kill a bottle of wine with your old pal; at least you’ll forget why you can’t stand him.
A time to break down, and a time to build up. Your rooms – you’ve had to break down your rooms. And I know that was very hard for some of you, because you invested hours and great effort in making you little square of Notre Dame a showplace. Truly, I have never seen cardboard beer cases used to create so many fetching interior designs. I don’t really know what a “Man Cave” is, but if you made a fine one this year, perhaps you can advance to a “Masculine Cavern” in your new room next year. Over the summer, some dorms will be renovated, most will not – but either way, you won’t be able to tell the difference. And Morrissey…there’s nothing we can do about Morrissey.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh. I hope you love Notre Dame, I really do. But cool it with the weeping. It’s college – it’s only supposed to last four years. So love it, but don’t get maudlin. And we had llamas. I would think that seeing llamas on the quad would be enough to make you laugh – why do you have to set couches on fire just to get a giggle?
A time to mourn, and a time to dance. Less dancing during “Reading Days” and you won’t be mourning when your grades come in. And you can’t tell me that St. Edward’s Yacht Dance is not an elaborate scheme to flee parietals by seeking refuge in international waters. If your parents are hippies, you get three months of no parietals – so just deal with my French boarding school rules for a few more days.
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together. Ummm…the Grotto is a large gathering of stones…and…well, we know that there were certain medicinal plants in ancient Israel that caused fantastical dreams or hallucinations. That might account for some of the visions in the Bible; and it might account for this mysterious piece of advice. So we’ll just leave it at: don’t get stoned and avoid stoners.
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing. Nothing after midnight from here on out. Your bed at home is your homefield – you may welcome as many fans as you want. Just not here in The BVM’s house.
A time to keep, and a time to throw away. Make a list of all the good things you did this year, all the achievements and all the celebrations. Then make a list of all the disappointments, mistakes, and failures. Keep the first and promise yourself that you will repeat and multiply everything on that list next year. Take the second, wrap it around a stone, and throw it in St. Mary’s Lake. It’s deep – you will never see that list again. And the act of writing might get you off our butt to finish that Philosophy paper.
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak. It’s important to speak to those who are important to you before the whirlwind of finals week begins and comes crashing to a staggering close. Don’t miss the chance to say ‘see you next year,’ or ‘farewell,’ or even sometimes ‘goodbye.’ But then respect those quiet hours. Just because you’re confident you’ll pass, doesn’t mean your neighbors are. If you’re having trouble keeping your voice down and maintaining a respectful silence, imagine you’re an alum sitting in the Stadium during a big third down – that’ll shut you up tighter than a duck’s butt.
A time to love and, and a time to hate. It’s been a pretty good year – indeed, this year was, itself, a time to love. If you made the most of your year, you really shouldn’t have had much time to hate. But if that’s not the case for you, come back in August and start over as though from the beginning. Remember: one Spring, as my lads went home, the Main Building was a smoldering heap of rubble – but by the time they came back in the Fall, a new one had risen in its place. And it’s still there.
A time of war, and a time of peace. Have a peaceful summer. The war starts at 3:30 on the afternoon of August the 31st, in the Stadium.
There has been much criticism leveled at our basketball team’s tournament uniforms, some of it at a very high level. I suppose I can’t really blame the President of the United States for lashing out at us – after all, we keep suing him. But his disdain is only a mere fraction of the fulsome scorn heaped upon these vaguely mucosal sports togs by the Almighty Alumni. Yet, this sartorial experimentation should come as no surprise, since the football team dressed in uniforms of highly questionable taste this season. I called that changing back and forth between sets of official game apparel “cross-dressing,” though I have been apprised that the term means something quite different, which I would not fully understand. So I have abandoned it; but our teams seem committed to staying with these alternative uniforms.
As far as I can tell, a Greek shipping tycoon is behind the changes. This Mr. Adidas has evidently donated enough money to be able to demand that his upholsterer design uniforms for special occasions, both football and basketball. While some of these visual effects might be quite fetching in the staterooms of his yacht, I would advise Mr. Adidas that nothing says ‘I haven’t always had money’ like garish clothing. Furthermore, it is highly illogical to talk about different and uniform in the same sentence. So since you all still have to take at least two philosophy course (Deo favente) let’s look at the theoretical nature of uniforms to determine if this cross-dressing style-changing trend is inherently good.
First, the nature of a uniform is that everyone dresses the same. The purpose is as much “identification of” as “identification with.” Particular markings show players who their teammates are amidst the ordered chaos of a game. In football, Michigan players needed to be able to identify each other’s heads above the scrum. Accordingly, the coach turned to a close relative of his – an under-evolved, foul-tempered, garbage-eating cousin of the skunk – and the wolverine helmets were born. With its selection of a team color, Michigan wanted to mark itself out; and so they used the color made visible when a wolverine has marked its territory.
That brings up the second point, which is that team colors are important, and in some cases sacred. We derive this notion from Holy Church, where the team of bishops dresses in purple, the team of cardinals in scarlet, and the team of popes in white (oh yeah, it’s a team now, since we’ve got two of them knocking around). Team colors even apply to religious orders: Dominicans wear white, Capuchins wear brown, and Jesuits wear the blood of sacrificial animals. Indeed, from the very beginnings of this great university, our own Notre Dame colors have been set for us by The BVM Herself, Whose wardrobe has always been blue and gold since time immemorial. And let me tell you, She looks absolutely divine in those colors.
Which leads to a third point: you don’t change your team’s colors. A leopard doesn’t change his spots, and a general doesn’t change horses midstream. As our colors are ordained by heaven, we have never changed them. What about green, you ask. Well, green is the color of envy and fertility – two things The BVM doesn’t do. Green was added first by the football team, and soon came to be associated with our adoption of the Irish as our moniker. The Irish do envy and fertility very well. But the Irish also sing about “Forty Shades of Green,” and that’s where the trouble starts.
Over the years, the football team has tinkered with the particular hues of blue, gold, and green, though never drastically. Most recently, they added a sheen of glitter to their helmets – call it a “sweaty Dome” look. They also added black and white to the uniforms for one game; but I believe that’s to honor me and my fellow CSCs. It is the basketball team and its jarring shade of green that has been troubling to so many. And that’s a shock, because the uniforms have actually offended a group that revels in the loudest of plaids. Our Alumni like to believe themselves swaddled in plaid from birth. In many cases, that’s literally true. And not just any tartan – our skyish-blue and chartreuse pattern is invaded by a rogue orangy-red stripe and set on a black background. Presented with that tartan for his official approval, the Lord Lyon must have thought someone opened the Ark of the Covenant.
Thus, my fourth and final point is this. It’s fun to play dress-up and variety is the spice of life. But like their cooking, the Irish can’t take too much spice in their uniforms. I think it’s fine to introduce some excitement into our sports competitions with the occasional jersey change – but don’t change it too much. For a good example, look at our mascot. We changed from an Irish terrier to a Leprechaun. On the surface that might seem dramatic. Yet, deep down they are very similar: they are both small, hairy, and pugnacious; neither backs down from a fight, both bite, and both have occasional incontinence problems during long football games.
And speaking of long games – whose idea was it to start tonight’s basketball match at 9:45? Have they not been watching the contests this season? If the lads stay true to form, they should clinch victory sometime around 3:00 in the morning. In which case they should wear their glowing-green uniforms – they’ll be safer walking home at that dangerous hour.
Even though it’s Advent, a time of sober preparation, and finals, a time of wailing and gnashing of teeth, people are already becoming sentimental and excited about Christmas. Maybe not Alabama students, since Tuscaloosa proudly calls itself Druid City (in which case we wish them a happy Winter Solstice). Even though it’s traditional to give presents on the Feast of the Nativity, the gift we are all hoping for won’t come until January 7. We’ll just pretend that there were actually four Magi bearing gold, frankincense, myrrh, and cut glass.
In order to pass the intervening month in a joyous spirit, especially for those holed-up in the library during finals week, I have taken the liberty of reimagining an old Christmas song with some inspiring figures, making it wholly Notre Dame’s own. I haven’t tried to force this into a singable meter – I’ll leave that for some creative students passing their “reading days” in a local tavern. So even if this doesn’t get your toe tapping, it should lift your spirits as we eagerly anticipate the glorious festival of our salvation, the National Championship…oh, and Christmas.
Sung to the Tune of The Victory March The Twelve Days of Christmas – sort of – you know, “On the first day of Christmas, the Irish gave to me:”
12 Regular Season Victories
If you had asked a good number of “experts” and “journalists” in August of 2012, this entry should have been 12 losses…or at least six…but certainly five. The Mayan Jaguar Priests didn’t disappear – they work as sports broadcasters now.
11 National Championships
That’s 11 undisputed, hands-down American college football titles. Alabama lists something like 34, but that’s because they claim championships awarded by such groups as the Daughters of the Confederacy Chapter of Toad Suck, Arkansas. And as we all know, they’re not very good as activities like counting.
10 Unbroken Commandments
No one is saying our lads are perfect. As Catholics, we know very well how much we all sin (except the BVM). But this is a figurative reminder that we continue to try very hard to produce good football players and Good football players, who go to class, avoid evil, and graduate. And they certainly don’t covet any neighbors’ wives.
9 Different Decades at #1
This is not some numerical manipulation or stretching of facts (see Alabama, Toad Suck, AR, above). This reflects the fact that since the 1920s, Notre Dame has been the nation’s #1 team at least once a decade in every 10-year sequence, except from 2000-2010…and we will never speak of that again. Besides, the BVM appreciates whenever I can work in a Rosary plug.
8 Undefeated, Untied Seasons
Brian Kelly and his lads have already achieved something that’s even more rare than an undefeated season. They never even tied an opponent. Of course, that has more to do with the rules change which instituted a bizarre trench-warfare overtime system that more so resembles two boxers squaring up to punch each other below the belt until one goes down than it does a tiebreaker. But the fact remains that this Irish squad would have had two ties on its record, but instead slugged it out to pick up two wins…and caused their fans to age several decades in the process.
7 Heisman Trophies
This number is subject to change very shortly. All that’s required for this entry to move up to eight, is a fit of honesty on the part of some voters.
6 Awards for Manti
I’m still not clear on how our big Hawaiian lad got to Northern Indiana, but with all these commemorative sculptures, we’ll have to pay some serious shipping charges to get him home. Hawaii has given the Church two Saints in the last three years – and Hawaii has given Notre Dame one big hero.
5 Championship-Winning Coaches
This number is subject to change in one month. What’s nice for Brian Kelly is that his Notre Dame “Dad” and “Grandpa” are still around to celebrate this with him. Though I don’t think Lou or Ara would be eager to sit Brian on their knee and tell him stories about winning a championship, I’m sure they have shared their encouragement with the new kid. And maybe they’ll take him fishing come spring when the lakes thaw.
4 Bear Bryant Losses
A legendary figure in American college football, he was responsible for six of Alabama’s championships that are real, not fever dreams. But Bear Bryant never beat the Irish. Not once. Just ask Grandpa Ara.
3 French Priests
Let’s not lose sight of how we all got here. If it weren’t for Fr. Basil Moreau and yours truly, there would be nothing to celebrate – literally. And my nephew Fr. Auguste Lemonnier makes three Frenchmen. The rest of the presidents have been Irish. Except Ted Hesburgh who is a Luxembourger. Which is close to France, but not close enough.
Keep in mind that this will only be the Leprechaun’s fifth championship. That’s not to say the little elf hasn’t earned it. But all those Irish Terriers pulled their weight for the first seven championships, most famously Clashmore Mike. Sure they smelled a bit, made a filthy mess, and were difficult to train. But the dogs didn’t bite as hard as the Leprechaun.
1 Crystal Football
As trophies go, it’s not the most majestic. It looks like it should be full of jellybeans or cigarette butts. But it’s easy to hoist above one’s head. Over the next month perhaps Papa Lou can lend Brian, Manti, Tyler, Kapron, and Zack his crystal football so they can practice the victory lift.
We find ourselves is a strange position, awash with unaccustomed emotions. No, this has nothing to do with being undefeated and Number 1. That is our proper position and we should feel simple contentment for, indeed, all is right with the world. I mean we are caught up in the unusual furor of conference-hatred. Not belonging to one of these mutual-mediocrity-assurance societies, we have no natural animosity toward any of them. Normally, we deride them all equally. (Do we hate the Big 10? No, we feel sorry for the Big…whatever it is now.) Yet, suddenly we are fixated on that beast called the SEC; that’s supposed to stand for Southeastern Conference, but they way these names defy logic, we’ll just leave it at an ambiguous triliteration.
As a collective, the SEC seems particularly arrogant and loathsome. Educationally, they do not teach such big words as those. In short, there’s not much to like and quite a bit to hate – especially since they will shortly pit two of their hulking, spittle-flecked football gangs against each other in order to determine which wounded creature will have the privilege of fighting the Irish. Quite sure of themselves, these Southern cult-vehicles believe that either of them will rumble over a hapless Notre Dame. Please note, 12 other teams have already labored under that same misapprehension this year.
A preliminary blow was struck in this new battle last evening, when the basketball lads soundly defeated a heavily-favored SEC squad on the hardwood. Much of the ferocity that the Leprechaun Legion ginned-up last night was born of the burgeoning abhorrence for the SEC writ large (though I do not think many in the SEC can write).
This is not appropriate. We are preparing for Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of hope and light in the world. We should not be summoning all the dark forces of hatred at this time of joy. And so I propose that we find a way to love our enemies. Since I know this is impossible with the Irish race, whose members will forget everything but their grudges, I instead propose something simpler and more concrete: Good Works.
Holy Mother Church has long provided a simple check-off list of Good Works that everyone should do. As with so many things Holy Mother Church teaches, these don’t exactly work well in the context of college. Hence I have taken the liberty of presenting a reinterpreted list of Good Works that all Irish students, alumni, and fans can undertake with a special emphasis on helping – not hating – the philistines folks of the SEC.
The Spiritual Works of Mercy, Collegiate Edition
Instruct the Ignorant: No, this is not a slight against SEC education (but really, your team’s score at the end of a game should not be higher than its graduation rate). This means that we should spread the good news about the Fighting Irish, talented college students who take time out from attending class and studying to defeat teams from Dublin to Los Angeles. These lads have worked hard and earned every victory; they have not preyed upon a roster of weak opponents or waited for lucky breaks. Certainly fortune has favored them, just as it smiled upon Wellington at Waterloo. For SEC fans: Wellington was the general who defeated Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo; Napoleon was the bad guy because…where to begin… This isn’t the point. The point is we have an inspiring story to tell about our team; let’s proclaim that instead of defaming the no-books club that we will face in the final game.
Counsel the Doubtful: Who didn’t doubt the Irish this season? Aside from those of simple, unshakable faith, those with faith enough to make multiple mountainous goal-line stands, it was almost fashionable to have deep doubts about Notre Dame straight up to the latter minutes of the last game. And that doubt persists, especially within the SEC where they seem to believe they play a longer, harder, more brutal version of American college football. In the South games last days, touchdowns only count for 4 points and a team must score at least 112 to win while simultaneously preventing the opponent from gaining even one yard, and large blunt weapons are issued to all players. They play 53 games a season (which would account for their graduation “success” rates). Of course, this is a canard – as is the notion that all SEC teams are, by their nature, superior to teams in Oklahoma, California, Michigan, and Indiana. Let there be no doubt that the Irish can meet, match, and supersede any SEC team on the field (and already have in the classroom).
Admonish Sinners: What a gift we have given to Rick Reilly. No, not the VIP behind-the-scenes tour loyal fans would sacrifice a limb to enjoy; not the free publicity; and not the chance to make new friends and look magnanimous doing so. We gave Reilly the opportunity to expiate his sins with hard work – frankly, the only hard work or honest job he’s done in decades. We told him in no uncertain terms that he had unjustly slandered Notre Dame. Then our lads proved it. Then we let him lift the burden of his sins from his shoulders with a little elbow grease. Across the country many who had been sternly advised that their words about the Irish were unfair have now been shown the error of their ways. Do not fall into the trap, SEC fans, of ridiculing Notre Dame. Consider yourselves warned.
Bear Wrongs Patiently: We did. All season. From everyone. Patience is 12-0. Just hold on for one more.
Forgive Offenses Willingly: Let us look to Lou Holtz as the paradigm of this virtue. While most of the Irish faithful faced a general skepticism and a vague mockery, Professor Emeritus Holtz was scorned, derided, and taunted by his own co-workers, repeatedly and prominently. He did not cower, nor carp, nor lash out. The noble Holtz was given terrible offense, but he stayed true. He even forgave gave that loutish May knave; and he gave him an opportunity to dress properly for once.
Comfort the Afflicted: Once again, we feel very sorry for the Big 10. It will be all right. You’ll pull through somehow. Chin up and give us a smile – you just picked up two new mediocre-to-poor football teams. Courage!
Pray for the Living and the Dead: That’s what Sacred Heart and the Grotto are for, and every chapel in every dorm. We pray for the lads on the team who are very much living a dream right now. And we pray for those no longer with us. Even whichever SEC team is left crumpled in a heap on the field in Miami come January 7.