We are living in an age without heroes. Sports stars are routinely charged with using performance enhancing drugs. Prominent politicians are caught in lies or at least serious "inconsistencies." Assertive advocates of so-called family values are exposed as philanderers. Educators and clergy are accused of betraying the sacred trust of young people charged to their care.
It hardly seems to matter that this misconduct, if not rare, is not usual. Perhaps this is why we are skeptical when a public figure seems too good to be true. And perhaps it is another reason why even usually cynical secular media critics cannot hide their fascination, indeed admiration, for Pope Francis. His authenticity inspires one and all. In fact, in Rome, a local street artist has enshrined him on the wall of the city as Super Pope, flying through the air with his white cape billowing behind him.
Among the gifts we lose in a post-heroic age is a capacity to find inspiration in extraordinary people for our much more ordinary lives. This occurred to me as I read the tributes to the late Nelson Mandela and especially some famous passages from his writings and speeches. I found in his words still another perspective on Alvernia's Franciscan core values of Service, Collegiality, Contemplation, Humility, and Peacemaking. And I found inspiration for our shared journey as students, faculty, staff, alumni, and trustees to be--as our mission statement pledges--"life-long learners, reflective professionals and engaged citizens, and ethical leaders with moral courage."
Listen to Mandela describe the dedication and persistence necessary for service:
“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”
Let him remind us to practice the contemplation and humility (and Christ-like love) necessary for genuine collegiality and peacemaking:
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
May he remind us of the high-minded purpose of all we do at Alvernia as well as the inspirational challenge expressed in our motto- To Learn To Love To Serve:
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
Peace and All Good, Tom Flynn