By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff
NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — It’s become something of a familiar cliché or catch phrase when someone wants to make you think about the consequences of your actions.
What would Jesus do?
Sometimes abbreviated in today’s text-obsessed shorthand as simply “WWJD,” it recently provided a bit of inspiration for a senior at Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth to write an essay that earned him the top prize in a scholarship contest.
“A lot of people ask: ‘What would Jesus do?’ While brainstorming ideas for this essay all I could think about was ‘WWJS’ or ‘What would Jesus say?’” Nicholas Andrews recently told The Anchor. “It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. However, I thought about my favorite parable that Jesus told — about the sower and the seed. I took this well-known parable and focused my whole essay around it and I really made that the center of Jesus’ speech.”
The speech that Andrews is referring to is a valedictorian address; only instead of being delivered by himself or a classmate, it would have to be written from Christ’s unique perspective.
“The essay had to be at least 500 words and had to be written from the point of view of Jesus Christ,” Andrews said. “The back story behind the essay is that Jesus is graduating high school and He is the valedictorian of His graduating class, the Class of 2015. I had to make and deliver His speech while trying to make it as real as possible — like Jesus was actually doing the talking.”
An active parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in New Bedford, Andrews first became aware of the annual essay contest when he read about it in the weekly bulletin.
“I thought a great way to bring the parish together would be to have an essay scholarship dinner,” explained Father Kevin Harrington, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish. “The pastoral council agreed. We had our first one in 2003, when the parish celebrated its 75th anniversary. Since then it has become an annual event thanks to the parishioners’ support through suppers and other fund-raisers and not through parish revenues.”
Father Harrington said the annual essay contest is open to all juniors and seniors in the parish who intend to further their education beyond high school and the topic changes from year to year.
“The rules are simple: write a 500-word or more essay,” he said. “I find three unbiased (disinterested) judges to help determine the winner. The winners are invited — for some are afraid of public speaking — to read their essays at Masses, if they wish.”
Andrews had no qualms about reading his award-winning entry during a recent Saturday vigil Mass at his parish.
“I am deeply humbled to address you here today at our high school graduation,” Andrews’ essay begins. “Some of you may know Me as Jesus. Some call Me the Son of God. Others say I am the Messiah. Some refuse to know Me and some even condemn Me. I stand before everyone not only to commemorate your great achievements in the classroom, but also to commend you on your faith in Me.”
He then goes on to cite the parable of the sower and the seed from Chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel, drawing some interesting parallels to the contemporary experience of graduating from high school.
“Each and every one of you are a seed that lands on this path, the path of life,” he wrote. “Over the course of the years have you embraced your talents, and truly shown your peers what you can do? Or were you consumed by the changing world around you, like the seeds eaten by the birds? Did you make a vow to follow your passion but ended up leaving it because it was too much of a challenge, like the seeds in the shallow soil? Have you chosen genuine friends and decided to take the right path in life, or did you follow the crowd and become like the seeds that were choked by the thorns?”
“I thought the connection from the Gospel about the seeds to his address was phenomenally insightful,” Father Harrington said.
“The most challenging part of writing this essay was trying to think and put myself into the mindset of Jesus,” Andrews admitted. “It took me a while to do so, but in the end I think I did a good job.”
As a senior about to graduate from Bishop Stang on May 31, Andrews credited his overall high school experience and, in particular, his theology teacher, Philip Martin, with being a major influence on his own faith life.
“His class is one that I have always enjoyed,” Andrews said. “He teaches us all there is to know about the Catholic faith. Learning and having theology almost every day has definitely influenced the essay because without the small, close-knit and faith-centered community Bishop Stang has to offer, I wouldn’t have had examples of what it truly means to be Catholic and ‘Christ-like.’”
Andrews remembered sitting in church waiting for Mass to begin on the day he found out he had won the essay contest.
“Father Harrington, before beginning the Mass, announced to the congregation that I had won the essay contest and that I would receive the parish scholarship! I was ecstatic and surprised and I couldn’t get rid of the smile on my face,” he said.
Andrews will be heading to Providence College in the fall, where he plans to use the scholarship award to cover the cost of books and other expenses.
“At Providence College I will be in the honors program and I plan on majoring in biology while studying on the pre-med track in the hopes of becoming a doctor,” he said. “I also plan on doing a minor in theology while studying at PC.”
For Father Harrington, there’s an additional point of pride in being able to award the scholarship to a deserving parishioner like Andrews.
“Nick will be off to my alma mater Providence College and the alma mater of my two older brothers, Edmund and Barry, now of blessed memory,” he said.
Father Harrington added that the essay contest has been a great tool to keep teen-agers “connected to Church after high school,” and that the very first recipient of the annual scholarship is now 30 years old and remains active in the parish.
“Little did I know that our diamond jubilee would pay off in diamonds,” he said.