Each year around this time, I prepared to give a commencement address to either the outgoing 8th grade class or senior class of the high school. There was a certain ritual to it that I always followed. First, I would avail myself of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Second, I would attend daily Mass offering my prayers for the intentions of the graduates. Then, I would find a quiet place to try and write the thoughts worth sharing for the class that was leaving that school. This year, with some graduations happening in parking lots, some in our churches, and some cancelled altogether, I thought I would share a letter that we will be sending to each of the graduates of our Catholic schools. Also, there is an audio recording of a commencement address I was asked to give to one graduating class.
The letter which is different than the speech is below:
This truly has been an exceptional year, but that means in some way, if this is your year, you must be an exceptional person. You might have a tough time believing that. After all, don’t we all sometimes think that we are just another student, another friend, another classmate, another…you fill in the blank here. What if I told you that you were more than just another kid? Instead of just another, what if I use words like unique…unrepeatable…destined for glory? You may not believe me, but I am here to share exactly that.
On Pentecost Sunday, over a couple thousand years ago, something extraordinary happened. A bunch of scared men were waiting in the Upper Room. These same men left their jobs and families to follow a preacher, who we know as Jesus, God Himself. They watched Him walk on water, raise the dead, heal the sick, and make them priests of Almighty God. This Jesus was crucified, and yes, He resurrected, but just 40 days later, ascended to God. They were alone, left with a promise that the Holy Spirit would come. They had no jobs, no money, and they were scared. Not quarantined. And by that I mean they were not forced to be there. They did not know what to do. Their lives had been radically changed. But then along side Mary, God, the Holy Spirit, came down upon them and confirmed them in the faith.
While it may seem that they are far removed from us, their situation isn’t much different than yours. They were asked to go out into an uncertain world. A world that looked completely different as a result of the Resurrection. Doesn’t our world look different as a result of sickness, violence, despair? They weren’t sure anyone would listen to a fisherman, a tax collector. Don’t we do the same thing? Who will listen to me, a kid? St. Paul says not to let anyone say you are too young, but given an example, “in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” The Holy Spirit came on Pentecost and continues to come. Through the power of God the apostles were, and we are, transformed.
Fittingly, on the Eve of Pentecost, we celebrated St. Joan of Arc. Another young person, on fire with love for God. She is a patron for young people. A young woman of great courage who gave her life for the God she loved. She didn’t question whether or not she was called to greatness, she embraced the presence of God and what He was calling her to do. You, each, individually, have been called to greatness in Christ. Each one of you is called to be a great Saint.
I cannot under-emphasize this point. St. Joan of Arc became St. Joan of Arc not because she was perfect. Rather, she, embraced who God created her to be, allowed God to love her, and extended this love out to others. In order to be loved, you must believe that you are lovable. Your parents, grandparents, teachers in your Catholic schools, administrators have all in some way tried to show you this over the years you have been in our schools. One of the greatest failures of our time is children who pass through this world never knowing that they are loved. This leads to loneliness, despair, and even worse. Compare this to the truth of what Jesus tells us, “Let the children come to me” and “You are the light of the world.” St. John Paul II speaking to the youth said, “The Church entrusts to young people the task of proclaiming to the world the joy which springs from having met Christ. Dear friends, allow yourselves to be drawn to Christ, accept his invitation to follow him. Go and preach the Good News that redeems; do it with happiness in your hearts and become communicators of hope in a world which is often tempted to despair. ” You were loved into existence by God and are loved into eternity by God. His desire for you is to be with Him in perfect happiness. There is no greater love than that of Our God. If he can make a group of scared fisherman and tax collectors fearless evangelizers of the Faith, what does He want to do for you?
The last thing I want to leave with you is the importance of presence. You, like no other graduating class know all about Iphones, Google Classroom, E-books, and Zoom meetings. You were separated from one another. Many of you lost spring sports, proms, dinners, field days, graduation parties, and many other events. They were replaced with a virtual world. While your schools should be commended for doing this as well as they did, you know, as well as I, that this virtual world can never replace the real one. The sound of friends laughing… the ability to embrace a crying, desperate friend…. the simple joy a smile brings to another. These are sacramental moments. Sure technology has helped us stay connected during this time, but technology also robs us of true presence. When you can get back together, please do so. Reach out to one another. Visit with one another. Walk with one another. Cry with one another. Laugh with one another. Live life in community. Most importantly, bring Christ to one another and the world.
So what are our takeaways. 1) Stay close to the Church, one another, and Mary, just like the apostles in the Upper Room. 2) Like St. Joan of Arc, trust that the Lord loves you and is calling you to greatness, even now. 3) Believe that not only are called to love others, but capable of being loved. 4) Be present and allow Christ to be present through you.
It might seem like your year, your graduation, your lives have been negatively impacted by this virus. There is a certain truth to this. Remember though, history has been made in lock-downs. Sir Isaac Newton analyzed the spectrum of colors, developed calculus, and began working toward his theories of gravity during quarantine from the plague. Saint John Paul II embraced a theology of the mercy of God as a result of great persecution. The Apostles were given the strength of the Holy Spirit in times of fear and uncertainty. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI sums it up, “Dear friends, may no adversity paralyze you. Be afraid neither of the world, nor of the future, nor of your weakness. The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, his name will continue to resound throughout the world.” You are part of history. You get to make history. What will people say of you?
We are so proud of you Class of 2020 and we can’t wait to see how you answer Christ’s call to be the lights our world so desperately needs. May God bless you and Mary keep you.