Today’s readings: Acts 1:6-12 | 1 Timothy 4:12-16 | Matthew 28:16-20
Right in the middle of tonight’s Gospel reading, there is one word that sums it up for Christian disciples. This is the word that marks what we’re supposed to do; it wraps up all the instructions Jesus gave to his Apostles, and to all of us who are his disciples. This one word is especially appropriate for you graduates today, as you get ready to begin the next phase of your life in a new school. That word is: GO!
We hear that word a lot. Once we have learned the rules of a game or a race or some kind of contest, the person officiating the game will say something like, “Ready? Go!” “Go” is a word we look forward to: we can’t wait to begin the game or start the project, or whatever it is we’re doing. There’s no time like the present, and we always want to keep going. But that same word can trigger a bit of sadness. We don’t always want to go; we like where we are, where we are has been home, and it’s comfortable. When we go, we’re often in unknown territory, and so going can be as much an occasion for pause as anything else. Trust me, as I get ready to go to a new parish, that “going” is uneasy to say the least!
So going is part and parcel of life, both our life in this world, but also our life with Christ. In this life, we will, like it or not, experience a lot of coming and going. We are always on the move, until that great day that we get home to heaven, that place that is our true home, that place to which we journey all through our earthly lives. Our readings today give us a clue as to how we’re supposed to go through this life, what we’re supposed to do as disciples, and what Jesus sends you all forth to do in this special moment of your educational life.
Our first reading is a preview of the feast we will celebrate on Sunday: the Ascension of the Lord. Jesus, having died on the cross and been buried, and then having risen from the dead on the third day, has walked among his disciples for forty days, helping them to see what he meant when he taught them all during his life before the cross. Now, he is getting ready to ascend back to heaven, so that he can prepare a place for them and for us to live for all eternity. As he goes, they quite understandably stand there, looking up into heaven, marveling at what they see, and trying to make sense of it all. But into the midst of that, two mysterious figures dressed in white – most likely angels – come and stand with them and assure them the Lord will return. It’s almost a message that says, “Don’t just stand there, do something – GO!”
In the second reading, Saint Paul is telling his friend Saint Timothy to GO. He urges him not to dwell on this difference in his age and the age of Timothy’s hearers, but instead to preaching the Scriptures by word and example. If he does that, Saint Paul tells him, he will find salvation both for himself and for others. Saint Paul’s message to Timothy is one that I think is especially appropriate for you young people, our graduates, who are getting ready to go on to the next step in your educational and developmental life. You have been taught well here at Notre Dame, and what you have been taught, you are expected to share with others. You are to be the witnesses of Jesus by word and example, passing on what you have learned here so that you can find salvation for yourself and others.
So I thought it might be well to take a quick look back and review some of the important things you’ve been taught. The first thing I’d mention is what I have taught you is the most important thing that you can know about God in this life. Do you remember what it is? Yes, God loves you – in fact God is love itself. God is a love so perfect that it surpasses anything we can know about love in this life. God is a love so pure that God cannot not love – that wouldn’t logically be possible. And so God, in love, made people – you and me and everyone else – so that he could have a way to show his love. And so God loves us, forgives us, guides us, challenges us, and loves us some more. And so I’ve told you that writing “God loves me” as the answer on a religion test would get you at least half a point. I’m not sure if that works in high school, but I obviously think it should!
The second thing I’d want you to remember is that it’s not all about you. You, and your relationship with God, are certainly part of the equation, but we disciples aren’t just supposed to live for ourselves. We are a people who are to go out and preach and teach and share and witness what we’ve been taught. Sometimes, we will do this with words, but most often, we will do this with actions. We will reach out and take care of people in our lives, and people God puts in our lives. We will make a decision to give of ourselves so that people in need can have a better life, or at least a better day. The gifts that we have are never given to us just for ourselves; they are meant to be shared, and when we share them, we find they don’t run out, we just keep getting more to share. It’s kind of like the feeding of the multitudes: when we share our little offering of five loaves and two fish, God makes it enough, and more than enough, to feed everyone. But only when we remember that it’s not just about ourselves.
The final thing I’d like to remind you about is something I mentioned in my homily last Friday, and that is that as a leader – and all of you will lead in some way at some time – you should never ask people to do something you’re not willing to do yourself. Jesus is the absolute best example of that. In teaching us to love each other and lay down our lives for each other, he literally laid down his life for us: dying on the cross to pay the price for our sins and to give us the possibility of eternal life, of going to that place prepared for us in his Father’s house, that home that is our true home – in heaven. And so just like Jesus, we too have to lead by being servants, and taking up the cross, and doing what we might not want to do but what needs to be done, so that others will see the way to live too. We have to witness by example and to lead the way we want others to live.
I believe these lessons will serve you well. Know that you are loved just for who you are. That will give you peace on your darkest days. Know that you are called to reach out to others so that they can find light in the darkness. And know that you are a leader when you witness by your life and example. When you do all that, you’ll be successful beyond your wildest dreams, and you’ll have a relationship with your God that no one can take away from you, and will bring you to that place of ultimate happiness.
Having learned all this, I charge you all to GO. Go, make a difference. Go, live in God’s love. Go, be a witness to what you’ve been taught. Go, lead the world to a better place. Go, be a disciple and make disciples of everyone you meet. Go, knowing that our Lord is with you until the end of the age. Go, and glorify the Lord with your life.