School Graduation: GO!

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.

School Graduation

Readings: Proverbs 3:13-35; Psalm 145; Philippians 2:1-5; Luke 6:27-38

Tonight as we come together to celebrate the Eucharist as a class for the last time, I would imagine you are experiencing a great many emotions. You may be feeling happy, even relieved, as you come to this milestone. Many of you have been at Notre Dame School for as many as ten years, and so this accomplishment has been a long time coming. You might also be feeling sad that you’re leaving behind some friends as they go to other high schools, or even uneasy because you’ll be heading into unknown territory. I’m sure you’re also feeling proud of the success you’ve had here at Notre Dame, particularly proud of the success that has led you to graduation this evening.

Success is the thing that everyone wants for you. Your parents want you to be successful, your teachers will be proud when you are successful. Even God wants you to be successful. But all those people may have different ideas of what success looks like. Some might see success as getting into a prestigious college. Others measure it by how much money you’ll eventually make. Maybe you will want to be the famous athlete, or the President of the United States. You might find success in inventing some new technology, or finding a cure for a disease. Success looks like a lot of different things.

Many people have written on what success is. Dale Carnegie wrote, “The person who gets the farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore.” Woody Allen once said, “Seventy percent of success in life is showing up.” Johann Sebastian Bach wrote, “I was made to work. If you are equally industrious, you will be equally successful.” I could go on and on quoting all sorts of famous people who have given their opinion on how to be successful, but I thought I might stop there and instead focus on what success looks like for disciples of the Lord.

Take a look at the Cross. Because that’s what success looks like for us believers in Christ. It looks like love beyond our wildest dreams. It looks like giving everything, trusting all the while that God will give us what we need in return. That’s how Jesus loves us, and that’s how we’re supposed to love one another too. He laid down his life for us, and we are called to do the same for others. We are probably not going to get nailed to a cross, but we are definitely called upon to give of ourselves, to lay down our lives for each other.

And so for the believer, success might look like becoming a missionary to bring God’s love to people in faraway lands. Or it might look like finding the cure for a disease without harming the unborn. Believers in Christ could become politicians too; helping to make the world a better place by standing up for what is right. Successful believers could become priests or religious sisters or brothers. They might even be parents who raise their children to respect others and have a strong relationship with God. They could be owners of businesses that practice their trade with integrity and a concern for those in need.

One thing is certain: successful believers will always have to sacrifice. Selfishness does not have a place in the life of a disciple and it will never even lead to real happiness anyway. A successful disciple might have to pass on a business deal because it looks shady, and trust God to give them something way better. Or she might give up a couple of years of her career in order to devote some time to working with the poor. A successful parent might have to put some of his or her plans on hold in order to raise a family. But successful disciples aren’t doormats either; they merely give of themselves and trust in God to give them real happiness.

And God does want you to be happy. In fact if you’re ever finding yourself unhappy in life – and most of us will be there at some point or another – stop and see if maybe you’re not doing what God wants you to do. Because, in my life, I will absolutely witness that the happiest times have been the times when I’ve stopped doing my own thing and listened to God. God is love, God is mercy, God is truth and beauty and grace, and he never wants anything for his children but the very best – just like any good parent.

Our Gospel tonight makes this all very clear. Jesus tells his disciples, which you well know includes every one of us here, to do everything I just said: love your enemies, do good to everyone, give when you don’t have to, love the people that are hard to love, give expecting nothing back. All of this stuff is sacrifice beyond belief. But then he makes a promise: “Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing…” When we give of ourselves and let go of the things that hold us back, then our hands are empty and ready to receive the enormous good gifts that God has in store for us. That, my friends, is real success.

For all these years, we have tried to give you the tools to grow into the people you were meant to become. If you remember these things and use them and grow in them, you will be successful, happy and blessed. The goal of all our lives is to get to heaven one day, and for the time you’ve been in our Catholic school, we have done our best to give you what you need to get there, because getting to heaven is the ultimate badge of success; it’s the greatest measure of our having become who we were meant to be. I hope that you will be reasonably happy in this life, but I really want you to be eternally happy with Christ in heaven one day. I look forward to seeing the great people you will surely become as you continue to be involved here at Notre Dame in the years to come. May God bless you in every moment of your lives. And don’t ever forget where your spiritual home is: right here at Notre Dame, because I really don’t want this to be goodbye.

School Graduation

Today’s readings: Acts 4:32-35 / 1 John 3:18-24 / John 15:1-8

As we gather tonight for your graduation, I can imagine that you are feeling all sorts of things.  You’re probably excited, knowing what you’ve accomplished and looking forward to what lies ahead.  You may be relieved, having come through good times and bad, perhaps having learned things you never thought you would grasp.  Perhaps you’re a little nervous or fearful, thinking about high school and entering into the unknown after all these years.  And you may be a little sad, since you’re gathered here as a class for the last time.  All of those feelings are normal and part of the experience tonight.  Moving forward is always exciting and scary and sad all rolled up into one.  That’s life!

Your parents and teachers and all of us who have been part of your lives have a lot of mixed emotions on this occasion as well.  It’s hard to see our children move to the next phase of life sometimes, but it’s also exhilarating seeing their accomplishments and celebrating the young men and women they have become.  For me, it’s hard to say goodbye to all of you, because I’ve known you all for the last two and a half years; I’ve seen you grow, and so many of you have been great altar servers.  You’ve stirred my heart and given me renewed faith in young people and hope for a world in the future being guided by people of faith.  But however we all feel about you moving on, move on you must.  That is what life is all about: growing and learning and becoming and going forward.  We all want that for you, and hopefully that is what you want for yourselves.

So on this graduation day, I want to take a moment to talk to you about where you should go next.  Having come through as many as ten years at our Catholic School, you have open to you a wide range of paths and opportunities.  Many of them are good ones, some will be incredibly great.  You will have to make some hard decisions in the days and years ahead as you carve out your niche in life and continue to become the people God created you to be.  Now I’d never presume to tell you each what to do and to become and what path to follow.  But I do want to leave you tonight with some principles for making these hard decisions.  And nothing I will tell you is my own invention; these principles of discernment have long been part of the teaching of the Church and the living of our faith.

The first principle is to pray a lot.  God has a plan for each of us in our lives.  Maybe we are meant to become priests, or sisters or brothers in a religious order, or parents.  Perhaps we are to become teachers or doctors or lawyers or public safety first responders.  God wants us to use the gifts he has given us to glorify him.  But we have to figure out exactly how to do that.  And the only way we can do that is to pray.  We have to ask God, every day, to reveal the part of the plan that he wants us to see.  We have to trust that God will give us what we need to do what he wants us to do.  We have to know God well enough to recognize the answer to our prayers and the call that he is giving us.  That’s prayer.  Some days, we will have a crystal clear answer, but the truth is, most days, we will have more questions than answers.  But being people of constant prayer will serve us well over the long haul and teach us what we need to know to keep growing.

The second principle is to learn everything we can.  Follow your passions and absorb everything that interesting people are showing you.  Never stop learning about the world, and never stop learning about your faith.  Whether you go to Catholic high school or public, whether you attend a Catholic university or not, you still have so much to learn about your faith.  If Father Steve and I stopped growing in our faith, our parish would die.  If Pope Francis stopped growing in his faith, the Church would be irrelevant.  If you want to become the best you that you can be, then you have to continue to see who Christ is.  You have to continue to understand what living the Gospel means.  Because it is faith that truly makes sense of everything we learn about the world.  If we truly want to know Truth, then we have to constantly evaluate everything we learn in terms of what we know about God and who he is and what he gives us and what he wants for us and the world.  Learn everything you can and grow in your faith.

The third principle is to love before we do anything else.  Whatever we think we have to do in any situation, it’s important that we first love the other people involved.  To truly become the people we are meant to be, we have to love others in the same way that God has loved us.  Pope Francis said recently, “To live according to the Gospel is to fight against selfishness.  The Gospel is forgiveness and peace; it is love that comes from God.”  The world wants us to live for ourselves, to take care of ourselves first, to live according to what we think.  But that only leaves us unhappy and alone and unfulfilled.  If we want to become great people, we have to love unconditionally and sacrificially, just like Jesus loved us when he took our place up there on the Cross.  Because it’s only in laying down our lives for our brothers and sisters – as he did – that we can rise to new and glorious life.

And finally, the most important discernment principle is what Jesus tells us in the Gospel tonight: that we have to remain in him if we want to be truly successful.  Listen to what he says again: “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”  Nothing.  Nothing really good will happen apart from our life in Christ.  And so it’s important that you continue to do what you’ve learned here at Notre Dame: pray every day, go to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation and even during the week when you can, receive the Holy Eucharist and go to Confession often.  Stay connected to Christ, remain in Christ, and you will truly become the person God created you to be.

Take a look at the Cross.  That’s what success looks like for us believers in Christ.  It looks like love beyond our wildest dreams.  It looks like giving everything, trusting all the while that God will give us what we need in return.  That’s how Jesus loves us, and that’s how we’re supposed to love one another too.  We are probably not going to get nailed to a cross, but we are definitely called upon to give of ourselves, to lay down our lives for each other.

For all these years, we have tried to give you the tools to grow into the people you were meant to become.  If you remember these things and use them and grow in them, you will be successful, happy and blessed.  The goal of all our lives is to get to heaven one day, and for the time you’ve been in our Catholic school, we have done our best to give you what you need to get there, because getting to heaven is the ultimate badge of success; it’s the greatest measure of our having become who we were meant to be.  I hope that you will be reasonably happy in this life, but I really want you to be eternally happy with Christ in heaven one day.  I look forward to seeing the great people you will surely become as you continue to be involved here at Notre Dame in the years to come.  May God bless you in every moment of your lives.  And don’t ever forget where your spiritual home is: right here at Notre Dame.

School Graduation

Readings:  Acts 4:32-35, Psalm 145, 1 John 3:18-24, John 15:1-8

My dear graduates, you are gathered here for the last time as a class.  This has been your home away from home for the last nine or ten years, you have known each other and grown together, you have formed relationships that have seen you through good times and bad.  And so, as we come together for graduation this evening, I know that this is a bittersweet occasion for you, as it is for your teachers and all of us who have been privileged to be part of your life these past years.  You are certainly excited to graduate and move on with the rest of your life, but you are probably also sad to leave behind so many close friends as you go to different schools in the year ahead.

But however we all feel about you moving on, move on you must.  That is what life is all about: growing and learning and becoming and going forward.  We all want that for you, and hopefully that is what you want for yourselves. And so, on this occasion, I have been trying to figure out what words I would want you to hear on this day.  As I have prayed about this homily over the last few weeks, the Spirit seems to be wanting me to talk to you about success.  Success is that pot of gold that we all want for ourselves, and many people have written about it.

Dale Carnegie wrote, “The person who gets the farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore.”  Woody Allen once said, “Seventy percent of success in life is showing up.”  Johann Sebastian Bach wrote, “I was made to work. If you are equally industrious, you will be equally successful.”  I could go on and on quoting all sorts of famous people who have given their opinion on how to be successful, but I thought I might stop there and instead reflect on what is the focus of this particular school, reflect on what Jesus teaches us about success.

And what Jesus has to say about success might sound counter-intuitive.  During his life, people often heard him speak and thought he was crazy.  They may have laughed and written him off, or maybe they got angry and walked away.  Some even were so angry that they eventually had him arrested and put to death.  But we know, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, with eyes filled with grace and formed by the Church, that Jesus’ words are words to live by.  So let’s listen to some of the radical things he had to say about success.

First, he said that one can be successful in the humblest of circumstances.  To be fair, he didn’t really say that out loud, he actually just said it by who he was.  When he came to earth, he could have done that in so many ways.  Because he is God, he could have come with great fanfare, with a mighty army and amazing signs like a solar eclipse and a great earthquake.  But he didn’t.  He came as a little baby, with no more than a quiet cry in the night, laying in a manger, born in the poorest of circumstances.  But he made those circumstances the beginning of salvation for the whole world.  So it’s not what you start with, instead it’s what you let God do in you that counts.  If you want to be successful, don’t be dragged down by the pains of yesterday, don’t be bitter about where life started for you; instead, reach out to tomorrow with all the grace God gives you.

The second thing Jesus might tell us is that if you want to be successful, do some things you don’t have to do.  Before Jesus began his work, St. John the Baptist was baptizing people for the forgiveness of sins.  At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus came to John for baptism.  He didn’t have to, because he had no sin.  But he did it anyway, to identify with sinners – that’s you and me – and to make the waters of baptism holy by his being in them.  By doing something he didn’t have to do, he made real forgiveness possible for all of us.  By doing something you don’t have to, maybe you can make life better for others in some way too.

Jesus might also tell us that to be successful, we need to repent.  A lot of people think they don’t need to repent, but the truth is, we all do.  All of us fall down in our devotion to and friendship with God at some point or another, and that can cause our lives to spin out of control.  Or, if we are real followers of Jesus, we can use the opportunity to turn back, ask forgiveness, and move forward.  God can use those occasions when we mess up to give us grace that moves us beyond our imaginings.  He did that for the disciples, and he wants to do it for us disciples too.  All we have to do is repent, turn back, open the door to mercy.

Jesus would also tell us that being successful means laying down our lives.  He sure did it – up there on that cross.  We too will have to lay down our lives for what we believe in, and lay down our lives for others.  Because our belief in Jesus may come at odds with what others think, or what they are doing.  We will then have to decide to go along with others or lay down our lives for Jesus.  We will have to lay down our lives for others, too.  We may have to give up our own selfish interests so that the important people in our lives can know that we care for them.  Jesus told us quite clearly: there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  And he modeled it in the most radical way possible by giving his life for us.

And finally, I think Jesus would tell us, as he does in the Gospel tonight, that we have to remain in him if we want to be truly successful.  Listen to what he says again: “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”  Nothing.  Nothing really good will happen apart from our life in Christ.  And so it’s important that you continue to do what you’ve learned here at Notre Dame: pray every day, go to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation and even during the week when you can, receive the Holy Eucharist and go to Confession often.  Stay connected to Christ, remain in Christ, and you will be truly successful in life.

Take a look at the Cross.  That’s what success looks like for us believers in Christ.  It looks like love beyond our wildest dreams.  It looks like giving everything, trusting all the while that God will give us what we need in return.  That’s how Jesus loves us, and that’s how we’re supposed to love one another too.  We are probably not going to get nailed to a cross, but we are definitely called upon to give of ourselves, to lay down our lives for each other.

For all these years, you’ve been hearing how to be successful.  We’ve given you the tools as best we can.  If you remember these things and use them and grow in them, you will be successful, happy and blessed.  The goal of all our lives is to get to heaven one day, and for the time you’ve been in our Catholic school, we have done our best to give you what you need to get there, because getting to heaven is the ultimate badge of success.  Be reasonably happy in this life, but we want you to be eternally happy with Christ in heaven one day.  May God bless you in every moment of your lives.  And don’t ever forget where your spiritual home is: right here at Notre Dame.

School Graduation

Readings: Deuteronomy 31:1-8Psalm 145 – 1 Timothy 4:12-16Matthew 5:13-16

My dear graduates, you are gathered here for the last time as a class.  This has been the home away from home, for many of you, for the last nine or ten years; you have known each other and grown together; you have formed relationships that have seen you through good times and bad.  And so, as we come together for graduation this evening, I know that this is a bittersweet occasion for you, as it is for your teachers and all who have been privileged to be part of your life these past years.  You are certainly excited to graduate and move on with the rest of your life, but you are certainly also sad to leave behind so many close friends as you go to different schools in the year ahead.

But however we all feel about you moving on, move on you must.  That is what life is all about: growing and learning and becoming and going forward.  We all want that for you, and hopefully that is what you want for yourselves. And so, on this occasion, I have been trying to figure out what words I would want you to hear on this day.  As I have prayed about this homily, the Spirit seems to be wanting me to talk to you about success.  Success is that pot of gold that we all want for ourselves, and many people have written about it.

Dale Carnegie wrote, “The person who gets the farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore.”  Woody Allen once said, “Seventy percent of success in life is showing up.”  Johann Sebastian Bach wrote, “I was made to work. If you are equally industrious, you will be equally successful.”  I could go on and on quoting all sorts of famous people who have given their opinion on how to be successful, but I thought I might stop there and instead focus on some common advice about success that you usually hear at graduations.

One thing you often hear is “Anything’s possible.”  I think that’s more or less true, but that also doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good news.  God only knows what’s ahead for each of you: some of it will be incredibly excellent – the stuff far beyond your wildest dreams.  Those moments are God’s gift to you.  Some of it may also be disappointing, frustrating or even sad.  But whether the future brings joy or sadness, what is truly important is what you do with it.  If God gives you joy, your task is to share it – because no gift is ever given just for ourselves.  And if life brings you pain on occasion, the task is to get through it as best you can, knowing that you are never alone: God is with you all the way.

Another piece of advice you might hear at graduation is “Believe in yourself.”  That’s nice advice as far as it goes.  Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t go very far.  If all you believe in is yourself, what do you do when you don’t know what to do?  Who do you turn to?  What happens when you mess up?  I think far better advice is what you’ve been taught for all these years here at Notre Dame School: believe in Jesus.  Jesus loves you, Jesus knows what it’s like to live our human life – he knew joy and he knew sorrow and he got through it all.  If you believe in Jesus, you’ll always have a deep well of grace to draw from when you are tested, you’ll always be able to discern the right path, and you’ll be known as a person who is steadfast and courageous, not blown around by whatever fad comes along next.  Jesus is your Lord and Jesus is your friend.  He has known you and loved you before you were you, and he will keep on loving you no matter where life takes you.

Sometimes at graduations, you’ll hear “There’s nothing you can’t achieve.”  I don’t personally think that’s true.  There are lots of things we aren’t made to do, and I think we instead have to figure out what it was we were made to do.  God has an important task for each of us to accomplish, and it’s up to achieve that.  That is our vocation.  That means we have to pray about what that is, to look for God’s will in our lives.  I can tell you from personal experience, that if you do what God wants you to do in your life, you’ll be successful, and more than that, you’ll be happy every day of your life.  It took me a while to figure that out, but it was worth it.

All in all, I think the best advice there is comes from a very reliable source.  That source is Jesus in this evening’s Gospel reading.  Jesus says that successful disciples have to be salt and light.  We are called to season the world with the love and grace that Jesus has taught us.  We are called to shine the light of God’s presence on a world that can sometimes be a dark place.  Disciples make the world a better place, and through these years of Catholic education, you have learned how to do that.  Now as you go forth into the rest of your life, you are called to put what you have learned into practice.

Sometimes putting what we have learned into practice can be difficult.  Jesus certainly lived what he taught us, and it was difficult for him too.  For him, being salt and light led him to the cross, where he paid the price for our sins.  He did that because he loves us unconditionally and sacrificially.  That kind of love gives us the possibility of eternal life one day in God’s heavenly kingdom.  God loved us so much that he couldn’t bear the thought of living forever without us, so he sent his Son to become one of us and pay the price for our many sins, and to destroy the power that sin and death had over us.

That’s what success looks like for us believers in Christ.  It looks like love beyond our wildest dreams.  It looks like giving everything, trusting all the while that God will give us what we need in return.  That’s how Jesus loves us, and that’s how we’re supposed to love one another too.  We are probably not going to get nailed to a cross, but we are definitely called upon to give of ourselves, to lay down our lives for each other.  That is how we can be salt and light in this world.

For all these years of Catholic school, you’ve been hearing that message.  If you remember it, I think you will be successful in this life and in the life to come.  The goal of all our lives is to get to heaven one day, and for the time you’ve been in our Catholic school, everyone has done their best to give you what you need to get there.  And, as the writer of our first reading from Deuteronomy promises, you need not be afraid of what it takes to be successful because “It is the LORD who marches before you; he will be with you and will never fail or forsake you.  So do not fear or be dismayed.”

 

School Graduation

Today’s readings: 1Peter 1:3-5; Philippians 4:4-9; John 15:9-12

My dear graduates, you are gathered here for the last time as a class.  This has been your home away from home for the last nine years, you have known each other and grown together, you have formed relationships that have seen you through good times and bad.  And so, as we come together for graduation this evening, I know that this is a bittersweet occasion for you, as it is for your teachers and all of us who have been privileged to be part of your life these past years.  You are certainly excited to graduate and move on with the rest of your life, but you are certainly also sad to leave behind so many close friends as you go to different schools in the year ahead.

But however we all feel about you moving on, move on you must.  That is what life is all about: growing and learning and becoming and going forward.  We all want that for you, and hopefully that is what you want for yourselves. And so, on this occasion, I have been trying to figure out what words I would want you to hear on this day.  As I have prayed about this homily over the last few weeks, the Spirit seems to be wanting me to talk to you about success.  Success is that pot of gold that we all want for ourselves, and many people have written about it.

Dale Carnegie wrote, “The person who gets the farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore.”  Woody Allen once said, “Seventy percent of success in life is showing up.”  Johann Sebastian Bach wrote, “I was made to work. If you are equally industrious, you will be equally successful.”  I could go on and on quoting all sorts of famous people who have given their opinion on how to be successful, but I thought I might stop there and instead focus on some common advice about success that you usually hear at graduations.

One thing you often hear is something like Jojo from Seussical might say: “Anything’s possible.”  I think that’s more or less true, but that also doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good news.  God only knows what’s ahead for each of you: some of it will be incredibly excellent – the stuff far beyond your wildest dreams.  Those moments are God’s gift to you.  Some of it may also be disappointing, frustrating or even sad.  But whether the future brings joy or sadness, what is truly important is what you do with it.  If God gives you joy, your task is to share it – because no gift is ever given just for ourselves.  And if life brings you pain, the task is to get through it as best you can, knowing that God is with you all the way.

Another piece of advice you might hear at graduation is “Believe in yourself.”  That’s nice advice as far as it goes.  Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t go very far.  If all you believe in is yourself, what do you do when you don’t know what to do?  Who do you turn to?  What happens when you mess up?  I think far better advice is what you’ve been taught for the last nine years here at St. Petronille School: believe in Jesus.  Jesus loves you, Jesus knows what it’s like to live our human life – he knew joy and he knew sorrow and he got through it all.  If you believe in Jesus, you’ll always have a deep well of grace to draw from when you are tested, you’ll always be able to discern the right path, and you’ll be known as a person who is steadfast and courageous, not blown around by whatever fad comes along next.  Jesus is your Lord and Jesus is your friend.  He has known you and loved you before you were you, and he will keep on loving you no matter where life takes you.

Sometimes at graduations, you’ll hear “There’s nothing you can’t achieve.”  I don’t personally think that’s true.  There are lots of things we aren’t made to do, and I think we instead have to figure out what it was we were made to do.  God has an important task for each of us to accomplish, and it’s up to achieve that.  That means we have to pray about what that is, to look for God’s will in our lives.  I can tell you from personal experience, that if you do what God wants you to do in your life, you’ll be successful, and more than that, you’ll be happy every day of your life.  It took me a while to figure that out, but it was worth it.

All in all, I think the best advice there is comes from a very reliable source.  That source is Jesus in this evening’s Gospel reading.  Jesus says that successful disciples have to do just one thing: “Love one another as I have loved you.”  And at first that seems like no big deal, right?  You hear “love one another” so much that it becomes just some warm fuzzy saying that it doesn’t make much of an impression on us.  But I think it should, because Jesus never said something he meant for us to forget.  So we have to look at the Scripture a little more deeply.  And when we do, we can see that the kind of love Jesus is calling us disciples to have for each other is pretty radical.  It looks something like that (indicate the cross).

Now, I’ll be honest.  When you look at the cross, it doesn’t look very successful.  It even looks like love came to an end.  But we know that’s not true.  We know that, because Jesus loved us that much, because he gave up his life for us, the Father raised him from the dead.  Because Jesus loved us unconditionally and sacrificially, we know that we have the possibility of eternal life one day in God’s heavenly kingdom.  God loved us so much that he couldn’t bear the thought of living forever without us, so he sent his Son to become one of us and pay the price for our many sins, and to destroy the power that sin and death had over us.

That’s what success looks like for us believers in Christ.  It looks like love beyond our wildest dreams.  It looks like giving everything, trusting all the while that God will give us what we need in return.  That’s how Jesus loves us, and that’s how we’re supposed to love one another too.  We are probably not going to get nailed to a cross, but we are definitely called upon to give of ourselves, to lay down our lives for each other.

For nine years, you’ve been hearing that message.  If you remember it, I think you will be successful in life and in the life to come.  The goal of all our lives is to get to heaven one day, and for the time you’ve been in our Catholic school, we have done our best to give you what you need to get there.  St. Paul sums it all up for us, then, in our second reading today: “Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me.  Then the God of peace will be with you.”