The Catholic University of America

2003 Baccalaureate Mass Homily
Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M.
University President
The Catholic University of America
May 16, 2003

My dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

I have a box in which I keep letters and cards from people. I have had it for years. Every once in a while, in quiet moments, I take that box out and read some of those letters and cards. A card from my Mother when I was ordained. A birthday note from my Father. Letters from various friends, living and dead, written for a whole variety of occasions over the years. These little pieces of correspondence recreate all kinds of moments and experiences in life: happy times, sad times addressing successes and failures and everything in between. Reading them releases emotions that well up from deep within.

Sometimes, the New Testament - the Christian Scriptures - seems like a similar kind of box. It contains letters and messages written at a time far removed from the present from people or communities in far distant places. In quiet moments - in fact, at every Mass we celebrate - we take our scriptures and open to one of the many letters of St. Paul or to one of the four Gospels or, as is the case today, to the Acts of the Apostles. When we read or hear these readings, we are transported back in time to moments and experiences at the origins of Christianity and the Church. Perhaps it is more purposeful and accurate to say that we take our Christian heritage and transport it forward to the present. We recognize, as the Church, that the messages of the scriptures are not only historically addressed to the first Christians but, also, addressed to us.

In today's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we read and hear about the apostle Paul's preaching the gospel in the synagogue. There is one line that jumps out of this brief passage. Paul says, "to us the word of salvation has been sent." There's our letter! There's our message, our greeting card from God! "To us the word of salvation has been sent." And Paul goes on to explain what he means by describing the experience of Easter, the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus which we continue to celebrate in the Church some 2,000 years after he first spoke about that wonderful event that has shaped our faith and has influenced our lives.

This afternoon, we come together in this magnificent Basilica to celebrate Easter once again as a community of faith, as believers, as people to whom "the word of salvation has been sent." Our names are 'written on the envelope,' so to speak, and the text is written in the blood of the Lord Jesus, who saved us. The message has been sent 'certified mail' and our baptism is the 'return receipt requested.' But a letter does not mean anything unless we take it to heart. We can open the envelope, we can read the words but we can easily push the message aside or discard it. Jesus wants us to put the letter in our box, the box of our heart. Jesus wants us to take it out and read it again and again.

My dear sisters and brothers in Christ, we come together today to celebrate the Easter word of salvation in the midst of graduation festivities. Let me read Christ's Gospel message to you, but let me read it in a special way to the graduating class of 2003. St John writes, quoting the Lord Jesus:

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me."

Tomorrow, you will graduate from The Catholic University of America. Most of you have identified a path for your immediate future. But, in the same way that, along with your parents and families, you came here several years ago with some uncertainty, perhaps some anxieties, you will leave us and go somewhere else in this world of ours. "Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in Jesus." Remember something else written and contained in that box of letters and messages we call the New Testament. It is a definition of faith: "confident assurance concerning things hoped for and conviction about things you do not see."

When most of you arrived on this campus in 1999, you were a quiet, timid, awkward group of freshmen. You have certainly changed! You have now completed a Catholic university education and that has contributed to the change, certainly for the better. But you have also changed because of the changes in the world around you. And, perhaps, because of the world around you, not only your minds but also your faith has been stretched and challenged. "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God and faith in Jesus." Names like John F. Kennedy Jr., Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, Elian Gonzales, George W. Bush, Pope John Paul II, Sammy Sosa, Trent Lott, Cardinal Law, Rudy Giuliani, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were on your lips. Places like Kosovo, Columbine High School, Chechnya, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Ground Zero, the Pentagon, Shanksville Pennsylvania, Boston, Baghdad, North Korea, Colonel Brooks' Tavern were on your minds. Events like earthquakes and hurricanes and tornadoes, impeachments and elections, the explosion of the space shuttle Columbia, the Irish or Middle East peace processes, September 11, the war in Iraq captured your attention. Things like Enron, Microsoft, "Who Wants to be A Millionaire," "The Bachelor," "Fear Factor," the human genome and cloning, Women's Soccer, national division III men's basketball championship, ethnic cleansing, the Washington sniper, crisis in the Church, terrorism and homeland security, Rusted Root, honor code, the use of the word "God" in the pledge of allegiance, SARS, the Pryzbyla Center, war and peace found their way into your vocabulary. What a world! And it was yours! What a time to be in the university! And it was yours! What an experience to confront! And it was yours … and you did! Together, here at The Catholic University of America, we said goodbye to one century, to one millennium and said hello to another. This is what you leave behind. This is what you take with you on your path to the future. And through it all, the Lord's word of salvation has been sent … to you. "Do not let your hearts be troubled." Have faith in God and faith in Jesus." "Confident assurance of things hoped for. Conviction about things you do not see."

For all of us, as believers, those who are about to graduate, those who have brought them to this day, faith can never be something you set aside, like a letter or a card or a message. And if your education at The Catholic University of America has taught you anything for the future, I hope it is that. And I hope you take that letter and message with you tomorrow. There are, indeed, as the Gospel of John points out, "many dwelling places" ahead of you. But remember, as the Gospel also reminds you, that it is Jesus who shows you the path to God our Father and offers you his hand in good times and in bad. And remember always in those times, his words addressed to you today. "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me."