The Catholic University of America

2004 Baccalaureate Homily
by Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M.
University President
The Catholic University of America
May 14, 2004

Two weeks ago, 52.5 million people in the United States watched the final episode of the 10-year, television comedy series, "Friends." Last night, an equally large number watched the series finale episode of the 11-year, television comedy series, "Frazier." It is amazing, isn't it? It is amazing how much a part of our lives television shows and their characters can become. Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Ross, Chandler. Frazier, Niles, Daphne, Charlotte, Martin. It is almost as though they are real people and we look forward to seeing them each week. We set our schedules around them: "I have to get back to watch the show.

For weeks before both of these final episodes, as with MASH and Cheers and Seinfeld before them, its characters appeared on all television talk shows, radio and on the pages of newspapers. The big questions: "How will the show end?" "How do you feel about it ending?" "What will you miss most?" "What will you do when it's over?"

The storyline that we focus upon tonight is not from any television series. It is from the best-selling book of all time. We read a section of that book tonight, from the Gospel of St. John. It is, in a sense, a "series finale" because the words of tonight's Gospel reading are part of "the farewell discourse" of Jesus, his last words, his last will and testament, his last instruction. True enough. Jesus is with his friends - Peter, James, John, Judas and all the rest - at the "Last Supper" before his death and he speaks to them with all the sincerity and tenderness and intimacy of someone who is about to bring something very important, something to which he has devoted his life, to an end.

And the big questions could be asked here: "How will the show end?" "How do you feel about it ending?" "What will you miss most?" "What will you do when it's over?"

The answer to those questions, Jesus' words have a meaning and a message and an audience far beyond the confines of that upper room, far beyond the time when they were first spoken. Tonight, Jesus speaks to you, the graduates of the class of 2004 of The Catholic University of America here on campus in this Basilica.

At the center, at the heart of the passage we heard is the person of Jesus. At the center, at the heart of our life as Christians is the person of Jesus. At the center, at the heart of our celebration as graduates in these days, at this very moment, is the person of Jesus. And he speaks only of love.

Jesus said to his disciples: as the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

The day after he spoke these tender words to his dearest friends, Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, who demanded to know who he was and why he was causing such a stir among the people. Later in John's Gospel, he simply replied:

The reason I was born, the reason I came into this world, was to testify to the truth. Anyone committed to the truth, hears my voice.

As part of "the farewell discourse," after the words we heard tonight, Jesus prays to his Father for those he is about to leave behind: "Consecrate them in truth." And we know, again from John, that Jesus said "I am the truth and the life."

Just what is "the Truth" of Jesus, this person upon whom we focus our attention, this person who is at the center and the heart of all that we do? We heard it tonight, in the words that sum up his message and his life: "There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends." That is the Truth of Jesus. That is what he said. That is what he did. That is what he asks of us. Truth and love are one and the same. For they come from God. They reveal God. They lead us back to God.

It is not merely a coincidence today that we hear this Gospel message, this "series finale" as you graduate. It is part of the design of God for us who are here and who celebrate in Christ Jesus. "All this I tell you (Jesus says), that my joy may be yours and your joy may be complete."

Permit me to say a word to the parents and families and friends of our graduates. In so many visible and secret ways, you have taken Jesus' words to heart and have "laid down your life" for your daughters and sons, your sisters and brothers and friends about to graduate. Your love and your sacrifices have enabled them to encounter the truth, first in you; to study the truth here with us; and now to carry the truth to a waiting world. Continue to love and support them as I know you will. They'll never stop needing you. And may the joy you feel be complete.

To our faculty, administration and staff. You, too, have heard Jesus' message and have "laid down your life" for these young women and men. The truth is your special privilege and responsibility to hand on and you have done so with honor and with love. Live on in your love of the truth and may the joy you feel be complete.

And, finally, to our graduates in the class of 2004. The "big questions" I mentioned earlier can be asked of you in this your "series finale:" "How will the show end?" "How do you feel about it ending?" "What will you miss most?" "What will you do when it's over?" Yours is not a television show; yours is a life steeped in the Gospel.

Jesus speaks his Truth to you tonight. You have only begun to "lay down your life." Believe what Jesus says about that. "There is no greater love." Approach the future with open eyes and minds and hearts. Never be afraid of sacrifice. Never be afraid of doing for someone else, of putting someone else before you. "This is my commandment," Jesus tells us, "Love one another."

This is an inclusive command. Love one another, love all those who cross your path in life: the beautiful and the ugly; the rich and the poor; the born and the unborn; the innocent and the guilty; the healthy and the sick; the young and the old; those who are like you and those who are different. Lay down your life. No greater love. This is my commandment. For this, I call you friends. Jesus says in yet another part of John's Gospel, "if you live according to my teaching, you are truly my disciples; then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free."

Tomorrow, the truth will set you free. As you leave us, who love you so very much, remember the Gospel you have heard, remember Jesus' words to you: "It was not you who chose me; it was I who chose you to go forth and bear fruit. Your fruit must endure. There is no greater love than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." "All this I tell you that my joy may be yours and your joy may be complete." Amen.

Very Reverend David M. O'Connell, C.M.
President