The Catholic University of America

CLASS OF 2008 BACCALAUREATE HOMILY
Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M.
President
The Catholic University of America
Delivered at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Washington, D.C.
May 16, 2008
To view video of the Baccalaureate Mass, click here.

"For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the Gospel will save it. What profit is there for one
to gain the whole world and forfeit one's life?"

When you chose The Catholic University of America to begin your university studies either as undergraduate or graduate students, you came here for a reason. For many of you, perhaps, it may have been the attraction of Washington, D.C., with all the excitement that immersion in the political center of the world could bring. For others, it may have been this university's connection to the Catholic Church as its national university. For still others, it may have been one of Catholic's rich academic programs or the ability to participate in division III athletics just for love of the game or some particular professor and the ability to do your research with him or her. For some few it may have been the fact that you were not accepted elsewhere. Whatever your reason, you landed here on our doorstep at The Catholic University of America. And here you are, about to graduate with your bachelor's or master's or doctoral degree. Congratulations.

I want to invite you, though, for just a moment, before the commencement ceremony and the celebrations that follow, to pause and think: what was the reason that brought you here? What did you hope for? What did you do in these years? What did you gain?

The answers to these questions, along with the degree that represents your academic and professional achievements, are the things that you will take with you. Cognitive psychologists and those who study the functions of the brain tell us that much of what you studied or read in these years --- not all, but much of it --- will quickly be forgotten. If that is true, then tonight, permit me to ask you, the graduating class of 2008 of The Catholic University of America, a somewhat deeper and more enduring question: what have you become here? Have you changed? Are you a different person from the young woman or man who first arrived? These are important questions to ask and to answer.

At this moment, however, as the class of 2008, you are here in this Basilica with your parents and families, your classmates and friends. In this celebration of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ that we call "the Eucharist," the sacrifice of the Mass, let me pose another question that may sound strange to your ears. In light of today's Gospel, let me ask you. In your time at The Catholic University of America: what did you lose? What did you lose by what you have gained and become here?

It is more than a bit of irony, as believers on the eve of a great moment of accomplishment in your lives, that you hear Jesus words in today's Gospel from St. Mark addressed to you and to us all:

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the Gospel will save it.

I say "more than a bit of irony" because what you hear in Jesus' words tonight is not simply some Christian "throw away line" or some fact presented in a class lecture or a reading assignment that we can easily forget. It is the fundamental call of the Lord Jesus Christ to you who call yourselves Christians. No matter what degree you have earned or subjects you have studied or honors you have received--- and those are all good and wonderful things --- for the believer, for the Christian, it always comes back to the same reality: hearing the call to follow him. No matter what reason brought you here to The Catholic University of America, it is that message that we emphasize as you leave, it is the conclusion to your experience. What you have truly gained and become is the result of what you have lost.

It is my hope, our hope, that since you first arrived here at Catholic you have lost an attraction to the dangerous moral relativism of a culture and society that tells you always to take the easy way out, that right and wrong are up to you, that sacrifice is pointless, that the more you have and the more you take and the more you get are the truest signs of success. Perhaps in the eyes of this world. But the Gospel challenges you, calls you back with its haunting refrain, "What profit is there for one to gain the whole world, only to forfeit one's life?"

It is my hope, our hope, that since you first arrived here at Catholic you have lost the belief that you have all the answers, that you are self-sufficient, that your parents and elders are irrelevant and have nothing to offer, that everything you need to know, you can find on "Facebook" or "YouTube" or simply by asking those who think just like you do. That Church was something you "did" when you were younger but that you have outgrown it.

It is my hope, our hope, that since you first arrived here at Catholic you have lost the inclination not to turn first to Almighty God in your need, not to make room for others in your life because of selfishness and self-centeredness, not to care and to love and to see that faith is more than just clinging to externals, as St. James points out in the first reading: what good is it to say you have faith if there are no works that flow from it?

Yes, I hope that your Catholic education here at Catholic University has caused you to lose all these things that seduce you and make you feel satisfied and full of yourself. "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it." You are Christians. "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me."

When Pope Benedict XVI visited our campus one month ago tomorrow --- and how lucky we were, you were, that he chose your university for his visit --- he said something very important.

Education is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News. First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth (cf. Spe Salvi, 4). This relationship elicits a desire to grow in the knowledge and understanding of Christ and his teaching. In this way those who meet him are drawn by the very power of the Gospel to lead a new life characterized by all that is beautiful, good, and true.

On the eve of your graduation, you and I both know what you have gained here --- and you have gained much in your classes and studies, your friendships and experiences, your growth in faith and compassion. And you and I both can also see what you have become here --- and it is "beautiful, good and true." Be joyful. Be happy. Be grateful. Live your life: it's God's gift to you. Love your life: it's your gift to God. Lose you life for his sake and that of the Gospel: it's your gift to the world through him. Amen.