The Catholic University of America

Baccalaureate Homily
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
May 11, 2007

As Jesus' life on earth began to wind down, he gathered his apostles together in the Upper Room to share both a final meal and some final conversation with them. He was about to die and he knew that their whole world was about to change as a result. This was the end of their time with him on earth but the beginning of the Church. These last hours with Jesus were, in a sense, the apostles' "commencement." And it was Jesus who gave their "commencement address" himself.

Of all the things that Jesus could have said to them that final night, he chose the words we have just heard in the Gospel of St. John (John 15:12-7), this brief passage often referred to as "the great commandment."

Tonight, your final night as students of The Catholic University of America, we officially begin your commencement exercises. You gather here in the Basilica as you have done so often in the past several years, this time as seniors or graduate students to share the Eucharistic meal one final time as classmates.

And of all the passages that could have appeared in the lectionary on this day, we happen upon Jesus' parting words to his apostles, his final teaching on love.

Although Catholics throughout the world today have heard this same Gospel reading, it is, in a very unique and special way, Jesus' commencement address to you, an invitation --- a command --- to love.

"I have called you friends," Jesus says in tonight's Gospel. At the end of your years at Catholic University, could you imagine a more beautiful, more profound reference? Can you imagine a better thought with which to send you on your way? You are the "friends" of Jesus Christ. True friendship is never one-sided. True friendship is active, it works both ways and carries with it very definite responsibilities: the responsibility to be attentive to and respectful of one another; Jesus offers that to you tonight; do you offer it to him? The responsibility to be honest with and loyal to one another; Jesus tells you "I have told you everything I have heard from my Father;" have you opened your heart and soul to him in return? True friendship brings with it the responsibility to "be there" for one another and, at times, to challenge one another; Jesus tells you he is "there" for you --- will you be there for him? True friendship includes the responsibility to understand and to care for one another, the responsibility, in Jesus' own words, to be willing "to lay down one's life for one's friends." Can you do it? Will you do it?

"I have called you friends," Jesus says in tonight's Gospel. And, so you are --- by Jesus' own words --- his "friends." "It was not you who chose me but I who chose you." And Jesus' friendship, Jesus' "choosing you, will "bear fruit that will remain."

How will this happen? How will this friendship bear fruit? Jesus tells us that, as well: "love one another as I have loved you." Notice that Jesus did not simply ask us to love one another; he asked us, he commanded us to "love one another as I have loved you." That's a tall order, by anyone's standards. But that is what he asks, that is what friendship with Jesus requires. Are you up for it?

When I reflect upon these last few years with you --- and I speak not just for myself as president but for all your faculty, administrators and staff --- I see good people, positive people, people who are loving and lovable. People who have made every effort to be the friends of Jesus and friends to one another. The Class of 2007 of The Catholic University of America. Thank you for that. Congratulations for that. Don't stop now.

Jesus says in the Gospel. "As I love you. You are my friends. I chose you." The love and friendship of Jesus requires not only that you believe in him but that you believe in yourself. You, just as you are, are on the other end of his love and friendship. He has already demonstrated that you are worth it. Believe him by believing in yourself.

Respect others. The mark of an educated person is civility. And civility is another word for respect. You are not in this world alone. Watch your words --- they can do a great deal of good but much harm. Just because you have the freedom to speak does not mean that the rest of us have an obligation to listen. There is a human being on the other end of your words, your emails, your letters, your conversations. Recognize that in every other person there is a dignity placed there by God that you do not have the right to take away, even if they do not live up to that dignity themselves.

Put others first. That is at the heart of tonight's Gospel. Love puts the other first. It asks nothing in return. But if love is true, it does not have to ask. That line from the musical, Les Miserables, rings so true: "to love another person is to see the face of God." We are not called simply to see God's face but also to be God's face, to show God's face. Putting the other first enables us to do just that.

Live your faith. You could have received an excellent education at any number of places. You chose to study at The Catholic University of America. No matter what your religion might be, CUA is a university born "from the heart of the Church," formed by 2,000 years of Christian tradition and history, shaped by Catholic vision and Catholic values that recognize that there is something good and purposeful in every life; that there is a right and a wrong way to live in this world and that our choices and our freedoms are not arbitrary things; that, while differences exist among us as individuals, there is a common good that is accessible to the mind and heart, that is noble and worth pursuing.

A Catholic university seeks truth and the fullest truth includes both reason and faith. If your Catholic education here did not offer you that fullness, it has failed. On the other hand, if you have learned that reason and faith do, indeed, influence who you are and what you will become, there is no greater success for Catholic University except for one thing: that your education here has moved you to live your faith and put it into practice, day in, day out --- without apology or compromise.

Jesus says in tonight's Gospel "I chose you to bear fruit that will remain." In other words, make a difference. Have something to show for your life, right now. Have something to show for your efforts, for your study, for your sacrifice and that of your parents, right now. Have the courage to make a difference because of what you have learned here and the person you have become, right now.

My dear members of the class of 2007, all of you here tonight, these are just some of the ways you can live out the Gospel. There are more. And there is a lifetime ahead of you. But no matter what path your life takes, Jesus' final words to his apostles --- his commencement address --- make one thing abundantly clear. You are Jesus' friends and you'll never walk the path alone. Believe it. Live it. Love it. And go with God.

Very Reverend David M. O'Connell, C.M., J.C.D., LL.D.