Baccalaureate Mass Homily
Rev. Jude DeAngelo, O.F.M. Conv., Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry at The Catholic University of America
Great Upper Church, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
May 11, 2012
Rev. Jude DeAngelo, O.F.M. Conv.
Alexandra Petri of The Washington Post recently penned a column entitled: “Things they really don’t tell you at graduation.” The column was a satire on the “commencement speech genre.” There were several rather cynical yet humorous observations about a college education in our post-modern era. In writing to the class of 2012, Petri states that: 1) “Next year you will probably be either unemployed, or live in your parent’s basement, or be unemployed and live in your parents’ basement.” Another prediction reads: “You will spend most of your life trying to fund your parents’ or grandparents’ elaborate health and retirement benefits, which are premised on the belief that until they die they deserve to live in a style generally reserved for 18th century monarchs.” Notice the irony? It’s assumed that parents’ supporting their adult children in a time of crisis is an obligation but, that the reverse, i.e. children supporting their aging parents is considered a burden? It should be noted that moving back home after graduation is indeed a burden but, a burden not on the parents who are saving their offspring from living on the street with nothing to protect them from the elements except their college degrees - no, the major burden is carried by this generation of graduates betrayed by these hard economic times. Petri’s satire underscores that a college education completed in 2012 has failed to prepare graduates to accept the hard facts of life. Her satire is relentless in stressing the misery that awaits you. Contrary to what you have been trained to expect, Petri suggests that you are not entitled to a job, happiness, respect, a healthy relationship, or the warm fuzzes of constant affirmation. No, what awaits you is an uncertain future and a mundane existence. I found Petri’s satirical humor rather depressing.
After reading these dark predictions about post-graduate life, I needed something uplifting. So I went to the source of all knowledge, The Google. Now, The Google revealed a rather interesting array of graduation speech sites; there was everything from inspirational wisdom to trite, absurd, and inane statements and advice. One site in particular caught my interest; it contained the list of the, “20 Life Rules from 100 Inspirational Commencement Speeches.”
I was not really inspired by this list either because many of the rules restated the same 3 or 4 gems with different words... For example, Rule number 1, Find your Passion, seemed to be the same as these rules: Have Big Dreams, Take Action and Get in the Game, Be Bold and Courageous, Use Your Creativity and Imagination, Follow Your Heart and Intuition, Do What You Love, Think and You Can Do It, Work Hard and Keep Walking the Road and the perennial graduation favorite, Take Risks. Really, all are restatements boiled down to the first rule: Find Your Passion.
Continuing the analysis, Rule 3, Do Not Let Others Define You looked a lot like, Believe in Yourself and, Maintain Your Integrity. Following every rule was a quote from one of the 100 famous speakers who gave these 100 inspirational commencement addresses. Under Rule 3: “Do Not Let Others Define You” the words of a business icon were written, I quote: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life…. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking…” A rather adversarial and acerbic piece of advice, don’t you think?
Rounding out the list of the 20 Rules for Life were the following honorable mentions: Keep Learning, Stay in The Present Moment, and don’t forget to Embrace Change, Do Not Give Up, It’s Ok to Fail, You Do Not Need to Be Perfect, and, Rule 19: Give Back, with its explanatory note, One day you will understand that it is harder to be kind than to be clever.
What was missing from the 20 rules for life was any meaningful advice about the value of friendship, relationship, or sacrificing for the common good. Even the word “love” from rule 12, was limited to having a passion for work – as in, Do What You Love. In my not so humble opinion all 20 rules seem to affirm the primordial post-modern rule: “I am the center of my universe. Take care of me first.”
From that principle that, I am absolutely the center of my own life then, it would follow that I must be entitled to fulfill my own dreams with little regard for others because other people should be fulfilling their own dreams and following their own passions and creating their own destiny. So, we are advised to stay in the present moment and don’t let others define us even my giving back could be reduced to that wonderful self-serving insight that it is harder to be kind than to be clever. In other words, the primary purpose of my giving is not my human connection to the other but its purpose is to gain an affirmation of my largess imparted by my isolated self.
We may think we have license to ignore our relationship and connection to one another but, life itself – that is our daily living in human society – not a set of arbitrary rules – our real lived experience reveals that the foundation of family and friendship, of society and culture is the undeniable human desire to belong to someone or something greater than myself. This experience of living in connection with others leads me to the deeper truth that my identity as a person is rooted in communion with the Other. For if I alone am the rule maker and the law giver for my own life and if you alone are the law giver and the rule maker for your life then each is condemned to live in desperate parallel isolation. If autonomy is not balanced by my communion with God, spouse, family, friends, coworkers, strangers and even the most neglected member of the human race then, my separateness not only condemns me to live in total isolation but it gives me license to use, to ignore, yes even to destroy Other. The post-modern lie that I am entitled to live with only superficial regard for the other is a major factor in the loss of hope and decline of society and meaningful culture. Put an end to the lie of isolation and we regain hope and life itself becomes an adventure to be shared and not a burden to be endured.
The only reason why this institution exists and the principle reason why she has endured for 125 years is to affirm that reality: we are not alone in this world and that we are in communion with one another and with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Catholic University of America inspired by the Holy Spirit who bears witness to the saving mission of Jesus Christ – for He is the way leading to the Father. This University – her faculty, her staff, and her students has an obligation to search for His Truth, teach that Truth, proclaim that Truth, and live that Truth in the face of any opposition, philosophy or policy. Know my brothers and sisters that your education at this institution of the Roman Catholic Church affirms that we are in communion with one another and we do not have the right or the license to ignore, use, or destroy our brothers and sisters. United in one purpose, we proclaim with St. Paul, “that though we are many, we are one body in Christ and members one of another…”
As members of the Body of Christ we abide by His commandments for life and we measure every human dictum by His law of love. Did not the Church just hear and proclaim in today’s Gospel the Savior’s unequivocally command: “Love one another as I have loved you”? He goes on to say, “No one has greater love than this than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are Christ’s friends if you do what He commands you.” I don’t think Jesus was concerned about His words being counted in the 100 most inspirational speeches list. Rather when He and His disciples finished the Last Supper, Jesus went forth and laid down His life for every human being who ever lived or will walk on the face of this earth. And, He gave His life for all those who have been denied their basic right to human existence.
My friends, I do not think we can name the top 20 rules/commands that Jesus imparts to us. At this celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we fulfill His command to consume His body and blood – the most visible sign of our Communion with Him and with each other. He also commands us to clothe the naked, feed the poor, visit those in prison – not suggestions but commands. In another passage Jesus stresses the commands of God, His Father, when He says to the scribe, “Hear O, Israel, you shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, your whole soul and all your strength. And, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And, at the end of Mass, He will command us to go and preach what we have received.
No, we really can’t name Jesus’ top 20 rules for life because we are reminded by great saints, like St. Francis of Assisi, that every Christian’s rule of life is the entire Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. When we embrace the whole Gospel we never run the risk of losing our passion because the passion we treasure is the deep and abiding friendship with the living God who never changes in His Love for us. And we are convinced that nothing - neither height, or depth, or principalities, or powers or danger, or fire or the sword - nothing can ever separate us from God’s eternal love.
As citizens of this time and place, we may be tempted to let others define us but, we come back to our truest self when we accept that we are the beloved of God. As God’s beloved we know by experience that as we follow our own heart formed by His teaching, we embrace the hearts of our sisters and brothers because Christ has embraced us first. We love and serve others not to see how kind we are; no, we serve because we have been loved and love demands return.
As Catholic Christians we too take risks. We risk in Faith that a life dedicated to Christ and His Church will bear fruit that will last. As Catholics we accept that we are not perfect and when we sin or fail we to take action and get back into the game … by seeking God’s forgiveness and reconciling with one another. We too are bold and courageous … in proclaiming the Good News. As God’s people we have used our imagination and creativity for twenty full centuries to preach the Gospel and to expand the horizons of human knowledge and learning. We have honored the common hope of a better world through the labor of our hands, the discoveries by brilliant minds and the loving hearts of sacrifice. And, yes we have even died for the Truth that Jesus lives and He will come again. We too work hard and keep walking the road because He is our companion on the way. Do you want to have a passion in this life? Then, embrace His passion for your life – embrace His passion, His death, and resurrection and you will live.
As you graduate tomorrow, as you give thanks to your parents, family, and friends for all the ways they love you; (for some of you, you should give thanks for the almost 200,000 ways they have loved you) … as you give thanks for your professors, administrators, and staff of The Catholic University of America, give thanks for the graces and blessings God has freely given you here at Catholic. You graduate with more than a diploma. You graduate with a few entitlements, so claim them. You, beloved of God, you are entitled to pick up your cross and follow Him. You are entitled to be poor in spirit, to be peacemakers, to go and bear fruit that will last and you are entitled to lose your lives for the sake of the Kingdom. A Kingdom of justice and mercy, a kingdom of awe and wonder, a kingdom of joy and sacrifice, a Kingdom of faith and hope and love – the Kingdom of sacred communion. And when you have laid down your life as a builder of his earthly Kingdom, you will truly be entitled to live in eternal communion with all who have embraced His passion. “There is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends. You are His friends if you keep His commandments and love one another as Christ has loved you. Go and bear fruit - fruit that will last”