The Catholic University of America

Homily, Baccalaureate Mass
Rev. Jude DeAngelo, O.F.M Conv., University Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry
Friday, May 17, 2013
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Great Upper Church

   View photos from the Mass at in the photo gallery

This coming Sunday, May 19, the Universal Church, will celebrate Her own commencement ceremony — the great feast of Pentecost. It will be Her participation in the culmination of Jesus’ Paschal Mystery. Pentecost Sunday’s “commencement speech” (or homily) will be short or long depending on the speaker but in essence it will be the same homily the world over: “God, the Almighty Father sends the Holy Spirit upon us to proclaim throughout the world that by His Son’s life, death, and resurrection, Jesus Christ saves us and restores us to the fullness of life.” And, then you and I and 1.6 billion Christians will be charged again to “go forth” — that is, to commence — to proclaim the Good News that Jesus Christ is Lord!

Now, if we can imagine the Pentecost event as the Church’s commencement ceremony, then maybe we can read today’s gospel passage about the breakfast with Jesus as the Church’s honor’s convocation. I admit the metaphor limps a little here when we consider that gathered around the Divine Teacher are a group of fishermen — not the fine scholars of The Catholic University of America. But, Jesus’ conversation with Peter (an unlikely valedictorian) is worth remembering — unlike so many speeches which will be given around the country in this graduation season.

But, maybe a better comparison is that this dialogue between Jesus and Peter is the disciple’s comprehensive exam. No, Jesus does not challenge Peter to compare and contrast three plays of Shakespeare with three of Ibsen. I doubt if Peter could have given a senior recital or passed the national certification exams in nursing or engineering. And, in his first epistle, Peter's description of women as the "weaker sex" would definitely guarantee his exclusion from a degree in women's studies and quite possibly from modern society. He had no knowledge of the atom and although many times Peter exhibited an incendiary personality flaw, he showed no aptitude for chemistry and he demonstrated no knowledge of combustible reactions except for his afore mentioned description of women as the weaker sex. And, Jesus spares Peter the embarrassment of reciting the five proofs of God’s existence or the political theory of John Locke or Karl Marx.

But, Peter’s comprehensive exam is every Christian’s comprehensive exam. Jesus asks you and me the same question he asks Peter: “Do you love me?” A simple question from the Author of Love to Peter and to each of us. And, the Gospel reveals the complex answer from the disciple and from us as well because standing between Peter and his statement, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love You,” is the elephant in Peter’s education as a disciple: Peter’s denial of knowing Jesus at the time of Christ’s passion. And, for each of us, the reality of our own weakness and sin — our denials of Jesus stands between us and our affirmations of loving Jesus.

But in Peter’s comprehensive exam the person asking the questions is far more important than the one giving the answers. For you see, Jesus is the teacher of love and the primary source of Peter’s affirmative response that, in spite of his weakness and sin, exercising the gift of faith and experiencing the breath of the Holy Spirit Peter can indeed even petulantly affirm, “ Yes, Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.”

Peter’s life after this resurrection encounter demonstrates that he has apprehended (not comprehended) the love, forgiveness, and mercy that Christ extended to him. In a real sense, Peter commences from this point on to be the rock of his brothers and sisters’ faith. Peter’s attitude becomes the attitude of Christ. Like his Master Teacher, Peter, the disciple, empties himself of his own ambitions and plans and he assumes the “life of a slave” even unto “death, death on a cross.” Jesus prophesies that Peter will be bound by love and he will remain faithfully tied to the commission that Jesus gave him to protect and feed the sheep of His flock. Peter follows Jesus to his own cross as he completes his mission of discipleship.

And, so the question for you and me and every other Christian is, how will we do on the only comprehensive exam that truly matters: the test of life? We have already been supplied with the syllabus — the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our discipleship commenced with the gift of our baptism and our mind, our intellect, our soul has been filled with the grace of the Eucharist. Our commissioning to feed, to tend, and to follow has been strengthened in Confirmation; and any deficiencies in our education which result in sin can be remedied by the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

But, how shall we know if we have won a passing grade? Simply put, have we lived up to the love we have promised to render to the Divine Teacher? Have we loved Him in the poor and the oppressed by working for justice? Have we built a relationship of love with Him and with our sisters and brothers, through prayer and sacrifice? Have we borne witness to the love story that God the Father has written for us in His Son, Jesus Christ? Have I accepted that a life well lived is a life of self-emptying — an emptying of blind ambition, and greed, of lust for power, an emptying of selfishness and a gluttony that is fed by the mindless, impotency of self-gratification and the pursuit of violent domination of others and the drunkenness of pleasure?

Will my life be the life of Christ — a life of sacrifice and dying to myself so that the next generation knows the outpouring of the Spirit of Truth and Beauty and Love? Will my life and yours — like the life of Christ and Peter and the lives of 2,000 years of disciples give honor, glory, and praise to God the Father?

Today — as He does every day, God the Loving Father invites us to recommit ourselves to bending our knee at the Name that is above every other name. Let our lives proclaim that Name from every community, office building, classroom, laboratory, field, or hospital in which we work. To our children and our grandchildren, to our religious communities and our parish congregations, to our military comrades, our spouses and our friends, let our tongues lovingly and courageously proclaim that Name above the din of the incoherent voices of our own time that project only fear and despair. Let us live a life of love; let us pass the test and commence each day by proclaiming with every fiber of our being: “Jesus Christ is Lord!”