I have had the pleasure in recent weeks to celebrate many commencement/baccalaureate Masses throughout our diocese: for the University of Saint Francis and Saint Mary’s College, as well as for our four diocesan high schools. I also had the pleasure to speak at the commencement Mass for the University of Notre Dame.
I congratulate all the graduates of our diocese. Following is a summary of the message I delivered in homilies at the commencement Masses which I wish to address to all of our graduates in all the various high schools, colleges and universities of our diocese:
Dear graduates, the Church and I, your bishop, together with your parents and families, your priests, teachers, mentors, and others who have supported you during your years of college or high school are very proud of you. We pray for you, that your futures will be filled with many blessings from the Lord.
Near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, the greatest sermon ever preached, Jesus said: “Anyone who hears my words and puts them into practice is like the wise man who built his house on rock.” Jesus’ words teach us the way to true happiness and peace in this life and the next. His words teach us how to live authentic lives, lives which are always worth living, in every circumstance, and which not even death can destroy. One who builds his or her life on solid rock is able to endure even the most difficult adversities. In contrast, one who builds his or her life on sand will not be able to withstand the storms.
Dear graduates, you have learned the teachings of Jesus; you have learned how to build your lives on solid rock. When we listen to Jesus and put his words into practice, we are building our lives on a secure foundation. I wish to encourage you to listen to his words each day through prayer. He is the one friend who will never deceive you, reject you, or leave you. We get lost along the path of life when we do not walk with Christ as our guide. As you go forth, whatever your plans are after graduation, I hope that you will be steadfast in your faith. If you build on this solid rock, not only will your life be solid and stable, you will also be able to confront challenges and difficulties with confidence and courage.
What happens when our lives are not built on this solid rock? We can easily fall into what Saint Paul calls “the works of the flesh.” This happens when we live only for ourselves. Saint Paul lists some of these works of the flesh: “lewd conduct, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, bickering, jealousy, outbursts of rage, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” These things bring misery to our lives. They bring destruction. Our lives, our houses, collapse. Saint Paul gives us a warning: “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God!”
But what happens when we build our lives upon the firm foundation which is Jesus Christ, when we let him guide our steps? Then we will be blessed and happy and our happiness will influence others. Nothing will be able to destroy our houses. When we listen to his words and put them into practice, we live and walk by the Spirit. And we receive the great fruits of the Holy Spirit that Saint Paul lists in his letter to the Galatians: “love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faith, mildness, and chastity.” These fruits are manifest and abound when our lives are built on Christ as our friend, our brother and Lord. He is the Son of God incarnate who gives meaning and purpose to our lives. He died for us and He rose that we might have life. Now, from the throne of the Father in heaven, he accompanies us on our journey through life and watches over each of us continually.
Graduates, I encourage you to continue to strengthen your faith in God. You are the future of society and of the Church! In our culture, there is a growing mentality of relativism which says that truth does not exist. Many people who embrace this mentality find themselves without a stable foundation in their lives. They live in confusion and blind conformity to the fads of the moment. They look for happiness in the works of the flesh and find themselves anything but happy.
It is in our friendship with Christ that we find life and strength. If we listen to him and walk with him, if we live by the Spirit, our lives become authentic. We experience the fruits of the Spirit.
Last summer, I led a group of young people from our diocese to World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain. I wish to address to you words of Pope Benedict to young people on that occasion: “Dear friends, build your own house on rock. Try each day to follow Christ’s word. Listen to him as a true friend with whom you can share your path in life. With him at your side, you will find courage and hope to face difficulties and problems, and even to overcome disappointments and set-backs. When others offer you easier choices, know that these are ultimately deceptive and cannot bring you serenity and joy. Only the words of God can show us the authentic way, and only the faith we have received is the light which shines on our path. Gratefully accept this spiritual gift which you have received from your families; strive to respond responsibly to God’s call, and to grow in your faith. Do not believe those who tell you that you don’t need others to build up your life! Find support in the faith of those who are dear to you, in the faith of the Church, and thank the Lord that you have received it and have made it your own!” (Pope Benedict XVI, Madrid, 2011).
Dear graduates, the Church depends on you! The Church needs your lively faith, your energy, and your love. And the Church prays for you. Your bishop prays for you. I ask the young Virgin of Nazareth to accompany you along the path of life. May the Blessed Virgin Mary help you to say “yes” as she did to the awesome gift of her Son. Mary welcomed Jesus with faith and gave him to the world with love. This is also our vocation and our mission, the vocation and mission of the Church: to welcome Christ into our lives and give him to the world. May the Mother whom Christ gave us from the cross, watch over you always! May God bless you!
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