The following is the text of the homily of Bishop Rhoades at the Baccalaureate Mass for the University of Saint Francis on May 6, 2017:
Dear graduates, you will rightfully receive many words of congratulations this weekend. I add my word of congratulations to you on your graduation from the University of Saint Francis. You celebrate your accomplishments this weekend with your family and friends. You have studied and worked hard to obtain your diplomas. You have grown in knowledge. You are now ready to go forth and to use the knowledge you have acquired. We are proud of you and we pray for you.
This morning, at this Mass, we are really not gathering to celebrate your accomplishments. We gather to celebrate a much greater accomplishment — God’s accomplishment: the salvation of humanity, the redemption of the world. How did He accomplish this? He became one of us. He humbled Himself in the Incarnation — He became a man. And not only that, in an act of the greatest humility, the Son of God died on the cross for us. He loved us to the end. This love of God, revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus has changed the course of human history. And this is what we celebrate at this and every Mass. We celebrate the victory of God’s love over sin and even over death. This is the core of our faith.
The God who loves us, who has conquered sin and death, still humbles Himself. He becomes present in our midst under the humble forms of bread and wine. We have come to this Baccalaureate Mass to give thanks to God and to pray for our graduates. This graduation weekend would not be complete, would not be the celebration it should be, if we were to forget the One who is the source of our life and salvation, the One from whom our graduates received their talents, the One who gives our life meaning and purpose.
In the Gospel today, we heard about the many people who heard Jesus’ astounding teaching that He was giving us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink and found His teaching too hard to accept. They found Our Lord’s words about the Eucharist shocking, and they stopped following Him. The Gospel says that “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him.” Of course, this still happens today. How many people in this culture have walked away from the faith for any number of reasons? Some do so quite consciously — like the people in the Gospel. They find Christ’s teaching, the teaching of His Church, just too hard to accept. Other walk away because they are seduced by other things that they think will bring them happiness. As a result, many eventually find themselves miserable and their lives empty, boring and mediocre.
But you graduates, who have come for this Baccalaureate Mass, made a conscious choice to worship God on your graduation weekend. You came here for a reason — to celebrate your faith, not just your accomplishments, but the source of your accomplishments. You know that you are pilgrims in this world and that you are on a journey to the city of God. You desire to live your lives with the passion and purpose that come from faith. You know that your true happiness is connected to something greater than yourselves and your accomplishments. You recognize that your life is a gift and that the way to happiness in this world and the next is the way of Jesus of Nazareth and the pursuit of truth, beauty and goodness.
When so many disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with Jesus, the twelve apostles stayed with Jesus. Our Lord asked them a penetrating question: “Do you also want to leave?” It’s a question that confronts many young people today. Many do in fact choose to leave Christ and separate from His Body, the Church. This is a big challenge for me and for the Church today. At the same time, there are many who don’t leave. They decide to live their lives as disciples of Jesus Christ and active members of His Body, the Church. This gives me much joy and hope for the Church.
You, graduates, give me much joy and hope, that you are here this morning as young men and women who want to walk the journey of your life with Jesus Christ. It is beautiful to see your faith, the faith expressed by St. Peter in answer to Jesus’ question: “Do you also want to leave?” Peter said: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” Wow — what a response! It’s the response of faith. I pray that you, graduates, will go forth with the faith of Peter, with the conviction that Jesus has the words of eternal life and that He is the Holy One of God, that He is indeed the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
I pray that, like this university’s patron, St. Francis of Assisi, you will live your lives not superficially, but profoundly in Christ. St. Francis lived his life superficially until his conversion, when he discovered that following Christ offered him so much more than the party life, the passing pleasures, he had been experiencing. And he found happiness, real joy, in what seemed crazy in his culture – in poverty, in chastity, and in obedience. He found joy in prayer, in being in communion with the Lord.
Many people today are fooled by our culture, for example, by the entertainment industry and its crazy fixation on sex, and by a consumer-focused and materialistic culture, fooled by false promises of happiness. Graduates, don’t be fooled by those who see you as mere objects of their gratification or as just another consumer in a market of undifferentiated possibilities. Don’t be fooled by those who present freedom and choice as the ultimate good or by a culture in which novelty usurps beauty and subjective experience displaces truth. Christ offers you so much more! He offers you truth and real beauty and lasting joy.
I know that you are yearning for something more than a life of mediocrity. Certainly you want a good job, a successful career. Maybe some of you are a bit anxious in this regard. Maybe some of you are already set with a job. Whatever your personal situation, there is in your hearts a yearning for something greater, because God created you for something greater. He created you for infinity, for eternal life with Him. I encourage you to live your life with passion for this ultimate end. This is what will give you the strength to face the difficulties of daily life. Your journey of life is not an uncertain one. It’s true that there will be surprises on the way, but your destination is not uncertain. It is heaven. It’s amazing when we live our lives with the focus on that destination, when, like St. Peter, we follow the One who has the words of eternal life.
I would like to end this homily with some of my favorite words from our Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, words that he said in a homily back in 2005 when he became pope. I can’t think of any better advice for our graduates. Pope Benedict said: “If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation.” So, graduates, may you live your lives in this great friendship! If you do, you will find happiness and joy. Your life will be beautiful, like St. Francis’ life. It will be an adventure, an adventure of love and a journey of holiness!
May the Lord be with you on this journey with His abundant love and grace! May your friendship with Him grow each day! Like St. Francis, may your joy in that friendship be a witness to others of the truth and beauty of the Gospel!
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