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Baccalaureate Mass Homily
Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Graduates of 2009, this joyful Commencement Weekend is a milestone in your lives. It is an ending in a way—a completion of your studies here at Notre Dame and a celebration of your successes. As such, our feeling today is gratitude—gratitude for all you’ve learned and experienced and grown here at Notre Dame.
It’s also a beginning, as you look forward to the next steps in your life, what you’ll be doing next year, and what you’ll be doing in the course of your lives. As such, it’s a time of anticipation and hope. Our prayer is for your continued success and growth in goodness.
On this weekend, at this Mass, I can think of no better reading than the Gospel passage that was just read. Jesus is speaking to his disciples, giving them a final discourse at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, before Good Friday and Easter Sunday. In a sense, that was an ending and a beginning as well. It was the ending of the disciples’ time with Jesus on Earth, and the beginning of their time with the risen Lord and their life in the Spirit. On that evening, he gave them some of his most important instructions. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus gives them the teaching that is at the very heart of a Christian life. He tells them “remain in my love.” Whatever happens, wherever you go, whatever you do, Jesus tells them, “remain in my love.” Secondly, he says, “love one another.” There are no messages that are more at the heart of our life of faith than those we hear in the Gospel tonight.
Graduates of the class of 2009, in your time here, I know you learned many things, both in and outside the classroom, the lab, and the studio. But among all you have learned, I hope you’ve learned about the love that Jesus promises and the love that he asks of each one of us. I must say from what I’ve seen of you, I think you’ve learned a lot.
What should you have learned? I offer three possible lessons. First, despite what we see in movies or on the television, love is more than tender feelings among intimate friends. Really, at its heart, the love that Jesus asks of us is the giving of oneself wholly to others. Whether that’s in our families, toward our spouse, or among our friends; whether it’s in the service we give to people in need and those who are vulnerable; whether it’s in our work, our professional lives, or in the care we give to whoever comes into our lives: Love is giving yourself generously to others.
The second lesson, perhaps, is that love is demanding. It’s not simply about falling in love. It asks a lot more of us. In Dostoevsky’s famous novel The Brother’s Karamazov, the old monk Zosima says that unlike romantic love, active love, true love, is often “severe and terrifying,” and it demands “hard work and tenacity.” If you think that fulfilling Jesus’ commandment of love is easy, then you either did not understand it or have not tried it. Love asks a lot of us.
The third lesson is explicit in what Jesus says in our reading today. It’s about the unsurpassable joy of genuine love. When he gives the disciples the instruction about love, he tells them, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” Though it is demanding, Jesus gives the command to love to bring us to the fullness of joy, a joy that can only be attained if we live in God’s love and learn to love genuinely.
I’ve often said that perhaps the greatest joy I have in this job as President of Notre Dame is to travel and meet Notre Dame graduates around the world and hear about what they do. As you might have guessed, they’re accomplished, intelligent people. They have done a lot. Many of them have impressive résumés, but I don’t get the greatest satisfaction from learning about their résumés. What gives me satisfaction, what warms my heart as I hear them speak and hear others speak about them, is that in their family lives, their professional lives, their voluntary service, their work in their parishes and churches, I discern a life given generously in love. There’s the real victory.
I’ll mention a few. Sam Hazo. We gave Sam an honorary degree last year. He is a 1949 Notre Dame graduate who entered the Marine Corps after he graduated from Notre Dame and, while serving as a Marine, discovered his vocation as a poet. He’s published more than 30 books of poems; his work has appeared in many literary journals and periodicals; and he’s received many awards. In 1993, he was named the first Poet Laureate for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. His life is a life dedicated to the craft of poetry, and in one poem he wrote:
Even the words
I’m writing now will never be
themselves until I let them go.
Like borrowings that need to be
repaid, they’ve won for me
some wisdom and the mercy of distraction.
And so I read them
gratefully for what they’ve said
and what they could not say.
I stop and breathe and let them go.
Sam Hazo’s life of poetry is, I believe, a life of love, a life of giving himself, of creating beauty for others, of sharing insight.
Dr. Carol Lally Shields is a 1979 graduate, captain of the women’s basketball team here at Notre Dame in her senior year. She’s currently an optometrist in Philadelphia and a wife and mother of seven children. Her medical specialty is cancer of the eye. She is a world-renowned physician in this area, and she works mainly with children with that disease, working hard to cure them without having them lose an eye. She is a renowned physician and a devoted mother. Such a demanding life required many sacrifices, but she does not regret making them. She says, “I am fortunate to have the training, desire, and opportunity to serve others as well as my family.”
Some may have heard of Mark Shields, a 1959 graduate who is one of the nation’s most respected political commentators. He writes a syndicated column and appears regularly on national television to discuss the nation’s political life. He has a deep understanding of the nation’s political processes and of the people who are a part of them. When I listen to him, he always brings to his analysis a deep sense of the moral struggles that are at the heart of the nation’s political debates and the moral responsibility of political leadership and citizenship. In that way, his commentaries are a real service to the nation and a service to each of us.
In each of these three lives—and in so many more—one discerns the contours of a life lived in love, a life of self-giving, a life of putting one’s talents and energy generously at the service of others.
Graduates, I don’t know what your life work will be. Perhaps you don’t know right now either. I did not know what my life work would be when I was sitting in those seats at my graduation. But my fervent prayer for you, like the three alumni I mentioned, is that your lives can be works of love in whatever your passion is, whatever you talents are, whatever opportunities life presents to you. For it is by living such a life that you will make the most important contribution, and you will find the joy that Jesus promises and to which God calls us.
“In the evening of our life,” St. John of the Cross wrote, “we will be judged on love alone.” In the evenings of your lives, graduates, I hope you can look back and see a life of love, a life in which you have generously shared yourself and your talents, a life in which you have persevered in loving through all the struggles and detours. And in the course of that life, despite all the challenges of love, I hope you find the fullness of joy that Jesus promises to those who remain in his love and strive, however imperfectly, to fulfill that command of love.
As you leave Notre Dame, always remember that whatever the opportunities your life presents and whatever the challenges you face, you will always have a home here at Notre Dame to which you can return to refresh your spirit and find renewed inspiration. Remember also, that we here will always keep you in our prayers, and that Our Lady, Notre Dame, will always watch over you and protect you.
Bishop John M. D’Arcy
Thank you Fr. Jenkins.
It’s hard for me to realize this is my 25th Baccalaureate Mass here at the University of Notre Dame.
It has and remains a privilege to be associated here with you. I see these classes, one after another, year after year, coming here, and I put it all together as being very beautiful, this Mass, your worship, and your prayer. If I can be forgiven a personal note, 60 years ago this springtime, I graduated from high school. Believe me, graduates, I know you don’t agree with this, it’s like a moment. Keep that in mind. It’s like a moment.
But anyway, 60 years from a very fine Boston College High School, Jesuit High School in Boston, Mass. My dear parents, immigrants from Ireland, were there. I think of it with great emotion. And there were prizes, of course—for first in literature, in the classics—it was a great school for the classics—and in science, and in the study of religion, and literature, and history, and scholarships to great institutions like this … and I did not get anything.
But, I did walk out of there with the only thing that really mattered, a diploma from that fine school. So I want to honor those who are getting no special awards, but are going out of here with a Notre Dame degree, which is the thing that really counts. An honor for your dear parents and families who are here and have sacrificed so much, extraordinary vocation of the parents—of the father, the mother—we don’t ponder it enough.
I think the splendid thing about Catholic education and about Notre Dame is that it—and it’s so rare, it’s increasingly rare—it honors faith, and reason, and sees the two in harmony—both a search for truth and a search for God. Pope John Paul II, who taught in a great Catholic university like this one, and was proud always to be a professor as is our present pope, wrote, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth, and God has placed in the human heart, in your heart, a desire to know the truth, in a word, to know Himself. So that by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truths about themselves.” This is what’s splendid here.
As St. Augustine said, “I believe, so I may understand. And I understand, so I may believe.” And to hold to the belief that God has revealed Himself, has spoken a word, and we are asked to believe it, and to study it, and to know it. And that there’s nothing of opposition between that and science and the search for truth through study and research and history and science and literature and all these things. But that the study of God and the nurturing of our hearts through faith. Faith purifies reason. Faith brings light to reason. Even as reason helps us to understand faith and be able to express it to others—the great work of theology. And we are all called to be, in some senses, theologians. Explaining what God has revealed to our children and to others. And this extraordinary harmony between the two and that freedom, the beautiful gift of freedom, is always subject to truth and linked to truth. And Jesus Christ, the way, and the truth, and the light, is what guides us.
And if I could make one suggestion to these dear graduates, some of whom I’ve come to know, but all of whom I think I know (and all of whom I’ve always held in my heart and my prayers), it would be that before you leave this place with all its touches of holiness, that you go to some place where your learned to pray a little better—the Grotto, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the chapel in your residence, or maybe your parish church when you get home, the church of your childhood where you were nourished. And give yourself to Jesus Christ without reservation, fearing nothing. And to the search for truth, in faith and in learning, never one without the other, always both in harmony. Pope John Paul II, a world-class intellectual, philosopher and theologian, and pastor, when he went back to Wadowice, his home parish, as a priest and as bishop and as pope, used to kneel at the baptismal font and kiss it. And he wrote about this, he showed then the humility which should mark the life of every intellectual; that everything he had in the supernatural order came from the intervention of God, through Jesus Christ in his baptismal font where he was baptized. And indeed, that all his gifts of nature came also from God.
Take this with you, then, for faith and reason lead to adoration and love and self-giving, or they are nothing. And may God bless the University of Notre Dame, and may God bless the class of 2009.
Thank you. We call that two homilies for the price of one.