SummaryEnough of the selfies! Refocus on others. John Clark insists that your most important graduation is the one you make from being so absorbed with yourself.
Graduation ceremonies are typically laudatory exercises: graduates are congratulated for the many things they have learned, how much progress they have made, and how hard they worked to receive their diplomas.
They are certainly due congratulations, but like all accolades, this can create something of a paradox for the Christian; because while ceremonies often encourage graduates to focus on themselves and their achievements, it is an inescapable fact that the most important graduation you will ever make is the one you make from yourself.
When we complain about our new iphone not working or about having to wait an extra day for a package to arrive from Amazon.com, it is said that we are suffering from “first-world problems.”
This saying is meant to be a reminder that we—who live in the technologically-advanced first-world—should not complain of our problems while those in “third-world” countries are lacking the basic necessities of life.
There is certainly much truth in that, but the greater truth is that it is not first-world problems that primarily afflict us; it is the first-person problem. It is the problem of “I.” It is the inability to see things from another’s point-of-view, because we are far too busy and too absorbed with our own.
It is hard to know if social media is the cause or effect (Do we post selfies to Facebook because we’re self-absorbed or are we self-absorbed because of Facebook?), but it’s probably a bit of both, like a cat endlessly chasing its tail. One thing is sure: with each frenetic movement, the cat grows hungrier.
This society encourages us to be self-centered; it encourages the culture of “I”. But from a first-person perspective, how could we possibly help other people? Even prior to helping, how can we even understand other people?
As it turns out, the “I” is a terrible lens from which to view others. In fact, perhaps more than anything else, the “I” distorts our vision. This happens in lots of different ways, but perhaps the worst is that we tend to judge and criticize others based on our advantages, our blessings, and our gifts—not on theirs, or on the lack thereof.
As F. Scott Fitzgerald advised in his opus, “In my younger and more venerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’”
Problem is, we don’t remember.
Since we humans are born into a school of concupiscence that requires mandatory attendance, what is the answer? Simply put: We must deny ourselves those things that keep us apart from virtue; we must graduate from ourselves and refocus on others.
We must follow the precept of Our Lord: “Love one another.” We all need to do that better.
Many of us seem to be waiting for someone else to love one another, but love is the calling of every Christian. We are taught that the priest acts in persona Christi, in the person of Christ.
But it is not just priests who must act in His place; it is each of us who has the audacity to call himself a “Christian.” In the school of Christianity, love is the ultimate student identification.
We can illustrate that love in many ways, and some are very simple. Every authentic smile, whether toward kin or stranger, says “I love you.” For the Christian, that smile says something else: “God loves you.” And if you think we Christians are saying it enough, you’re wrong.
The world is in pain. The best way to ease that pain is to help people realize that they are passionately and affectionately loved by their Creator, Whose love is inexhaustible and incomprehensive in either time or eternity. We need to tell the world that, for all the bad news, there is the good news of the Gospel.
While we’re reminding the world of that, we need to remind ourselves that we cannot “know, love, and serve God in this world” until we “know, love, and serve” others in this world.
Graduates, as you look at the words printed on your diplomas, be thankful to God and to all who helped you arrive at this moment. Remember that it is not what is written on that parchment that tells who you are; it is that which is written on your heart.
May your graduation be a reminder that God calls each of us to graduate from ourselves and to be a reminder of His love to a desolate planet.
Good works, kindness, compassion, sympathy, empathy, a generosity of time and attention, cheerfulness toward others—these are the things that sculpt our souls. These are the things that sculpt the world.