On a graduation day, it is fitting that you graduates and your families reflect on the past.
Parents, now that you have brought your child safely to the end of high school, you are likely thinking back upon important moments, like the first step of your child or the first word spoken by your child, or other moments of special accomplishment.
You homeschooling parents can reflect back upon teaching your child to read, or to do math, or to appreciate good music or good literature.
You graduates may reflect back on the work that was necessary to reach this day: the tests, and the papers, and the Roe V Wade essay. Often, while in the midst of the journey, the road seemed long and hard. But having reached your destination, the blisters and the calluses are seen more as marks of honor.
So I hope, graduates, that you can look back on your Catholic high school years at Seton as a worthwhile journey that has strengthened you in knowledge, understanding, spirituality, and self-motivation.
As much as a graduation is a day of looking back, however, it is perhaps even more a day of looking forward. Today is a day of Hope. Hope is the great virtue that helps us to look to the future not only with courage, but with anticipation and excitement.
In the papal encyclical Saved by Hope, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that St. Peter and St. Paul use the words “faith” and “hope” almost interchangeably. St. Peter, in his First Epistle, calls us to always be ready with “reasons for the hope that is within us.”
St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians that before they became Christians, they were “without hope and without God.” Hope and Faith are so closely intertwined that it is impossible to have faith without hope, and impossible to have hope without faith.
It should not be surprising then, that as our society has lost Faith in God, it has also lost Hope. According to data from the American Psychiatric Association, suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people between 15 and 24 years of age, a terrible reminder of the results of a loss of hope.
Our modern secular society has decided to trade Faith in God for a supposed freedom—freedom from even thinking about God or what God wants us to believe or how God wants us to act. Christians in the past called the Holy Gospel the Good News. The Good News that the apostles proclaimed is that God loves us and wants us to love Him. He wants to share with us His eternal and perfect happiness.
Sadly, the modern secular society considers the Holy Gospel the bad news, because God also expects us to obey His commandments in order to obtain perfect happiness in Heaven. Obeying, giving up ones own desires for God’s commands, following His laws, and the laws of His Holy Catholic Church, is too constricting for people who want to do whatever they want at each and every moment. These self-motivated people obviously have no Hope in the future, they seek only pleasure in the present.
In his encyclical Saved by Hope, Pope Benedict wrote how different life is for Christians.
Hope sets the Christian apart. The Christian always lives in the world, but is not of the world.
The Christian works to improve the present in this world, yet always looks toward the future in the next world. We Christians know that we are concerned travelers in this world, but at the end of our journey, there is always our Loving God, waiting for our arrival in the next world of eternal and perfect happiness.
Our Loving God Who waits for EACH ONE of us is the True Shepherd, Jesus, the One Who has already completed the Earthly journey. As Pope Benedict writes, “The True Shepherd is One who knows the path that passes through the valley of death.
The True Shepherd is One who walks with me even on the path where no one [else] can accompany me.
Jesus guides me through the problems of life: He Himself has walked this path, He has descended into the kingdom of death, He has conquered death, and He has returned to accompany me now and to give me the certainty that, together with Him, I can find a way through [this world to perfect happiness.]
As you graduates each go through your life, you will encounter many difficulties. It may seem at times there is no solution to problems which arise. But there is a difference between not having a solution and not having Hope. There is always Hope, because in our journey, we never walk alone. The True Shepherd is always with us to guide us, even to the end of time.
We Christians live by Hope. It was Hope, dear graduates, that brought your parents together. It was Hope that made them happy to bring children into the world, despite the hardships and difficulties sure to be encountered. It was in Hope that your parents decided to teach you themselves, rather than entrusting you to others. It was your parents’ Hope that
not only that they would be able to teach you, but also that by giving you a better Catholic education than you could have elsewhere, they hoped for a better future for you, a better eternal future for you. Their daily sacrifices for your Catholic education were made out of Hope.
And now it is your task, dear graduates, to carry this Hope out into the world. Hope in the lives of each one us, is like a beacon on a hill. Even in the darkness of our secular society, others can see that beacon of Hope, and understand that, through perseverance, we all can reach our eternal goal.
For the Christian, Hope is not only an external beacon guiding our way. Hope is also an internal beacon which shines through us. Many have commented about the saints in our midst— such as Mother Teresa and Padre Pio —that these saints seem to have had a supernatural radiance about them. Those who were in the presence of these saints understood that they were in contact with Holiness and with Hope.
In some small way, every Christian should be radiant with hope. When you graduates move on to college or jobs or vocations, it should be apparent to all who meet you that there is something different about you. You should be easily recognizable as Christians by the way you speak, by the way you act, by the way you dress, by the way you care about others, by the way you HOPE for their happiness in eternal life with Jesus.
The Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris was begun in the year 1163, but was not finished until 1345, nearly 200 years later. None who worked on the cathedral foundation lived to see the work completed. Generation after generation labored on the cathedral, knowing that they would die before the cathedral was finished.
But their Hope kept the builders going, because they knew that future generations would benefit spiritually and eternally from the cathedral and from the Catholic Faith taught and practiced within the cathedral.
This can be taken as a metaphor for the Christian life. We labor and do what God gives us to do, knowing that we will not always reap the fruits of our labor in this earthly life. We receive the Faith from our parents, and we give the Faith to our children, with the Hope that our children will continue the work of hope and love, generation after generation.
And so, graduates, your parents have passed their Catholic Faith on to you. We all believe that you will pass on your Catholic Faith through your speech and through your actions as a witness to others. My prayer for you, my Hope for you, is that you will follow the words of St. Peter in his epistle: “Be always ready with reasons for the Hope that is within you.”