High school baccalaureate Masses
I’d like to begin this homily with a story I recently read. It’s about a young boy who lived near a beach by the ocean and every afternoon would walk along the beach. “One day as he was walking, he noticed that as the tide had gone out, it had left many starfish stranded on the beach. He realized that if the starfish were left there, they would die before the water returned. So as he walked along the beach, one by one he picked up the starfish and threw them back into the water. He couldn’t pick them all up because there were too many, but the ones he could pick up he did. From that day on, the boy would spend his afternoons walking along the beach throwing the starfish back into the water. Then one day as the boy was walking, an old man came walking in the other direction. The man saw what the young boy was doing and cried out, ‘What are you doing, boy? You’ll never make a difference. Why don’t you just enjoy your walk?’ The boy ignored the old man and continued to pick up the starfish, one by one, and to throw them back into the water. But as the man got closer, he came right up to the boy and said, ‘What are you doing? What are you doing, boy? You’ll never make a difference. Why don’t you just enjoy your walk?’ The boy just stood there and said nothing. Then the man grabbed the young boy by the arm, turned him around, and made him face down the beach. As the young boy and the old man looked down the beach, they could see that there were many, many starfish. The man said, ‘Look, boy, there’s hundreds of them, there’s thousands of them. Look how many you have missed. You’ll never make a difference. Forget about them. Just enjoy your walk.’ Just then, the young boy bent down and reached into the sand one more time and picked up one more starfish. And standing up, he threw the starfish as far as he could into the ocean. Then, looking deep into the old man’s eyes, he said, ‘I made a difference for that one.”
Graduates, I tell you this simple story as you go forth from high school. I encourage you not to listen to voices that tell you that you can’t make a difference. It’s true that each of you is just one person, but one person can make a difference, a huge difference, in a world that needs the goodness and love and compassion of each one of us. Just think of the saints, like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, one little woman who made a huge difference in the lives of the poor all over the world. I urge you to dedicate yourselves to the passionate pursuit of your dreams, the pursuit of holiness, the pursuit of goodness. Saint Francis of Assisi once said to his brothers: “First do what is necessary, then what is possible, and before long you will be doing the impossible.” The good we do is never lost; is never in vain. Remember that the good you do will live on forever. You can make a difference.
God has many desires for you. As we heard in the Gospel, Jesus desires that we might have joy and that our joy might be complete. It’s really beautiful to think about this. Jesus teaches us the way to this joy. He says: “Remain in my love.” And then He tells us how. He says: “You will remain in my love if your keep my commandments.” His commandments are not burdensome prohibitions. They are words of life and truth, the truth that sets us free.
Also in the Gospel, Jesus says: “I no longer call you servants, but friends.” It’s amazing to live our lives in friendship with Him. When we do, our lives have meaning and purpose. In that friendship with Christ, we strive to live His teachings and what happens? We make a difference. We touch people’s lives with His love. And we experience the joy, the happiness, that God desires for us.
Graduates, you are going on to college or to a job or other pursuit. It’s an exciting time in your life. But I encourage you not to let yourselves be seduced by things that can pull you away from your friendship with Christ, by things that others may try to convince you will bring you happiness. So many in our culture are tempted to seek happiness in things like money, possessions, various physical and material pleasures, alcohol, drugs, whatever. But when our lives become immersed in these things, what happens? We eventually find our lives empty, boring, and mediocre and we find ourselves miserable. Graduates, don’t be fooled by false promises of happiness. Don’t be fooled by those who see you as mere objects or as mere consumers 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. And don’t be fooled by those who say the good you do won’t make a difference. Jesus teaches you otherwise.
Graduates, I know you are yearning for something more than a life of mediocrity. There is in each of 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 lives with passion for this ultimate end. This is what will give you the strength to face the challenges of life, in college and beyond. There will surely be surprises in your journey of life which may make you think today that your life’s journey is an uncertain one. Always remember, though, that the destination of your journey is not uncertain. Your destination is the city of God. And everything you do, every starfish you throw back into the ocean, every good deed you perform, every act of kindness, every work of mercy, will help you get there and will make a difference. If your friendship with Jesus remains strong, if you remain in His love, you will have happiness and your life will not be boring or mediocre.
Graduates, we’re all pilgrims in this world, all on a journey to the city of God. I pray that you will live your lives with the passion and purpose that come from faith. At this and every Mass, we learn that our true happiness is connected to something greater than ourselves and our accomplishments. It’s connected to Christ who gave His life for us. It is our friendship with Him that gives our lives meaning and purpose. In this friendship, the great potential of our human existence is truly revealed. In this friendship, your life will be a joyful adventure and not a boring trip. It will be an adventure of love and a journey of holiness. I pray that your friendship with Jesus will continue to grow each day. May your joy in that friendship be a witness to others of the truth and beauty of the Gospel! May the Lord bless you always with His love! And may our Blessed Mother Mary be always at your side with her help and protection!