Saint Joseph High School baccalaureate
What a great feast for the celebration of your graduation from Saint Joseph High School! Today the whole Church celebrates the great event of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured forth upon Mary and the disciples in the upper room and the Church was born. That first community of disciples was filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and strengthened by the Spirit to go forth to bear witness to Christ, to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Gospel of salvation. The mission began in Jerusalem. As we heard in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, a large crowd of people who were staying in Jerusalem from many nations and languages gathered to listen to the apostles preach and each one heard them speaking in his own language. This was the beginning of the Catholic Church, the family of Christ’s disciples that is universal, with members of every race, nation, language, and culture, all united by the Holy Spirit in the profession of the faith that was handed down by the Apostles. The Apostles were sent forth by Jesus to teach all nations. At Pentecost, they received the power and strength of the Holy Spirit to do so.
As I said, what a great feast to celebrate a graduation. You are going forth, like the disciples went forth. I was thinking about how many of you I confirmed four years ago. You received the strength of the Holy Spirit when you received the sacrament of Confirmation, the strength to bear witness to Christ, to spread and defend the faith, and to live that faith with conviction. Strengthened by the Spirit, we can make a difference in the world, just like that first group of disciples in Jerusalem. There are those who may tell you that you can’t make a difference. Don’t listen to those voices. You have the gifts of the Holy Spirit and you can 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. She followed God’s call. She opened her heart to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. I urge you to do the same, to dedicate yourselves to the passionate pursuit of your dreams, the pursuit of holiness, the pursuit of goodness. The Holy Spirit inspires us to overcome evil with good. The good we do is never in vain. It is never lost. Remember that the good you do will live on forever. You can make a difference.
Graduates, you are a part of the Body of Christ that Saint Paul writes about in our second reading. And you each have gifts from the Spirit that can build up the Body of Christ. With these gifts, you can make this world a better place. When you use these gifts, you will be happy. And this is God’s desire for you. Jesus prayed 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.
A graduate once asked me for advice about college. My first word of advice was “maintain and deepen your friendship with Christ.” 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 or stifle the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, 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 has given you the Holy Spirit of Pentecost so that you can live your life on a higher plane. God created you for infinity, for eternal life with Him. I encourage you to live your lives with passion for this ultimate end. The Holy Spirit 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 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, if you walk by the Spirit, 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 the Holy Spirit guide and bless every step of your life’s journey!