USF Baccalaureate Mass
May 1, 2021 – Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne
In the first reading today, we heard St. Paul’s simple exhortation to the Colossians: “Be thankful!” Be thankful! With thankfulness in our hearts, we gather for this Baccalaureate Mass this morning. We thank God for all his blessings in the lives of the 2021 graduates of the University of Saint Francis. And, graduates, together with you, we thank God for your parents, your teachers and all who made it possible for you to graduate today, to arrive at this important milestone in your life. At this Mass, we give thanks to God for the gifts He has given you, which you have used in your education and which you will use in the future as you continue your life’s journey.
It’s a happy coincidence that you are graduating on May 1st, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, during this special Year of St. Joseph. I imagine that most of you are looking forward to using your academic degrees to enter the work world. Perhaps you already have a job lined up or are seeking employment. Some of you may intend to pursue a graduate degree, ongoing academic work. Whatever your plans are, I invite you to reflect on the meaning of work and to see it as part of your vocation from God. We can learn from the example of St. Joseph the Worker.
As we heard in the Gospel, the people in Nazareth were astounded by Jesus’ wisdom, by His teaching and His miracles. They questioned how He could have such wisdom and power. They knew Him as the son of Mary and Joseph, a part of their community. They said: “Is he not the carpenter’s son?” So we learn that Joseph was an ordinary worker, a craftsman, a carpenter. The Son of God came into the world as the son of Mary and the son of a simple carpenter. In fact, Jesus worked in his father’s carpentry shop. He learned the trade of carpentry from His earthly father, St. Joseph.
St. Joseph worked with his hands. Maybe some of you graduates will work with your hands, maybe not in manual labor, but maybe with your hands on a computer. St. Joseph worked with wood and made furniture. He shows us the importance of human work of whatever kind. Because of his work, St. Joseph was able to support his family. And he did his work with dedication and skill. He was industrious. He did his work for the glory of God and for the love of his family. St. Joseph shows us that all the work we do can be for the glory of God and the good of others. I encourage you, in whatever work you will do, to do it with the same goal.
As you prepare to enter the world of work, remember that work is part of God’s loving plan. He calls us to participate in His work of creation. So we have a duty to work. To what end? To make a living – yes. To provide for our family – yes. To contribute to the common good – yes. Human work has meaning , dignity and purpose. But we must beware of the temptation to make work an end in itself, as if our life is for work, rather than our work being for our life. Or another temptation: to see work as merely a way to become rich, to accumulate wealth so as to be able to have and consume as many things as we want. These temptations are real. Materialism and consumerism are part of our cultural reality today. Ultimately, however, people who embrace such lifestyles do not find real peace and happiness. Their lives become superficial and rather empty.
Six years ago, a student who I confirmed when he was in 8th grade graduated from Notre Dame. I am a friend of his family. He was very successful in school and graduated with high honors. He immediately got a job and in his first two years after graduation worked for a famous finance company in New York. He made over $200,000 in his first year after graduation and $300,000 in the second year. Graduates, how would you like to have that kind of salary next year? But let me tell you what happened. This young adult worked 6 or 7 days a week, over 80 hours a week. He had to do this – it’s what the company expected and demanded. Gradually, through those two years, this smart and talented young man, making all this money, had little time for his girlfriend, whom he was hoping to become engaged to. He missed time with his parents and family. His work prevented him from visiting home very much. He had little time for prayer and even found it difficult to get to Sunday Mass. Joy was disappearing from his life, not to mention the physical and psychological toll of not having time for recreation and sufficient sleep. He was becoming materially rich, but was becoming poor in what really matters in human life. Thankfully, he saw what was happening and he quit his job. Many thought he was crazy, giving up on the opportunity to become a millionaire fast. With some friends, he started a new company – the Catholic prayer app “Hallow.” His life changed for the better. He was able to enjoy relationships and life again. He had time to pray. He proposed to his girlfriend and I celebrated their wedding two years ago. He had learned that work is for life and that life is not for work.
I encourage you, as you enter the work world, to keep the right priorities. Relationships first: your relationship with God, your relationship with family and friends. That’s what St. Joseph did. His first priorities were His relationship with God and with Mary and Jesus. And when it comes to money, always remember others, especially the poor and needy. Remember Jesus’ parable about the foolishness of the rich man who stored up all his goods for himself and built large barns to store all his things for himself for the future. Jesus tells us that he died that night. Jesus said: “Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.”
Graduates, I pray you never lose sight of the higher goods of life, of the values you have learned at the University of Saint Francis, the values exemplified in the life of St. Francis of Assisi and the values that St. Joseph teaches us. Don’t focus on earthly treasures that pass away or settle for a soft and easy life of self-indulgence. Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven by using your gifts for service of God and others, with devotion to the common good, including the care of creation. Take with you as you graduate the ideals and values of your Christian faith, the ideals and values that will give your life and your work meaning and true happiness. May you follow the counsel of St. Paul to the Colossians: “Over all these things put on love…. Let the peace of Christ control your hearts…. Be thankful. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Then, as St. Paul says, “you will receive from the Lord the due payment of the inheritance.” That inheritance is God’s kingdom. Graduates, following the example of St. Joseph, St. Francis and all the saints, may you go forth as disciples of Jesus, not with worry and anxiety, but with His peace, trusting in Him and seeking first His kingdom!