Monday, May 16, 2011

4th Sunday of Easter - homily (Baccalaureate Mass)

I ask you to think back four years ago today: May 14, 2007. Think about where you were and who you were. George Bush was president and Father Bill Gurnee was the chaplain of the Newman Center (he was two chaplains ago). You seniors have been through three chaplains and three campus ministers in your four years here. I truly thank you for being the glue that held the place together; now, you pass on a strong program to our underclassmen. Gasoline four years ago was probably more than half of what it is today, but still twice as much as when I was 17 (we don’t need to say what year that was!). For you graduating seniors, you were seniors in high school having the time of your lives. You were excited to come to GW and change the world. You were filled with high goals and aspirations. I have no doubt that you achieved your goals, knowing how committed to excellence you have been these four years. On behalf of the Newman Center and St. Stephen’s Church, I congratulate you on all of your successes and your graduations from GW.

I ask you to think back to the person you were four years ago in relationship to Christ. Some of you might cringe thinking about that little 17 year old brat…I do! You might cringe at how little you knew Him. It has been at George Washington University – of all places – that some of you have come to know Him. It has been here that you have developed a relationship with Him. And, let’s make no mistake: our relationship with Christ is the most important thing in our lives. Even the Catholic Church says it’s not about a religion; it’s about a person, Jesus Christ. This doesn’t mean that we can be “spiritual, but not religious” or that we can follow him as individuals only. It means that we focus our attention on HIM. Today’s readings, especially the Gospel, are about relationship with Christ.

Some of you might have been, as the second reading says, like sheep who had gone astray. But, “you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls”. “Guardian of your souls” – what a beautiful line! You might have been away but now you are back with Christ, your shepherd. You are following Him. You have gotten to know Him. You have heard His voice calling you to do great things. He is calling each of you by name. He leads you out from here as a shepherd leads his sheep. “We are his people, the sheep of his flock”. Sheep are lost without their shepherd. If you go out into the world without Christ, you, too, will be lost.

I know it is scary to leave here and go out into the world. It’s like St. Peter being called out of the boat by Christ. The boat is our comfort zone. The boat has been the Newman Center or GW the past four years. Now, you are being called out of the boat into deep waters and in the midst of storms like Peter. Christ says something to him that He reiterates to all of you: “Do not be afraid”. Christ is with you. Be not afraid.

You graduates are soaking up all of the accolades, awards, and honors of graduation weekend. And, rightfully so. But, your relationship with Christ is what’s most important. The biggest achievement that you’ve had at GW might be coming to Sunday Mass! That’s an incredible thing. You have lived what tonight’s psalm reminds us of: “the Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want”. Nothing else is as important as our relationship with Christ. Nothing is more important that following Him. All of the stuff you are about to jump into – Wall Street, law firms, medical practices – it’s all important stuff, no doubt. But, you leave here firmly grounded in knowing that Christ is #1 in your lives. You only want to go where He leads you. You might want a motto as you leave. Try Phillipians 4:13: “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me”. Phillipians 4:13.

Many people ask me how to do we hear the voice of God. How do we hear the voice of the shepherd? Prayer. This is my plea to you graduates: be men and women of prayer. A good priest friend of mine used to say to the couple at weddings: “I beg you, I beg you, I beg you…to get on your knees every day and pray to your God”. I beg you all to pray every day. Hear the voice of the shepherd calling you to do great things. He is calling to be priests and religious brothers and sisters…or to be husbands and wives and parents…or to live holiness in the workplace. Whatever He is calling you to, that will be your happiness. That will be your fulfillment.

Finally, stay close to the Eucharist. This means Sunday Mass every week, daily Mass whenever possible, and Eucharistic Adoration. You have seen the large number of people from the State Department, World Bank, and other places who attend the daily Mass at the Newman Center. It is possible and it really helps. If you stay close to the Eucharist, I promise you will find your vocation and you will do what Christ is calling you to do. You will do God’s Will and find your happiness.

If there’s one thing from this year that I want you to remember and to know deeply in your hearts, it is this: YOU ARE GOOD AND YOU ARE LOVED.

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