Each year, I have the privilege of celebrating and preaching the baccalaureate Masses at our diocesan high schools. I share with you my reflection for our graduates at those Masses and I invite you to share this message with anyone you know who is graduating from high school this year.
Pope Francis recently wrote an Apostolic Exhortation, a type of communication from the head of the Roman Catholic Church. It is called “Apostolic” because the Pope is the Successor of the Apostle Peter. “Exhortation” because it exhorts or urges the reader about its topic. The title of his recent Apostolic Exhortation is Christus Vivit — Christ Lives. What is unique about Christus Vivitis that the pope wrote it to young people.
The Holy Father begins with these words: “The very first words that I would like to say to every young Christian are these: Christ is alive and He wants you to be alive. He is in you; He is with you; and, He never abandons you.”
Dear graduates of the class of 2019, I ask that each one of you read those words of Pope Francis as his words to you on the occasion of your graduation from high school. “Christ is alive and He wants you to be alive. He is in you; He is with you; and, He never abandons you.” You are unique to God who desires that you grow humanly, spiritually, intellectually and physically.
In the book of Revelation, the Risen Jesus makes two statements about Himself. “I am the Alpha,” the beginning (Alpha is the first letter in the Greek alphabet) and “I am the Omega,” the end (Omega is the last letter in the Greek alphabet). “I am the first and the last.” Two poles of reality which encompass everyone between them … you graduates, for whom Christ is your beginning and your end.
Jesus further identifies Himself as “the bright morning star,” the light of Venus … the bright light … heralding a new day and all the promises that a new day brings. Your graduation is the dawning of a new day. What that new day will bring is hidden from you today. The most important thing to remember though: keep your faith. If you have lost it or in the future lose it … get it back … it is what you need and what you will need most. Everything good in your life will spring from it. Without it you are less than who you are. And worse, without it you can easily get overwhelmed by the many darknesses in life.
2019, your high school graduation year, is the 500th anniversary of the first trip around the world by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, whose trip was financed by the Spanish King Charles I. In September 1519, Magellan sailed west and eventually reached the coast of South America. He then sailed south looking for a sea passage that would enable the fleet to continue its westward journey. On Oct. 21, 1519, he saw just south of what today is called Argentina, a waterway that looked promising. It is called the Strait of Magellan. After five weeks of storms and torturous sailing through that waterway, Magellan emerged onto a great expanse of water, which seemed so calm, he named it the peaceful sea. We call it the Pacific Ocean. The excursion then continued westward to Asia and eventually continued sailing westward until it reached the homeport of Spain. Magellan’s exploration provided the first proof that the world is round. So, just 500 years ago — 1519 — a new world emerged; a new understanding of the world resulted. I suggest to you graduates that not in 500 years, not in 100 years, not in 10 years but as soon as next year the explorations that are taking place in technology, science and medicine will bring about newer understandings and newer thinking for which your high school education has prepared you.
2019 is also the centenary of the poem, “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats, my favorite poet. “The Second Coming” is a powerful piece of writing. The poet foresaw with great clarity much of the course of the 20th and early 21st centuries — gun violence in schools in our country, as recently as the shootings in Virginia Beach in a municipal building, anarchy that resulted in World Wars I and II, racial hatred, destruction, war after war, terrorism, catastrophes, and the elimination of God from public discourse in many places in the Western world. Yeats concludes the poem with great despair, “and what rough beast, its hour come around at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.”
It is precisely because of that rough beast that continually shows his ugly face that you graduates need to hear Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel of Saint John. A prayer for you — “that the love with which you loved me be in them” (Jn17:18). With God’s love cemented and fixed in you, sail forward graduates. You’ve got lots of exploring to do. Our generous God is always sending opportunities to young people, Pope Francis wrote in Christus Vivit. “Seize” those opportunities for your human and spiritual growth.
June 6, 2019 marked the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion — D-Day. The invasion of American troops onto Omaha Beach. They were mostly 18- and 19-year-old teenagers who accomplished the hazardous climb into the water and up the cliffs. The Greatest Generation showed its stuff on D-Day. Because of the acceleration of change in society, you graduates will face hazardous climbs in the years ahead — climb with the energy, the truth, the innocence and the faith as did the Greatest Generation on Omaha Beach and you will realize victories.
Pope Francis concluded the Apostolic Exhortation with these words. Read them as his words for you on the occasion of your high school graduation. “Keep running the race before you, outstripping all those who are slow or fearful. Keep running, attracted by the face of Christ, whom we love so much. May the Holy Spirit urge you on as you run the race. The Church needs your momentum, your intuitions, your faith. And, when you arrive where we have not reached, have the patience to wait for us.”
Congratulations Class of 2019 and God bless you.
Most Reverend Dennis J. Sullivan, D.D.
Bishop of Camden