Graduation homily: St. Pius X School 8 th Grade
Outside those doors, when you leave this school community and the special faith community of an 8th grade Catholic School class, I will pray that you look for what will fill your future need for an ongoing faith community. You hopefully will keep going to church and worship of God, but I mean a little more than that: Who will be at your side to help you along in faith, as some of your classmates were, along with others in the Catholic school? Before I get to the gospel reading, I’ll relate of how I found a community of faith in the months right after I left this school, right in this parish. You know I went to this school and parish, right? In 9th grade, we had a parish Confirmation program to keep many of us first connected as high schoolers, but after that was celebrated, and I was in public high school just a mile up Rt. 450 as a Bowie Bulldog, I joined a parish teen group of Catholics that met every week in the Knestout’s house, right in my neighborhood, and with a dozen Bowie High students we had a peer group of faith to keep us regularly together in a faith group. I had others to keep in faith with. Deacon Knestout led us all, but it was much of a sharing group, not lectures by him. Now, as for those students who went on to Catholic High Schools, as half of you will, I hope that they (back then) let the faith experiences in those schools give them more community of soul, to bless what was started here at this school. Point is—you’ll have to look for it to happen. Take advantage of the Catholic High School’s program, or of your parish High School Youth Group, or at least keep in a spiritual touch with some body, perhaps who is going from here to the same school/direction as you. Keep in touch with your priests.
Readings included John 17, the section of Jesus’ farewell and his fulfillment of the mission. THE HOMILY
Jesus is speaking in tonight’s gospel that His work is done here in His earthly ministry. He is satisfied in it, and awaits the Father to be glorified by it all, as soon, He ,the Son, will be returning to Heaven. The short time He has been given—to meet humanity and save the world–has been used well by Jesus. He has lived His earthly time lovingly, generously, and pointedly. He was here to gather us into His love and life and make something brand new happen for the world—salvation—with lessons of the Kingdom of God for the world to begin sharing in. I think this gospel relates to you graduates, as well, as this is your parting time from this school. You have finished school here, and done what you can, with the time you had, and the school has rewarded you with a diploma and with good promise for what can come for you ahead. In minutes you walk out these doors and cease to be a class, going off to many different high schools, and well, not to Heaven just yet, like in Jesus’ Graduation story from earth, but you might agree its “heavenly” to be done here. You are a graduate! My Christian point I’d like to make tonight to you is to consider your graduation a group accomplishment, a group thing, that is, just as much, as the individual achievement that you made here. Graduation 2013: You did this–accomplished this–with others. Now, as graduates, you can all benefit ahead from the group effort you made. For, think about what Jesus fulfilled in His mission: He didn’t just want it to be about His own fabulous and perfect and loving life on earth as reaching its fulfillment, but that His would be a victory for all his brothers and sisters in the faith path. He walked among us, as one of us, to help us, to help us get together, so to get to glory oneday, as one family. Jesus graduation was for all of us on earth to “pass” and follow Him into someplace great with Him. ‘Get what I am saying?
Tonight you cross the finish line of your time here at this school. Graduates–it took some solid personal effort on your own part, that’s for sure, but can you concede with me that it isn’t just an individual accomplishment night—for you graduate in a group, and as a group. It’s a class graduation. You have reached this point of success due to help of many others, such as from those sitting besides you, and from teachers and parents and others here in this church tonight. Of course, you also played a part in other’s success and graduation in your class. We tried to all do it in a Catholic way at this Catholic school.
Take, for instance, St. Paul’s epistle verse in tonight’s Mass about the Christian vocation to “treat one another with mutual affection in Christ.” I think when your class was acting as “we” and not as a bunch of “I’s”—you found some lifelong lessons about the goodness of Christian community. In the Christian Faith, it IS about all of us succeeding together as a people (like, as tonight). The lessons in “community” in this Catholic school taught you (I hope) to see one another, not as competitors versus one another, but as fellow travelers on a journey of learning and growing and believing in God. Yes, you each had your personal best to offer, and some of you did shine among the rest with some of their academic honors, yet we don’t envy but do congratulate you who excelled in the bunch, because you were all great achievers tonight, Amen?! You finished in success together. Now, in contrast, where the sinful world would part from our Christian point of you—is that—out there—many are mainly interested in just their own success of “me” and not of the common good of “us.” It explains what sin is and how it keeps hurting the human race. Jesus Christ is interested in saving the world into one family again, putting victory in a common good.
In the higher level of human goals, we have the hope that all of us can together help one another to come into Heaven as one. It’s The Graduation to come, where we hope that God in Christ Jesus will say to us then (in reviewing our lives): “Well done, my good and faithful servants. Come up to enter into The Joy!”1 And, as fellow pilgrim travelers, as those cooperating and sharing in the lessons God had given us, we hope to attain, as one, “the prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus.” 2 (1=Mt.25: 21,23. 2=Phillip 3:14)
We will get into Heaven (or Heaven will get into us) as we practice life as fellow cooperators with God, not as selfish competitors with one’s eyes only on oneself. (Can I get an Amen?!) Brothers and sisters, on earth we are corporally named The Human Race, yet we need not take that title so literally as to race versus one another, nor to be greedy and selfish and be so independent as to work as a rival. No. We are a community and Christ is our common ground, common link.
King David once wrote a psalm of celebrating this togetherness, as he saw taking place in Israel during his reign. It is Psalm 133, which starts: Behold how good and pleasant it is when God’s people dwell together. hiNëh mah-‡ôv ûmah-Näiym shevet achiym Gam-yächad You remember David, right? We studied about him and other Old Testament figures of faith in our 6th grade class two years ago. I enjoyed it with you. The Old Testament of 6th Grade religion led to the New Testament of 7th & 8th Grade Religion. In Hebrews 13 of the Christian Testament, it says: “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters… Remember your faith leaders who speak the Word of God to you… and as we have an altar in which to gather around, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God…(and) keep on doing good and in sharing with one another…. So grace can be with you all.” That’s the same message of our call to be a Christian community, or one body in Christ.
I finish with a fable re-told. Once upon a time, a tortoise and a hare were in a race. The nibble white-furred jack-rabbit animal with nibble bouncy feet seemed to be the favorite. The slow-moving shelled reptile, with deliberate steps in heavy short feet looked to be the sure far-behind loser for this race. You have likely heard the story, that as they were started down the path, the hare was very so far ahead in a few moments, going at 30 mph speed, it decided to stop soon and to take a break, while the tortoise plodded on, far behind now. The fable takes a different spin from here.
As the tortoise caught up to the place where the hare was resting, the hare asked him. Hey, tort-buddy, what are we racing for? And just where are we going to end up at? At some line somewhere the human has made?! Then, what? A prize? No. Applause? Well, not much, only brief at best. So why are we racing? Tort-Buddy, I have been pondering something here. We have passed all sorts of fellow creatures along this path, right? Why not invite them all along? And, instead of a race, let’s just have a community walk!! When has that ever been done? The Tortoise said: That’s a pretty good idea, Hare girl… I didn’t understand why we were put in a race, anyway, and I was ready to ditch this thing and turn around. This “race” was that human Aesop guy’s idea. Not much fun, if you ask me. But this ‘community walk’ idea is awesome!
The Hare said: I came up with this idea while I was praying at my rest stop, yes, praying there, not sleeping, as the fable once inaccurately reported, and I think that St. Francis of Assisi or Noah or some angel of God just dropped that notion into my thoughts. And I am going with it!
The Tortoise said: I like it, too. Let’s try gathering all the creatures along here to stroll together. I just passed a platypus back there, saw a porcupine, met a squirrel, and had a brief chat with a beaver, who enjoyed a little free ride on my back. Maybe, they’d like to come. I’ll go ask them. The Hare added: I, in turn, met a horse, a buffalo, an aardvark, and a turkey so far. I’ll invite them along.
This they did. And soon a wide assortment of creatures were strolling along the pathway. It was a wondrous gathering, maybe the first of its kind since Noah’s time. As the throng of creatures made the final turn of the path, Aesop and some humans were waiting there at the finish line, with faces of great confusion, expecting just a hare and a tortoise in a race, and for the hare to finish the race and beat the tortoise, or tortoise to surprise the hare. Yet both came and, with scores of other animals, crossed all together.
Aesop said to them: You’ve ruined the fable. The tortoise replied: No, we’ve just written a new one, and its lesson is: Life is a journey you take together, not a race you’re in against each other. Maybe the Human Race could be re-named “the human cooperation.“ God has called us all to be a community. Especially you humans.
Aesop and his pal just looked at each other in bewilderment. Oh, man! Aesop said. His pal answered: Hey, I had a huge bet on the rabbit finishing far ahead in first, I guess I lost, or did I? Aesop said: They ALL finished first, so you lose. But you aren’t supposed to bet anyway.