‘Tis the season for commencements: collegiate, high school, elementary school, even kindergarten. Some are silly, some cute, some respectful, some tedious, some beautiful. On Saturday, I was blessed to attend one which, more than anything, was deeply joyful. The school was St. Augustine’s Academy in Ventura, California, which combined high school graduation with eighth grade promotion. From the hugs given by seniors to the eighth graders as they symbolically handed them their certificates to the evident affection and pride expressed by graduates, teachers and administrators, I couldn’t help but wish that I could say to a relativistic world, “This is all we want for you–love God, strive for goodness, excellence and self-control, sprinkle charity over all, and you can have joy!” When I returned home, I read this reflection of Pope Benedict’s, inspired by the daily reading from the Acts of the Apostles (“There was great joy in that city.”):
“We are deeply impressed again and again by this expression, which in essence communicates a sense of hope, as if saying: It is possible! It is possible for humanity to know true joy, because wherever the Gospel arrives, life flourishes, just as an arid terrain that, irrigated by rain, is immediately verdant.”
The first senior address expressed it all. Delivered by a beautiful, natural, confident young woman, in whose face shone mirth and gladness as she spoke wisely, seriously, and, above all, joyfully, her speech moved us deeply. The perfect blend of heart and head spoke more powerfully than any possible advertisement for the intellectual and moral strength of the school community in which she was nurtured.
Why don’t we as a society turn to such models, desiring to discover the secret of their success so that it might be shared with the young throughout the land? Alas, such models are too rare; many have never even heard that this is possible, so they never look. Others might hear people like me shouting, “Here is the real deal!” But not experiencing it for themselves, their impoverished imaginations twist all they hear and return our offer with sneering and mockery. Finally, the daunting commitment to the life of faith and discipline that makes such joy possible makes many turn away.
When my wife and I lived in Toronto during my days of graduate study, we were blessed to know of another such community, the Orations of St. Philip Neri, who ran a very successful philosophy program for seminarians. At a time when seminaries were continually losing vocations, the Oratory rector could boast that none of their students had ever left the program willingly. He mentioned that he received a call from another rector, who had heard of their success and wanted to know their secret. “I told him that we require all our seminarians to wear clericals whenever in public, require Mass, Office, Rosary and Adoration, have mandatory study times, etc. He just said, ‘We could never do that.’”
Joy is indeed possible. It comes with a price. But it is beautiful, sweet, inspiring; it makes you laugh with delight. Pay His price, so that “My joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.”
St. Augustine Academy
Senior Address, May 2011
It’s almost surreal to be standing here–saying goodbye to high school years. I remember sitting there as a 5th 6th 7th grader and thinking I’d never make it–because those seniors, they were just so old. I think I feel much younger now than I did then. This is our first step toward true adulthood and independence—and all of the sudden I, and WE, I think, realize how dependent we are–on our family, our friends, this school. It IS a bit daunting to look into the future feeling uncertainty….as far as I knew I was going to St. Augustine’s for the rest of my life… and all of a sudden, I’m, uhm, not.
As graduates it seems the only thing we are certain about is how uncertain we are… for this reason I find comfort in our late Pope’s reassuring message, “Be Not Afraid.”. Here, we have begun our journey in life. In some sense leaving this haven is intimidating, we are parting with familiarity. I’ve spent half of my life at Saint Augustine Academy, and many of my classmates have similarly spent a significant part of their lives here…. I’ve heard that familiarity breeds contempt, but we step from St Augustine Academy with a fondness and gratitude in our hearts. It has prepared us to enter a world that is not necessarily ready to welcome us and our beliefs with open arms, but is none the less a world we are called to enter. As a class we have grown: intellectually and spiritually, we have been nourished, been affirmed as persons–something that, unfortunately, has grown increasingly rare in secular society. So we can dispel our fears, and shed light on the unknown, turning now to remind ourselves what we DO know and realizing that we have a lot more certainty than we may think:
First, we are Catholic:
Today, truth is often overshadowed by a hedonistic pursuit of pleasure. We can be driven to impressive lengths trying to satisfy or escape our restless hearts: searching for a form of expression, for affirmation, for value, where it will not be found, and left only with emptiness. We all feel how much need of love is born in our hearts. To truly satisfy that longing we must first have a love of Christ, a love of our faith. Pope John Paul II tells us that it is “in Christ and through Christ [that] man has acquired full awareness of his dignity, of the heights to which he is raised, of the surpassing worth of his own humanity, and of the meaning of his existence.” Our faith is a gift. And Christ who gives it to us is the “One Love” that can fulfill our longing. He loves unselfishly, He loves “without constraint or hesitation.” Catholicism is not meant to be merely a cultural, ethnic, or familial affiliation with certain ideas or activities.
It is a lifestyle, a responsibility to know Christ. Through Mass, the Sacraments, through prayer, sacrifice we are able to cultivate the truest love and knowledge of our faith. and we must. Pope John Paul II told us that “The way Jesus shows you is not easy. Rather, it is like a path winding up a mountain.” but we should ” not lose heart!” he says, because “The steeper the road, the faster it rises towards ever wider horizons.” Graduates, we are called to be vigilant in our faith, to nurture it, cherish it and remember our evangelical call to accept and proclaim the truth, always openly, lovingly, humbly.
Second, we are American. Yes Bridget, my little Canadian, that includes you.
I’m supposed to be too young to suffer from high blood pressure….my blood pressure really does go up…instantly…when I think about the erosion of true American values, and the sad disregard for patriotism. I do not deny that Americans are human. That we are fallible. We have made mistakes, and we pray for the humility to learn from them, but we must remember that they do not define us. In fact, I believe that more often than not America’s mistakes represent deviations from her defining principles. The true identity of this country arises from her founding upon the principles of freedom and respect for the dignity of the human person. This is especially relevant as we approach Memorial day and are reminded that true freedom is not free. We thank God for the courage of the men and women who have sacrificed their lives for our country, for freedom. But these are not the only citizens responsible for upholding the ideals of our country. We may not be called to die for our country but we are certainly called to live for it in its truest form. We are the next generation of Americans, and with that comes the duty of renewing and keeping American values alive in our hearts and lives. I ask you to have a fervent love for America. To pray for our country and her leaders, even the ones you didn’t elect. It is a country that in the past has sacrificed to defend ideals very intrinsic to our faith. Generations before today had to step up and purchase freedom at a dear price, they understood very deeply its worth. Unfortunately it seems that now many take this gift for granted, they do not know the threat of tyranny, persecution, they have not had to face it. Let us not be one of these. All Americans, particularly the youth have a specific role in the prosperity of our country. Our beloved John Paul II councils us, we should “not be afraid of the toil” “only of thoughtlessness and [cowardice].”
Finally, we are sinners, but, we are called to be Saints.
Again, our Blessed John Paul II councils us that often times the youth “get lost in [themselves], in the whole world about [them], and in all the network of human affairs that wrap [them] around”; he challenges each individual, “Allow Christ to find you.” We must accept that challenge, and further embrace the responsibility to acquaint the world with Christ. We have been given a message of hope, and in this period of youth, this time of vivacity, energy, and opportunities we can offer ourselves and others an alternative to escapism. Blessed John Paul II calls us to recognize that, “a disciple of Christ is never a passive and indifferent observer of what is taking place. On the contrary, he feels responsible for transforming social, political, economic and cultural reality.” And this transformation begins with the transformation of self. We should especially remember this as we part ways and enter the world. Allow the joy of Christian life to radiate from you.
I think this is especially powerful in young people. And as we bear witness to Christ and truth we must recognize that we cannot do it justice without humility. I was in Mass a few weeks ago and the spirited and unaffected Irish priest advised us ” always go to Christ’s mercy…. if you go to His justice, you’ll never win.” In the course of this speech I have made a contrast between the world we will enter and the world as we would have it be. But this contrast is not meant to shift responsibility. We find ourselves in a paradoxical position: On one hand we have been given much and much is expected, on the other hand we are all and will always be the prodigal son. Humility is the virtue that constantly reminds us that we need Redemption, that it is not through our own merit that we can live up to our Christian ideals.With that in mind we must mark the importance of humility, which St. Bernard defines as “the foundation and safeguard of all virtues” and which ultimately makes it the foundation and safeguard of sanctity.
Each of us will follow different vocations… struggle…..suffer…and sometimes even succeed. we are united through our shared identities, through the Mystical Body of Christ and our call to holiness. Each of us moves from this point in our life knowing that “It is Jesus who stirs in [us] the desire to do something great with [our] lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow [ourselves] to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit [ourselves] humbly and patiently to improving [ourselves] and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.”
My dad has always told me to “drink the adventure of everyday life.” I think this is very essential to living out our vocation, to joy, and to hope. It touches on the previous quote from John Paul II, as it informs us that mediocrity must be overcome on a daily basis, in our ordinary and even uneventful daily lives there is adventure. I think we often forget that there is opportunity waiting for us: the challenge to love those in our home, our neighbor.
Every period in life presents unique and new challenges, as we approach this new period, outside of the protective nature of a community that shares our values, we should take on last piece of advice from John Paul II we should “become who [we] are.”
Thank you all for being here, for supporting us today and in the past—our families, our friends, our faculty and staff, our benefactors, and our headmaster, Mr. Van Hecke. God Bless You All!
Books on the topic discussed in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.