We come to give thanks tonight/today in prayer to God, faculty, parents and you, our graduating Class of 2021. The Baccalaureate Mass is a rich ritual of prayer and reflection for graduates. Reflecting on the book by Jim Clarke, Creating Rituals, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote, “Ceremonies honor what has taken place, but ritual is a sequence of actions that symbolically walk you through the inner change the new life will require … Rituals also force a pause. Many wise people self-consciously divide their lives into chapters, and they focus on the big question of what this chapter is for. Rituals encourage you to be more intentional about life. People can understand the meaning of life only if they step out of their immediate moment and see what came before them and what they will leave behind when they are gone.”
Today’s Baccalaureate Mass is not just a ceremony; but a ritual asking us to pause and to reflect, to be more intentional about your life and your questions about the future. So, take this time to pause and to reflect. Where have you come from and where are we going? For the last 17 or 18 years your parents have supported and guided you through your life’s journey: Sending you to Catholic School to receive a good education. They have sacrificed to give you all you will need to succeed in life. Catholic education is not just about knowledge; it is about educating the total person; the mind, the body and the spirit. Sports and after-school activities have filled your days with challenges and new adventures. These have made you who you are today. I thank your parents, the administration, faculty and staff for their love and dedication to Catholic education and to all who played a vital role in your lives. Grandparents and friends who supported you should be remembered in your prayers tonight/today. David Brooks said at the end of his column, “We’ve become pretty casual over the years. We’ve become reasonably present-oriented. As a result, we’ve shed old rituals without coming up with new ones.” Catholic education treasures and values the gifts and meaning of rituals in our lives.
The ritual of prayer feeds the inner life, our spiritual life. Bishop Robert Barron of Word on Fire fame said, “In Christian tradition, beauty, goodness, and truth are known as “transcendentals,” linked to the three core human abilities to feel, to wish, and to think. When we (as a culture) isolate ourselves from all references to the transcendent, we do damage to the human heart, we do damage to the human spirit.”
The Mass we celebrate here tonight/today is one of the oldest and most sacred of rituals. We pause and reflect to thank God and others in our lives; we show gratitude and appreciation. Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” The prophet Jeremiah reflects on his life and his future abilities to be successful in life. He is left with many questions about the future. Graduates, as you pause and reflect on your future, you may have questions too. Jeremiah hears these beautiful reassuring words of God, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born, I consecrated you.” God has an intimate relationship and knowledge of each one of us. Take time to reflect on your life and God’s relationship with you. Like Jeremiah we may say, “I am too weak and afraid.” But God simply answers, “Be not afraid for I am with you always.” Graduates, you may be afraid, but let God speak to you and He will tell you to “Be not afraid.”
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tell the people, “You are the salt of the earth.” Graduates, if I call you salt of the earth, you might think I am crazy! But let us reflect. Salt was a rich symbol, the most valuable and essential item in every household. Salt not only seasoned, but preserved food because there was no refrigeration. So, Jesus is telling you, you are sacred. Graduates each one of you are sacred and important; God has a plan for your life. Jesus tells us, you are a light to the world. Do not hide your light under a bushel basket. Graduates, God wants you to live your lives to the fullest. Take the time to reflect, to share and to listen to God in your lives. St. Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” God wants you to be fully alive.
This Mass is a time for us to reflect on our lives; and within the Eucharistic meal the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus. Jesus, at the Last Supper said to his disciples, “Do this in memory of Me.” Everything we do here tonight/today we do in remembrance of Jesus Christ. The Mass is our ritual of reflection and thanksgiving. We reflect on the Word of God and we give thanks for the “Bread of Life.” We are fed spiritually by Word and Eucharist. Remember Jesus’ words, “You are the light of the world, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good deeds and give glory to God” (Matt 5:16).
Recently I read a book by retired Adm. William McRaven, The Hero Code. It captures what God calls us to be, heroes or saints – they all the same. “None had super powers, but they all possessed qualities that gave them the power to help others, to make a difference, to save the world, courage both physical and moral, humility, and willingness to sacrifice, and a deep sense of integrity.” This is what God is calling all of us to be in the world – His heroes. With God all things are possible in life. Let go and let God lead and guide you.
Homily given by Bishop John Noonan at Baccalaureate Masses for Catholic school graduates in the Diocese of Orlando, May 2021.