2007 Baccalaureate Mass Homily
His Excellency Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith
Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
May 12, 2007
Beloved brethren in the Lord and beloved students: Once I was traveling in a train from Lyons to Paris, and the seat next to me was empty. All of a sudden, a lady came and sat next to me. Of course, I was dressed in my clergy collar, with a crucifix on the lapel of the coat, and I was reading a book. This lady turned to me and asked, "Do you believe in Jesus?" I was surprised — amused even — that she asked me this question. So I said, "Of course, don't you see, I am a priest." "Yes, father," she said, "but still, for all, do you believe in Jesus?" I was even further amused and — I must be very sincere — even a little bit offended.
She left me, and I saw her as she went a few paces forward. Seeing a gentleman reading a newspaper, she spoke to him. He was not pleased at all, and I saw him cover his face with the newspaper he was reading. She went to another person, and I saw that person staring at her. On she went, and I saw her talking to different people. After some time, I saw her coming back. So, I said, "Please, come and sit here; I want to talk to you." I asked her, "What are you doing?" She said, "You know, Father, I am a Catholic, but for some time I had been feeling bored in my faith. So, I went to the parish priest and asked him, 'How can I get back the joy of my faith?' And he told me, 'Get into a train once a week and start talking to the people about what you know about Jesus.' And so I began, and here I am. I'm doing it almost every day, because I find that as I share what I know about Jesus, I begin to grow in my faith, and I begin to understand it better. I enjoy my faith now."
Her words reminded me of a phrase that I found in the encyclical letter of Pope John Paul II of fond memories, entitled Redemptoris Missio, which was about the missionary mandate of the Church. It went like this: "Faith is strengthened when it is shared." Yes, faith indeed becomes stronger when you and I share it with others. There lies the secret of our deepest identity and sense of joy.
The Missionary Sense
My dear brothers and sisters and dear students: If you ever experience a sense of loss or tastelessness in your faith in Jesus, it is almost certainly a result of a loss of the missionary sense, the enthusiasm and joy that normally should accompany it. The loss of missionary sense, in turn, is symptomatic of a deep misunderstanding or confusion regarding this infinite treasure — our faith — and the inherent call to proclaim it, a treasure which has been entrusted to us individually as disciples of Christ and collectively as members of the Church. Distractions and elements of a transitory nature often tempt us and tend to kill the call to freedom, nobility, and transcendence directed to us by Christ Himself, who invites us to join Him in creating the new heavens and the new earth. The result is a loss of clarity on the intimate connection that exists between what we celebrate and what we live, most especially in the most Holy Eucharist.
Now, if we ever find that our faith is dull, then it is due to confusion in our minds concerning what our faith truly means for us. Therefore, we have to eradicate that confusion first. We have to understand what the meaning of our faith is and why it is so important for our lives. We also have to look at the strongly outgoing and missionary nature of that faith.
When we talk about faith and mission it is clear that in the first place the Church understands itself as the instrument, specially chosen by God, for the salvation of the world. Thus, anyone who by virtue of baptism has been incorporated into the Church becomes, ipso facto, a missionary — someone who participates in the salvific mission of Jesus — because the Church is a continuation of Jesus in history.
Jesus is the Missionary of God
In the Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, Christ then continues to live through the centuries and continues to bring to fulfillment His mission. Since we are members of His body, since we are part of His life-giving body, we ourselves share in that mission. Therefore, we have got to evangelize; we have to share the sense of joy inherent in our faith. We have to carry on, to become the instrument and the voice of Jesus in modern-day times, because we know that Jesus Himself is the Missionary of God. He was sent by God. He always stated so.
In the Gospel of St. John, there are several chapters where Jesus speaks about His being sent by the Father; He is the Missionary. St. John announced the purpose of His being sent: "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believed in Him would not perish but would have eternal life" (Jn 3:16). Jesus became the Incarnation of this love of God manifested to the full when, laying down His life for us, He wished that all mankind might be saved and receive the good news of salvation. Therefore, Jesus' death on the Cross is the final and the climaxing moment of the expression, the manifestation, of the love of God for man. In and from that Cross reverberates the announcement of that joy-giving love.
The Church is the Continuation of the Life of Christ
This death and resurrection of Jesus has got to be lived by each and every one of us down the centuries making that love of God become tangible to humanity. This is our mission. This is the continuation of the life of Christ in the world. He founded His Church on the Apostles and entrusted to the Church the mission of announcing this good news to everyone, calling them to repentance, to faith in Him, and to a life that is noble. That mission would liberate the whole of creation, the cosmos, and man from the shackles of sin and death, and create them anew, making them become the new heavens and the new earth.
In any page you read from the Scriptures, especially in the writings of St. Paul, you will find this cosmic extension of Jesus' mission, that Jesus came on earth not only to save mankind, but, through mankind, also what God created, because at the beginning, in the Book of Genesis, it was said that God created everything, and rejoiced in them saying "It is good" (Gen 1:25). It is man's sinfulness that tarnished the splendor of that creation, broke it, and made it become a slave of a dichotomy visible in us. Jesus came on earth to bring back that original purity of creation, to restore that purity, the divine purity, into creation and into man, to bring back that wholeness. We Christians, as part of His body, must live that call to purify our life and the life of the world from sin and from its inherent brokenness. This is the essence of our vocation as Christians.
The Church Exists to Evangelize
So, the Church, in its very essence, is missionary. Pope Paul VI stated that "The Church exists to evangelize" (Evangelii Nuntiandi), that is to say, in order to teach and to preach. If the Church exists to evangelize, then if it does not evangelize, it does not exist. It is so crystal clear. Consequently, if I am a Christian and I do not evangelize, I am not a Christian either. I am not part of the Church, because the Church exists to evangelize. Therefore, by the very meaning of its existence, the Church has to evangelize and seek to liberate humanity in Christ. This is a very noble calling. Yet, we often underestimate it thinking of it in rather worldly terms. There lies the cause of the lethargy and sense of pessimism that often tends to overtake us.
Jesus told us not only to evangelize but also to do so by loving the way He loved us. On the one hand, before He ascended to the Father, He called the disciples together and gave them the missionary mandate: "Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Gospel to all creation" (Mk 16:15). But He also showed the way when at the Last Supper He washed the feet of His disciples telling them, "Love one another as I have loved you. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples" (Jn 13:34-35). The Church, then, has to be the manifestation of the love of God and the expression of true love to humanity as the most effective way to evangelize. All of us must become the living-out of the commandment of love. Thus, our mission to evangelize would take the form of, and would be motivated by, love.
We Must Love the Way He Loved
He is not speaking here of just a simple, human love but of something much more noble. We ought to love one another following His own example, the way He loved us. How did Jesus love us? Indeed He fed the hungry, healed the sick, and raised the dead. But was that all? No. Bringing that love to its utmost limit, He died on the Cross, laying down His life, in order to free us from sin. That was the apex of His love. It is that way that He wanted us to love our brothers and sisters, loving them so much that we, too, yearn like Him for their salvation. Yes, love them as He did, yearning to save them and ready to even lay down our life, for that is our vocation. Every single brother and sister we meet, we ought to then try and bring to salvation in Jesus.
Jesus showed us this, the ultimate limits of this love. The tragedies that often happen in the lives of human beings as well as of entire nations are caused not because there is no love, but because we don't know how to love. Very often, the love that we express towards others is motivated by considerations of selfishness; it is not self-donating in the manner of Jesus, bringing mankind to God, reconciling each person with Him, and giving joyfully everything we have and are, for this is love in its finest expression. It is Mission.
"Men Have Forgotten God"
The world yearns for God and suffers because it has gone away from Him. Some years ago, the Russian poet Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970, wrote a beautiful article in a magazine called The National Review. He wrote like this:
When I started going to school in Rostov-on-Don [a city in Russia], other children, pushed on by members of the Komsomol [that, is the Communist Youth League], taunted me for accompanying my mother to the last remaining church in town and tore the cross from around my neck.
A few years later, I heard a number of older people offer this explanation for the great disaster that had befallen Russia: 'Men have forgotten God; that is why all this has happened.' The older people used to say, 'Why is all this catastrophe in Russia, so many people killed and murdered?' And they would say, 'It is because men have forgotten God.'
Since then I have spent well nigh 50 years working on the history of the Russian Revolution. In the process I have collected hundreds of personal testimonies, read hundreds of books, and contributed eight volumes of my own. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause for the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat, 'Men have forgotten God.'
What is more, if I were called upon to identify the principal trait of the entire 20th century, I would be unable to find anything more precise than to reflect once again on how we have lost touch with our Creator. The failings of human consciousness, deprived of its divine dimension, have been a determining factor in all the major crimes of this century.
This was written by a Russian poet. He lived in a country where atheism was the official state ideology. Yet he is so categorical in stating that, "All the major crimes in this century" have been caused by people who say there is no God. This is truly a sad situation. But it also means that there is a need for the search for something more noble in human life — the search for infinity in the midst of so much of finiteness, for true freedom in the midst of so much of slavery, for truth in the midst of so much of falsehood, intellectual self-aggrandizement and relativism, for gentleness and humility in the midst of so much of pride and arrogance, and for communion with God and one's own brother and sister in the midst of so much of individualism and selfishness.
There Is No Limit to What You Can Do
Dear young people: You are going out today. This is supposed to be the day of your "commencement." At first I thought this "commencement" meant the beginning of your studies; later on, I was told that it was not so, but rather the beginning of your life outside. What a wonderful day. I think you'll remember this day very much, not because I preached to you, but because God is going to work a miracle inside you, because He is calling you to His mission outside. You have been secure in this beautiful set-up here, like the Apostles on Mount Tabor. But now, you are going out to the world, and that is where the challenge lies. But that should not terrify you. As Christians, remember, there is no limit to what you can do, if you place yourself, ready for the mission in the hands of Jesus. He will do great things in you.
There is so much arrogance, indifferentism, confusion, such a sense of loss in the world outside. You have this beautiful treasure. Your faith and the joyful conviction that Jesus has need of you and a place for you. I am told you have been taught in the classics and in theology. You have studied St. Thomas Aquinas, of course, because the College is consecrated to him. You have also studied St. Augustine; you have studied the old classics, the Latin classics. You understand the yearning of the human spirit for truth and beauty, and freedom. Over there where you will be, humanity is calling upon the Church, that is you and me, disciples of Christ, for answers.
The Church is not just the bishops, the priests, or the sisters. No. The Church is you — every one of you. As members of the Body of Christ, as those baptized in His name, you are called to participate in that great mission outside, to announce that God loves the world, that He wants to save it, and He wants to bring back mankind and the world to their pristine glory with which He created them.
The Scriptures say, "Man and woman He created them.... He created them in His own image and likeness" (Gen 1:27). What a great consideration! Do you imagine the greatness of the treasure you have inside yourselves, that you have been created in God's own image and likeness? And then, not only that: He invites you to join Him in His mission. He wants you to be part of that great story of love. He sends you out today into the world to speak about it. Even through the smallest things you do, He wants you to be the expression of His love all around, aiming at your best always.
I would say, dear students, the sky is the limit to what you can achieve outside. Yes, you will surely do well in life, after being formed in such an eminent institution; be well employed and happy at your success. But that is not enough. You have to do even greater things. It is a personal call. Pope John Paul II says, "Every disciple is personally called by name; no disciple can withhold making a response" (Christifideles Laici 33). As St. Paul said, "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel" (1 Cor 9:16).
Place Your Talents in His Service
Beloved brothers and sisters, the reading today (Parable of the Talents, Matt 25:14-30) speaks to us about the call to creativity, accountability, and responsibility as important orientations in our relationship with God and commitment to His mission. The difference in the number of talents received by each servant, as you heard in the Gospel, is all for the benefit of the Lord and of His mission. As the Gospel indicates, these talents are not of their own making, but given to them by God. The servants receive the talents from the Lord Himself.
Using one's God-given intelligence, you are to place these talents in His service. For the talents do not belong to you, but they belong to Him who gave them to you. He gave them to you. Multiply them. One day, be able to tell Him, "Lord, you gave me five talents, here are five more" — or ten more and, maybe, even a greater number if you are willing to risk more for Him. But remember, He gives them to you; He will also help you to multiply them, if you use them for His glory.
He Will Be With You
It is not a journey that you go all alone, He will be with you, He will accompany you always. Remember, if you are faithful to Him, He will guide you to make you bear much fruit. Great things He will do through you, and the talents will keep on increasing, and you will be able to lay them at His feet, making Him entrust you with greater gifts.
At the same time the Gospel posits that one could also take the attitude of the lazy one who preferred to hide them. That is the sense of freedom which the Lord accords His servants. He does not impose. The reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:3-8) shows us the context in which such talents become opportunities. We ought to use not only these but also the other talents that we are able to gain for Him in the service of His great mission, that of redeeming humanity and creation from their brokenness in sin through the manifestation of the love of God. It is one great opportunity that is offered to us, His servants.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray for these young people today. You parents, be grateful to God that He has given you such beautiful treasures in these youngsters. It is a pity that today people do not appreciate the gift of children. Every time a child is born, and the cry of that child is heard, when it comes out of the mother's womb, it is a cry of hope, not of despair or of pessimism. Hence, it is a sin to refuse God's mercy saying, "Children are a burden for us. We will have to make many sacrifices for them." Such considerations are basically selfish, and as Pope John Paul II termed, "manifestations of a culture of death."
Once I was walking along Rue du Bac in Paris, and I saw a car coming along with an elderly couple in it. The car stopped right next to me because I was waiting to cross the road. I saw this old couple, husband and wife, and then behind them, two dogs. The couple looked so sad and lonely. I could understand that there is loneliness around because humanity refuses life and embraces the culture of death. Maybe we would prefer to have some animals to pet and caress, but not children. Yet, what a great treasure children are. As the Bible says, they are a blessing indeed.
Let Us Pray for These Young People
Among these your children, these young people who are now leaving this college and going out into the world, I am sure there will be many great citizens of the world — doctors, lawyers, accountants, architects, sisters, nuns, priests, bishops, cardinals, and maybe even a Pope. How do we know? Best of all, there can be another Thomas Aquinas, too. How do we know what God can achieve in these young people? They can all become potential miracles of God's greatness, if you help them.
You parents, you took that wise decision of sending them to this great institution because it offers a wholesome Catholic educatio — not just science and knowledge, but faith, commitment, courage, heroism, readiness to risk in order to grow, readiness to hold onto the hands of Jesus in order to walk with Him and become useful to Him in this life. Be happy about your choice. Help them. Pray for them. Accompany them lovingly.
All of us today at this Mass will pray for you, dear young people, that one day — one day — God will speak to you those beautiful words, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Come and enter into my Father's glory" (Mt 25:21). What beautiful words they would be, like music to our ears. Therefore, let us pray today, in a very special way plead with the Lord-that these young people be protected, strengthened in their resolve to serve Him and to be part of His great mission, to understand the greatness for which they are called.
I just want to conclude by recounting to you another little incident. When I was a parish priest, I went to see a friend of mine, a bit of a senior priest. While I was talking to him, the bell rang, and he went outside, and I heard him converse. I overheard because there were no walls, really, only partial separations. I heard someone say, "Father, I want to become a priest." Then I heard the priest say, "What?! Are you mad? Don't you see that I am suffering? Get out! Get out!" When he came back, all red, I said to him, "Father, I could not help it, but I overheard what you said. Father, don't you understand that yours and mine is a great vocation, the greatest of them all? Then why this pessimism?"
Some years ago, I was addressing a group of seminarians of the Legionaries of Christ, and afterwards we had dinner together. Seated with me, there was a young man who had earlier been a dentist. He was practicing, but gave it up. I asked him, "How did you get your vocation?" He said, "I don't know. I cannot explain." And then he said, "I went looking for a community, and the father in charge told me, 'Well, take your time; not now; grow a little older and come.' And then another one said, 'You have a good profession. Continue doing God's work in that profession. What is the use of coming here to become a priest?' They were so discouraging. But then I heard about this particular religious family, and I called their Father Superior, and he said to me over the phone, 'Gee, what an idea! Come immediately.' When I heard that I told myself, 'That is where I am going because there is hope, there is joy, there is purpose.'"
Go on the Mission of Christ
Dearest young people, the sky is the limit. With Jesus, you can achieve great things. The mission is there, outside. Your brothers and sisters are waiting to hear from you, not only words of science and philosophy and theology, but they are waiting to see in you another Christ, to see the fullness of your faith. Go and live that faith, and God will let you do great things. Be His courageous and heroic missionaries. Heroism will make you live and live well.
You know what? I am sure Dr. Dillon, in his report, would like to say one day — of course, I do not know whether he will be in the land of the living, or whether I will be in the land of the living at that time — but he will be surely happy to say, "One of our students has become Saint So-and-So or Saint So-and-So." Wouldn't that be a most exhilarating experience? I am sure you, Dr. Dillon, would be the happiest. You see, he says yes.
So, go on the mission of Christ. Be courageous. He will do great things in you. And may He always be your light and your salvation.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Thomas Aquinas College’s best asset is its ability to make faith part of everything. It permeates the social life and the academic life.”
– Pete Colarelli (’92)
First Ward Alderman, Lockport, Ill.