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Tutor John Baer’s Commencement Address to Local High School Students

Posted: May 30, 2017

“What You Know, You Will Love; What You Love,
You Will Come to Know Better and Better”


Note: Thomas Aquinas College tutor John Baer delivered the following address to the 2017 graduates of the Ojai Catholic Home Study Association at their commencement exercises on May 28, 2017.


Dear Graduates,

As you know, the word graduation comes from the Latin word gradus, which means “step.” You are graduating today because you have just completed a step, a very big step, in your education, which is to say, in your life. You see, while there are many living things that lack knowledge, life is really about knowledge. Things that are alive move themselves, but when they die they only move if something else moves them. So if life is all about self-movement, then the best life depends on the highest kind of self-movement, the highest kind of operation a being can perform, which is knowledge. In God knowledge and life are the same; his vital activities are just His intellectual activities. So, to take a step in knowledge is to take a step in life.

Now, progress in knowledge and progress in school are not exactly the same thing, and no matter how much more school you go on to complete, I hope and pray that your whole life will be about knowledge. But let me add one other important idea here: Knowledge is never found by itself; knowledge is always accompanied by love. The more one knows, the more one loves, and the more one loves, the better one knows what one loves. So saying that life is about knowledge is just shorthand for saying that it is about knowledge and love.

I would first like to talk about this step you have completed and the love that is found there. Then I will speak a little about the steps you are about to take.

What has brought you here today is love. No one works unless they have some love for what they hope to gain by their work. Now, you have worked very hard, so you must have loved very much. You must have loved the truth you hoped to learn. And you must have loved those who asked — at times demanded — that you do this work.

But your love was not the first love that brought you here: The very first love was God’s love. God gave you being, and He gave you a nature that would not be satisfied with anything less than the truth, really the highest and most sublime truths. God’s love often came to you in the support and help He gives to all creatures, but it also came in the form of so many other people who have loved and supported you along the way. Of all these people, the ones who have loved you most, and to whom you must be forever grateful, are your parents.

And I think it would be right to say that, most of all, it has been the love of your mothers that has brought you here today. I hardly need to describe the prompting, the encouragement, perhaps at times nagging, perhaps at times tears, but also the confidence, the hope, the never-dying belief in you, the immense pride and satisfaction in every one of your little accomplishments, that your mother has shown every day for the last 18 years or so.

In fact, if you want to understand the very first love, the love of God, you can hardly do so without thinking about your mother. God needs nothing: His perfection is complete, and His beatitude is complete. He Himself is the most lovable of all objects, and of course He already has Himself. But love does not contain itself, nor will it be contained by anything else. Love abounds, love overflows. Love sees one thing it loves and loves other things like its beloved. Love wants there to be more and more other things like its beloved, so love gives life to a new beloved just so that it will have more to love. That is God’s love: already possessing the infinite beloved, it overflows and gives life to others, to creatures — to you — so that it may love still more. God doesn’t love out of need; He loves out of generosity.

That is an abstract way of speaking, because our speech about God can’t help but being abstract. But a mother, just by who she is, says so much more than any human speech can say. And what I have just given is a perfect description of a mother: your mother. A mother’s love abounds, it overflows. A mother has one beloved, and then longs for there to be others to love just like her beloved. A mother gives life so that she may have another beloved, and another … and another. So a mother gives her new beloved everything she can so that it will be completely lovable. A mother is a perfect image of generous love.

You have now completed a great step in life, in knowledge, in growth toward perfection, and in progress toward being completely lovable. And it is your mother’s love — God’s love in your mother — that has principally brought you here. Your own love derives from His, and hers.


But graduation is not only about a step completed; it is also about the step to come. And this is a step you will be taking more on your own. The love of your mother, and father, and God will never cease, but in the next step, it will not be so much about their love bringing you forward. It is about you stepping out on your own. And how much love is a part of your next step is mostly about you and your choices. So let me also speak a little about this next step you will take.

What you know, you will love; what you love, you will come to know better and better. More education is in your future. Some of that education will take place in a school, but not most of it. For some of you, the next step in school is just a couple months away. But none of you has to do any more school, at least in a legal sense. You will only go to more school because you desire what the school offers to you, and you will have to work to attain it.

What is worth working for? Only what is worth loving. Sometimes we love things that are useful, because they, too, are good in a way. But useful things do not directly make us happy; they can only lead to other things that do make us happy. So, by all means, study useful things — but not only useful things. Make sure to study what is most worth loving, which is what can by itself make you happy. In a word, study God.

And that advice should make clear why I say that most of your future education won’t be in a school. Because no school or series of schools can be adequate for how much you will want to come to know God better. A good school can help you make a very good beginning in better knowledge of God, but only a beginning. Your learning about and loving God cannot take summers off or end with a diploma. It is for every day, for the rest of your life.

Sometimes, even learning about God can be wearisome. Study, study, and more study. Isn’t our relationship with God more about the heart than the brain? To be sure, it is. But let me repeat: What you love you, will come to know better and better. Sometimes you set out to learn about God, and as a result you love Him more. And sometimes, perhaps more often, you set out just to love God, and as a result you come to learn more about Him. Love and knowledge are always together: You cannot separate the pursuit of one from the pursuit of the other.

I mentioned before that God’s love not only comes to you through others, but that others can also be an image of that love, especially a mother. In the next steps you are about to take, you will not only love God in Himself, you must also learn to love His image. Often we recognize His image through beauty: in a spouse, in a baby or child, in a friend, in nature and so on.

I hope and pray that you will continue to learn to see God’s image in every person, even those who are seemingly weak or ugly. In biblical terms, we must love God in the widow, the orphan, the foreigner among us, and every kind of leper. In today’s terms, we must see God’s image in the unborn, the disabled, the elderly, the sick, the mentally ill, the addicted, the poor, the homeless, the ignorant and opinionated, the foreigner among us, and so on. And where it can be most difficult to see God’s image is in the vicious, those who by some mysterious choice embrace evil and unhappiness. Yet they need our love most of all. Love as your mother has shown you how to love. Love as God has loved you.

May the steps in life you now take be steps of love for all these images of God.


Dear graduates, my heartiest congratulations on your wonderful accomplishment that we celebrate today. You have completed an essential step in life. All of us who love you rejoice in what you have achieved. And we have the greatest hope and confidence in the steps you are about to take. We are filled with joyful anticipation for the complete manifestation of the great work of God we have seen begun in you. May He continue to bless you now and always, even unto the day of Jesus Christ.