His Eminence Daniel Cardinal DiNardo
Archbishop of Galveston-Houston
Adapted from the Baccalaureate Homily
Sisters and brothers, it is the 42nd day of Easter — eight more to go. St. Augustine says that, indeed, the Christian community fasts for 40 days, and feasts for 50 days. Apparently Catholics prefer feasting to fasting!
Eight more days of Easter hilaritas, as Augustine would say — the joy of God’s achievement of salvation in the newly baptized, the newly confirmed. There are first communions, ordinations, and graduations. Easter season is a beautiful time to recognize Christ’s Paschal victory in all of those who, through His achievements, also can look at their own achievements as mystically fulfilled.
We are with Mary and the Apostles in the upper room. They are getting ready for the Pentecost. With an impoverished faith of the 12 that is genuine, but expectant, the Church goes along with them and awaits the fullness of God’s Holy Spirit, Who already is present in Christ’s Resurrection. In John’s Gospel, the Apostles are in the Upper Room, then the Risen Jesus enters, and the first words out of His mouth are, “Peace be with you.”
As I tell all the confirmation children in Houston, thank God He didn’t say, “Where were you on Good Friday?
From Ascension to Pentecost
With the Ascension of the Lord, Jesus has taken our poor humanity, elevated it, and brought it to the Father. He goes away to get near. He goes away to get near.
For those of you who want to unpack that, read Pope Leo the Great’s seven homilies on the Ascension, the most essential doctrine about that mystery of faith that we have ever had. St. Leo says that everything Jesus Christ said and did in His public life and in His Passion, Death, and Resurrection, at the Ascension transiit in sacramenta. All these things pass over into the sacramental life of the Church. That is why anything that happens in the sacramental life of the Church is so powerful.
He goes away to get near. One form of presence is supplanted by a presence that is so powerful that, as St. Leo the Great said, not even the most refined of tortures could keep away the taste and the discernment that the Ascension provides.
Let the Spirit Come
In this time of expectation for the fullness of the Spirit that the Ascension gives, we are celebrating graduation at Thomas Aquinas College. What beautiful readings the Liturgy of the Word gives us this morning, sisters and brothers (Ez. 36:24-28; Gal. 5:16-25; Jn. 14:15-16, 23b-26).
First of all, at this liturgy our very selves are moved to prayer: prayers of thanks, prayers of gratitude to God, the prayers of the faculty and administration, the prayers of the parents and families, prayers for donors, prayers of intercession for the graduates, prayers like incense for the whole church. It may be that, in one or two cases, there may even be prayers of relief, as well. I don’t know.
The grace has appeared. God’s grace is here at this Mass for ongoing illumination and inspiration of the Spirit upon these 90-plus graduates, the largest class in the history of this wonderful college. It is a beautiful, beautiful day.
The Book of Ezekiel is a strange book. It has more odd metaphors than almost any book of the Old Testament. In fact, when I was a young priest and taught this section of the Book of Ezekiel to high school seniors (not brilliant college seniors; these were smart-aleck high school seniors) one of them said, after reading the passage of Ezekiel 37, “What, Father, was he smoking when he wrote this?”
That is the famous vision of the dry bones: the open fields, bones strewn about. How dry they were! Then God says, let the Ruah, let the Spirit come, and they start coming together. Pretty soon they are a massive, massive group, but there is still no spirit of breath to give them that vitality. So Ezekiel calls for that, the spirit comes, and they rise up, an army.
Sisters and brothers, can these bones live? Listen, oh House of Israel. It is not because of you. It is because of me and my faithfulness. This passage calls to mind the death and burial of Christ, and the promise of eternal life that accompanies His resurrection. As the Letter to the Hebrews says, when Jesus went back home to his abba-daddy: Here I am, Father, and all of the kids you gave me. Ezekiel 36 is the anticipation that, not because of Israel, but because of God — after 30 chapters of Ezekiel saying to Israel, you’re bad, you can’t repent, who cares about you Israel? — everything changes. Do I really want you to have stony hearts? I want you to have new hearts, hearts, of flesh! So I will do it. I will send my Ruah.
Saving us from Spiritual Amnesia
Can you imagine the night of the Last Supper, when Jesus turns to the 11 around Him? Remember, in the Gospel of Matthew, the Last Supper is about 30-35 verses long. In Mark, it is 30. In Luke, it is about 38 verses. In John, it is five chapters. Obviously John thinks the Last Supper is very important! And in the midst of that, what does Jesus say to the 11 (at this point Judas is already gone) about Ruah?
Note the personalization that goes on here. Jesus is using the first-person singular like it has never been used before, talking about his abba: Me and my abba/father. Do you know we want to make a home with you? We want you to be a temple. Do you know how that is going to endure? I promise a Spirit, and what is the Spirit going to do? Teach and save you from religious amnesia — a particularly virulent virus that is all around right now. I will save you from spiritual amnesia through the Spirit. He will teach you. He will remind you.
Do you notice the incredible spiritual poverty of Jesus in the Spirit? In their relationship to one another and the Father, they do nothing except what they do together. This is incredible. Graduates, when you are looking at what you have achieved, do you see the way Jesus speaks about achievement? His achievement is total obedience to the Father.
So on this day, with these beautiful readings, we are mesmerized by what Ezekiel promises, and what Jesus accomplishes — sending us a personal spirit, the love of Father and Son. And just so we do not get overly mystical before we go to Communion, the lectionary planners decided to put Galatians as the second reading. You talk about coming down a step!
When Paul wrote his letters, at the beginning he would always say something like: Grace and peace be yours. This is Paul, and I thank God for how beautiful you are, Corinthians or Philippians, and how God’s grace has worked in you. There is only one letter in which St. Paul does not say any such words at the beginning. That is Galatians. Boy, was he mad! He opens the letter, grace and peace, and then says: I’m wondering why it is that you so soon abandoned everything in the Gospel. He then spends four chapters just smacking them around.
When he gets to the end, though, isn’t it beautiful how he says, with a little dig: There is no law against charity joy, peace, patience, you Galatian circumsizers. No, I’ll tell you what the problem is. The issue is the flesh, and the flesh is in backbiting, as well as sexual immorality, and it is tearing apart the community. In St. Paul the flesh is anything opposed to Christ Jesus.
Perhaps even on a day like today we need to hear that. We need to hear that there is, indeed, in the Christian community, in us, a need. There are things we should not be doing, and things God allows us to do in Christ Jesus. I personally would rather dwell on Ezekiel and John today, but the Church’s liturgy calls us also to Galatians. There the list of vices and the beauty of the virtues that spring from the grace of Jesus Christ are presented to us.
At the conclusion of this section, St. Paul says so beautifully, “Bear one another’s burdens.” That is stating the whole point. Sisters and brothers, it is a great day for you. I hope that you will go from today illumined, delighted, proud of your achievements. But never forget that they are a gift of God in Christ Jesus through His Spirit, Who keeps you knowledgeable, and Who solves and heals the religious amnesia in our society. We desperately need that gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Gift of Wisdom
May the Spirit so operate in you. Congratulations! What a great day. What a beautiful alleluia we can sing on this, the 42nd day of Easter, first of all because of the Resurrection and Ascension, and second of all because of you. That is good. Please stay faithful and attuned to what you have learned here, not just in terms of the life of the mind, but in the contemplative life that comes through this chapel and through your prayer life.
May Jesus Christ Himself be your lord. May the Father of all mercies smile upon you and keep you safe in the days and years ahead. May you never forget Thomas Aquinas College, where you first learned of the gift of wisdom.
Updated: May 30, 2013
“We’re aiming for the truth in all we learn here, and developing the skills to apply that truth. This formation will keep me strong for life.”
– Aileen McCarthy (’14)