Brother priests, dear Mother Assumpta, members of the faculty, the staff, guests, parents and families of the graduates and honorable graduates: I want to address these words to you graduates alone. Others can listen in, but they are mainly for you alone. In some years past, bishops have been invited to be the main celebrant at the Mass of the Holy Spirit and give the homily to the graduating class; in other years, it was archbishops; still others, cardinals. But you are specially favored by having as your homilist — a Jesuit.
But there is something on this occasion that was denied visiting bishops, archbishops, and cardinals. During the past four years I have lived with you, and so I know you pretty well. This means, at least for a starter, that I can thank your class very much for the gift that you have given to the College. That’s something that cardinals and archbishops couldn’t do. And what you have given is something very special — that is a censer, or a thurible, as it’s sometimes called. We read in the Book of Revelation something about that censer, namely:
“An angel who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. A large quantity of incense was given to him to offer with the prayers of all the saints … and from the angel’s hand the smoke of the incense went up in the presence of God and with it the prayers of the saints.”
You will be remembered individually and as a class, for a long time, every time this censer is used. And the smoke from the censer — the fragrant odor of the smoke rising up to Almighty God — is a symbol of the prayers for you and the prayers that you will join in giving to the Almighty God in this particular gift.
As I say, we have lived together for four years. And with someone, united in friendship, this the beginning of closeness, to live with someone closely. I feel close to you, and you know the feeling. Look around you at those sitting near you. Don’t you feel especially close to them? Isn’t it because you have lived with them the past four years? After today you will go your separate ways, but that relationship will perdure. You can see manifestations of it during alumni week, when former roommates, dorm¬mates, classmates (and dare I say, onetime dating partners) come together and celebrate what they remember as the good old days, shed now of the dark side that they endured together.
The first reading in our Mass tells us something about the closeness that comes from living together. It tells that God lived among His chosen people, even hinting the presence of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. As Dr. Neumayr read, God said, “I will take you away from the nations, gather you from all the foreign lands. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you.”
But Jesus alone will tell us how far this friendship of God for man extends. He tells us that God truly makes your heart His dwelling place, that the two of you live together in a much closer union that you can possibly achieve by living with anyone else. “Whoever loves me will keep my word,” Jesus tells us in the Gospel, “and my Father will love him, and we will come and make our dwelling with him.” Do you see the analogy between this and roommates, dorm-mates, classmates, friends?
In Jesus the life of God has been, so to speak, humanized in a man of flesh and blood. That is why He possesses the life of God in its fullness and why He can communicate it to us through the Spirit. In obedience to the Father, He became man, suffered and died in order to achieve this unique intimacy. Clinging to Christ in baptism and faith, you become the dwelling place of God. Sometimes that phrase, “dwelling place,” has a funny connotation; it sounds more like Jane Austen, but what it means is the home, the pad, the place where you hang out. So that’s what you become. Christ becomes part of you in that sense. And this means that you are part of the loving relationship flowing between the Persons of the Holy Trinity. You become part of the life of the Trinity itself. Think of that!
Prayer is an awareness of that relationship, being aware of the Persons — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — dwelling within you, a relationship analogous to, but much deeper than, the relationship of special friends, of roommates, of classmates, of lovers. Just as talking with and sharing with a friend or a lover is a desire for intimacy, so prayer is the desire to be one with God, despite the immense distance that separates you, a finite creature, from Him, the Almighty Creator.
In prayer you constantly exercise this filial relationship of father/son. (And when Scripture uses the term “son,” it means daughter also, just as we say “child.” Child means boy or girl. And so in Scripture when it says “son,” in this respect, it means son or daughter.) You are God’s son since the Holy Spirit intercedes within you. So, whenever you address God as Father, you see yourself as son. Someone — who is the very Spirit of God — stands as a guarantee for you, bears witness to you, convinces you that you are a son of God. In a few chapters beyond what we have heard in the second reading this morning, St. Paul uses an expression well known in Roman law to express this relationship. He says that you are “a son of adoption,” which marks you off from
Christ Who is real Son by nature. But a son by adoption is nevertheless a real son. You are a child of God, and the Holy Spirit makes you aware of that. You are in Christ. You are in God. You are in the Trinity.
And so this is the first reflection that I ask you to take away with you from the Mass today. Pray often to the Holy Spirit to enlighten you, and when you pray believe in this permanent presence of the Holy Trinity within you. Prayer is being present, sharing a partnership, a closeness of the God of Jesus Christ, in the action of the Spirit. To pray is to be before God, united with him; your body, mind, heart, and will — either in whatever you do during the day, your concerns, your work, your play, or in the time given to formal prayer. One never works without the other. You are invited to be a contemplative in action.
Is there any better example of the intimacy that can be established between God and you in prayer than that found in the Book of Revelation, when Jesus says: “Look, I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and knocking and opens the door, I will come in to share his meal side by side with him.” That is closeness; that is intimacy.
Even if you do not hear any actual sound, God lives in you sacramentally because of your baptism, and He calls you to live with Him, to allow him to be intimate with you. To realize this more forcefully sustain yourself regularly with the Sacrament of the Eucharist. By receiving Jesus in Holy Communion, you live the life of the Father and the Spirit. As Jesus said: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him.”
So this is the first point I offer you to bring away from Thomas Aquinas College: Continue to enter deep into the life of the Trinity through the Incarnate Word, through Jesus. By allowing yourself to draw near to God you will develop your faith through unceasing union with the divine life of the Trinity, which is the first effect of the Holy Spirit in us. This allowing process comes about through prayer. So that’s my first point. I take it from today’s Gospel: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come and make our dwelling with him.”
Now what is one practical consequence of this intimacy, this union? Well, that is my second point, and I take it from the second reading in today’s Mass. Be men and women of hope. As Josh read from Paul’s letter: “Now hope that sees is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.” Wait for what? We wait for the fulfillment of why we each one of us was created, redeemed, sanctified, made adopted sons. “We are God’s children now,” St. John tells us, confirming what we read in the Gospel. “But what we shall be in the future has not been revealed. When He does appear we shall be like Him because we shall see Him as he really is.”
Now you have studied the Theological Virtues. You know about faith, hope, and charity (love), so what I say now is just a review, with maybe an emphasis on the virtue of hope. So bear with me for a few minutes. Faith is rooted in what God has done for us. It is seeing what has been God’s activity in the world, in history, in others, in ourselves. God has already acted in Christ. Charity or love is an openness to what God does and is doing. I believe because of what God has done. Faith is seeing; love is union, oneness. Hope is the virtue of what we are now, that is, men and women of faith and charity, but is also what we shall be. Our hope is an openness to what God will to do for us, to complete His dwelling in us, to resurrect our bodies after death. Hope is the moving of us toward what we are not yet, of the “what has not yet been revealed.” It is an openness to our future.
So hope is assured by the love God has accomplished in each one of us, by the Father giving us His Son, by the power and the love of God in the Resurrection of His Son and in the gift of the Holy Spirit who makes His dwelling within us.
Put in another way: The only reason we can have hope is because we realize we are loved. For example, four years ago, the only reason you could have hoped to come to Thomas Aquinas College was because you were loved — loved by your parents, loved by unknown benefactors of the College, supplying funds for costs not yet met. This implied a knowledge of your own inadequacies to attain what you needed, desired, and at the same time it implied the knowledge that you were loved. Push this example all the way back to the time you were in your mother’s womb. Why are you here now and why are you who you are — with your physical, psychological, and moral wellbeing? Answer: Because you were and are loved, and that is why you can hope. Hope is openness to the future. A person who feels he has no love, no hope, that person is without a future, and that person dies. You can see the walking dead today in so many places of our society, replete as it is with such pessimism and despair, and with people looking for love and satisfaction in places where they will never find it.
Hope is like love. Like Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain, a guy who has fallen in love can say, “Loving doesn’t do anything, but it changes everything.” In that memorable scene in the movie after he found love, the rain continued to fall, passersby were indifferent, but the whole world had changed. So it is in real life — the problems, the challenges, the sufferings remain, but they are looked at in a different way. And St. Paul could say the same about hope. If you continue reading the section Josh read in the second reading, you’ll find Paul explaining why Christians who are suffering can hope. “If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, will He not give us all things with Him?”
So life after Thomas Aquinas College will present problems, challenges, sufferings. These are part of every life, but let me suggest that you take away with you the three corollaries from what the Gospel affirms. First, if God did not spare His own Son for you out of love for you, what more could He give you? Nothing. Given the Father’s love for you, making you his adoptive son, and given Christ’s love for you, Christ is dwelling within you, pleading for you before his Father. Then, as Paul asks, “What can separate us from the love of Christ?” Again, nothing. Hope gives a different perspective to the lumps that will come into your life. Hope doesn’t do anything about them, but it changes everything.
Second. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews characterizes hope as an anchor, and the early Christians soon took this symbol as Christ because just as the anchor can be depended upon in storms, so our hope is based on God’s fidelity. He is more faithful than any friend or lover could ever be.
Third. There are some characteristics (or properties, as Phil Knuffke would say) of hope. I’ll restrict myself to what I think are two. First there is patience. “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance” — si autem, quod non videmus, speramus, per patientiam exapectamus — with endurance; why not patience? Because the patience we’re talking about here is not the patience that is contrasted with impatience, like Whistler’s mother, but a different type of patience. A couple years ago when people had more posters than they do now, there was one poster of a cat hanging from a roof, obviously terrified, hanging on for dear life, and underneath it said, “Hang in there, baby.” That’s the kind of patience we need. That is the kind of hope that is the virtue that deals with time — one moment after the other, one day after the other, one week after another. I can think of faith without time; I can think of charity without time; but hope is the virtue that respects growth, respects development, respects time. Each of you carries now the scars of time as well as the gifts of time, and you’ll pick up many more scars and gifts as the years go by. So patiently live, who you are, with the scars and with the gifts combined.
A second characteristic of hope is joy. Ordinary life is filled with certain measures of frustration, temptation, desolation, failure, sickness, and so forth. And so it is unrealistic to say that you are expected to surfboard on the top of a wave of joy for the rest of your life just because you are conscious that Jesus is your co-pilot. But there is such thing as a muted joy, the joy of a pilgrim, the joy of a promise truly there but not yet fully realized. Christ, though not visible, is with you with each step you take toward your final goal, and that is because the Holy Spirit dwells within you. And the promise? It is contained in the second reading of the Mass where St. Paul says, “We groan within ourselves as we wait for the final redemption of our bodies” — that is, until we reach the final end of our pilgrimage. Remember what is said of the ideal wife in the Book of Proverbs: “She can laugh at the days to come.” She has problems; she has difficulties. She anticipates, however, the future with joy, trusting the goodness of God. And don’t forget the message of Singing in the Rain, “Loving doesn’t do anything, but it changes everything.” Of course, we also refer to the Blessed Virgin as our hope. We see that she is really our preceptor, our model of what hope is. If we reflect on her life, we really see what hope is and of what it consists.
And now for the conclusion — finally. What do you do when, after convincing yourself that God looks after you, that He is faithful, that hope is gentle and at the same time a nuclear powerhouse, that time may heal all, and yet what lies ahead looks daunting? What do you do then? Charles Peguy, one of the authors that hopefully awaits your attention after you leave the College, wrote a little book where I think the answer can be found. The English title is God Speaks: Religious Poetry. There, in a poem on the virtue of hope, God says, “I love those who can sleep, and let me run the world at least 12 hours a day. I love those who sleep.” So often the cares of the day can depress even people of faith, but more often I think people of faith tinker and fuss about, and worry so much that they interfere with what God plans for their welfare.
And so what should you do when you are at the end of the line, when nothing seems right, when the whole world feels it is about to crash on top of you? I suggest, after Peguy, you softly steal away to your room; slide down the shades, slam shut the snooze; slip under the sheets, cover your head with a pillow; and go to sleep.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
God bless the class of 2012.