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“You Go Forth with Everything You Need”
by the Most Rev. James D. Conley, D.D., S.T.L.
Bishop of Lincoln
Baccalaureate Mass of the Holy Spirit
Thomas Aquinas College, California
Greetings and welcome, everyone, to this Baccalaureate Mass of the 2023 graduating class of Thomas Aquinas College. My name is Bishop James D. Conley, the bishop of the Diocese of Lincoln. It’s a great joy to be here with you this weekend to celebrate this Baccalaureate Mass of thanksgiving, as well as to be here for the Commencement immediately following.
We are offering a Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit, invoking the grace and the power of the Holy Spirit to come down upon these 74 graduates, who are seated up here in the front of this church, as they complete their undergraduate years here at Thomas Aquinas College and are sent out into the world to make their way.
Liturgically, we have come to the close of Paschaltide, a season of grace, a season of great joy in the Resurrection of the Lord. And Our Lord is ascending to His father in heaven, returning to His right hand. And we notice that the disciples are worried and anxious about His departure: What will they do without Him at their side? What will they do, going forward? They have been with Him all this time, and now they are preparing to be on their own. I’m sure that some were saying, “Don’t go, Lord! Don’t leave us! Stay with us, Lord!”
But Jesus reassures them, and says, “I will not leave you orphans. I am with you always, but I must return to the Father. If I don’t go, I can’t send the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will make all things new again; the Holy Spirit will fill you with everything you need to go out into the world and to tell the story of what you have seen here, and what you have heard, and what you have touched, and what you have felt with your own eyes and your own hands.”
And as the Lord prepares His disciples to go out and to be on their own, so the Lord is preparing all of you to leave this place — which has meant so much to you over these past four years — to go out and to make your way.
“And as the Lord prepares His disciples to go out and to be on their own, so the Lord is preparing all of you to leave this place — which has meant so much to you over these past four years — to go out and to make your way. ”
As the Lord prepares His disciples and as He prepares each one of you 74 graduates, and as He prepares to return to the right hand of His father, He is returning differently than when He was sent. He is returning to the Father with His glorified humanity: the humanity that suffered for us, the humanity that was nailed to the cross and died, the humanity that rose on the third day, the humanity that exists in the glorified body that still bears the wounds of His redeeming love. With the Ascension, He is taking each one of us back to the Father. We are in that glorified humanity through our baptism and our confirmation and the Holy Eucharist, and He’s taking us with Him to His father, redeemed and glorified.
There’s a great scene in Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ where Our Lord meets His mother, Mary, on the way to Calvary — the Fourth Station of the Cross. And Our Lord is almost unrecognizable to His mother: scourged, beaten, swollen, bleeding, and crowned with thorns, fallen on the ground under the weight of the Cross. And Mel Gibson takes some poetic license and lifts the words from the Book of Revelation, chapter 21, verse 5, and places them on the lips of the Lord. He looks at Mary and He says, “Behold, don’t you see, mother? I make all things new.”
Now, if we put ourselves in the place of Mary, those words probably didn’t resonate with her. How can this be? There’s nothing new about this; this experience is horrifying. But in some very mysterious way, it is in and through our suffering, our weakness, our vulnerability, our shortcomings, our failures, our setbacks, that Christ comes in, that He sweeps in and makes everything new again. He heals us and He makes us whole. This is what Isaiah, I believe, is saying in our first reading: “A bruised reed he shall not break, a smoldering wick he shall not quench” (Isaiah 42:1–3).
Caryll Houselander, in her classic little work, The Reed of God, tells how Mary absorbs this truth into her very being: by not running away from suffering, by not fleeing when things get hard, by not trying to escape the difficulties that face us, but rather leaning into it and allowing Jesus to make us new again, in and through our suffering.
So, Class of 2023, don’t run away from suffering, the suffering that may come your way; which will indeed come your way. Because remember that Christ makes all things new, in and through the mystery of His cross. And when He is joined with His father after the Ascension and sends His holy spirit with all the gifts, with everything you need to bear your cross, the weight of glory, then go forth with joy — with joy in your hearts, because that’s a fruit of the holy spirit.
“You give us hope, because we need you. We need the joy of your heart, the formation you received here, the gift that you carry with you. The world needs this very much now.”
So don’t be afraid as you prepare to leave this campus. Go forth with great confidence and determination: The confidence and determination that doesn’t come from yourself or your talents or your gifts or your academic achievements, but from the Holy Spirit — the Holy Spirit that is the personified life and love that exists between the Father and the Son. This will become for you, Class of 2023, those rivers of living water that flow within you, that Jesus speaks about in our Gospel that we just heard; those rivers of living water that flow within you (Jn. 7:37-39). He was speaking about the promised Holy Spirit, because He says that those who came to believe in Him were to receive this same spirit.
May the fruit of the joy of this day, your graduation day, flow through you like rivers of joy, welling up within your heart to be your strength, so that nothing can take that joy away; so you can say, with the Psalmist, non nobis domine, “not to us Lord, but to you we give glory” (Ps. 115:1).
Be assured of our prayers and be assured of our support and encouragement, especially your families that are here, your parents, your siblings, maybe your grandparents, your teachers. All the family community here at Thomas Aquinas College goes with you, as well.
You give us hope, because we need you. We need the joy of your heart, the formation you received here, the gift that you carry with you. The world needs this very much now. But don’t be afraid of that responsibility. Know that you go forth with everything you need: the glorified, risen Lord, living in your hearts, flowing through your veins, and giving you that strength and joy to go forth.
God bless you.
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