Graduating Soon? Some Thoughts
When he was an old man, forced into retirement, St. John the Apostle had a vision on the Isle of Patmos. He saw the End of the World – and the beginning of a New World. He saw the future – and the resolution of all troubles. He saw the Promise: All will be well in a New Paradise, though after a long and painful journey. John described his vision: He saw what looked like a Bride at a wedding ceremony. She came down from a hidden and mysterious place in the sky, decked out in a white garment, ready to meet her Lover, the Groom. The ceremony was solemn. There was joy and feasting. There was fulfillment and happiness – but a permanent happiness, not just a vacation. This peace would never be disturbed or lost again. Her Bridegroom is an allusive character: Jesus Christ, risen from death. The Bride is the Church, washed clean by the Groom’s death. In perfect beauty, the Bride greets her Bridegroom while billions of angels sing strange and fearful hymns of celebration. They sang in tones never heard before – exuberant, deep in beauty and wisdom, revealing the hidden and mysterious splendor of the New Creation.
“And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2).
This is not a graduation ceremony. It’s a New World.
How do we get from here to there? Jesus tells us: “To love one another as I have loved you!” As Christians living “here and now,” our vocation is to live in authentic Christian love. This is not, as some think, romantic or idealistic. It’s difficult. The highs are high, and the lows are low. A Christian must navigate with a steady heart. This requires grace, if you are to succeed. “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). This will demand a lot of you. Hope will demand a lot of you. But it’s needed in a lonely and hurting world.
The love question is today’s most critical issue. Not the economy. Not politics. Not foreign relations. Not medicine, health care or science. Not technology. Not business or finance. Not law. Yes, these are important, which is why you’re schooled. But the best-laid plans come to nothing without authentic love. “How to love” is the most important question in every generation.
“Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away” (1 Corinthians 13:8).
People have all kinds of ideas about love. But learning “how to love” takes a lot of trial and error. Mistakes happen. We stumble a few times, like a baby learning to walk. Learning to love takes humility. But we must run the risk of learning our love lessons, lest we run the greater risk of all coming to naught. If we get love right – or, I should say, if we let the Holy Spirit get love right in us – we will have secured the blessing of a New World. But beware of “love novelties.” The latest love fads may be traps. Take this advice: stand on what is tried and true.
“Thus says the Lord, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths: Where the good way is, and walk in it. And you will find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16).
Jesus said, “If you love me, follow my commandments.” Love is grounded in the Ten Commandments. The first three Commandments are about loving God. Have no false gods, and put nothing before God. Honor everything sacred, especially God’s Holy Name. Keep holy the Lord’s Day.
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10).
The last seven Commandments are about loving others. They’re love’s basics. And life’s basics. They form the heart in the ways of kindness and gentleness.
These Commandments begin with honoring your father and mother. This does not mean you (as an adult) must do everything they say or follow their every wish. As an adult, your life is your own. You must carve your own path. When you marry, you and your spouse create your life together, not your parents or in-laws. You must figure out some things on your own, though not without seeking advice and wisdom from the experienced (which may include your parents and in-laws). The best thing about advice is that you don’t have to take it. Value advice, even when you don’t take it. However, God’s grace is often found in elder wisdom. Do not begrudge their counsel. You owe your parents and elders respect and kindness, especially in their old age. They stand in God’s place. Providence has placed them over you for a reason. Any child can point out the faults of a parent or teacher. But a child cannot see the hidden love, the hidden anxieties and cares that parents and guides suffer every day. Remember this: Your criticisms of an older generation will come back to you someday, from generations not far behind. Many of you will be parents. Only then will you will begin to understand your forebears.
“Listen to your father who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old” (Proverbs 23.22).
Honor the Church, your spiritual Mother. Again, any child can point out the faults of the Church’s leaders, clergy and lay. But remember this: The Church made Eternal Life possible for you, in Baptism. It sealed you with the Holy Spirit in Confirmation. It forgave your sins in Confession. And it puts God in your mouth. It gave you the Bible, God’s written word. Its shows you the Way. At times, the Church may seem hard to live with. But it’s harder to live without – and even harder to die without. Without the Church’s sacraments and teachings, your heart would insidiously grow bitter and cold.
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22).
The Fifth Commandment – “Thou shall not kill” – also means respecting the body and soul of every person, including yourself. Avoid self-destructive behavior. Avoid scandal. Christ died for the person who gets in your way. Life is a gift. And the Fifth Commandment teaches gratitude for that.
The Sixth Commandment is about chastity. It’s best not to obsess over this too much. But we must admit a fact: Willful sins against chastity strike violently at the delicate flower of love. The world sees sexuality as a biological thing, a health issue, or a personal matter. Indeed, it’s all of these things. But it’s also more than these things – much more. Sex is an instinct that creates a society. We cannot separate it from that. Otherwise, it’s bound to turn in on itself and end in bitterness. There’s no way around it. If sex is to be life giving, it must be performed with a view to making great sacrifices. On your part, this will require preparation: in virtue, in friendship, in school, in work, in prayer and for marriage. In the meantime, your generous and gentle hearted chastity will be a life-giving force. It breeds friendship, family, community, trust, kindness, humility and self-respect. Economically, chastity helps prosperity. Why? It generates healthy relationships, cooperation and community. Chastity prolongs romance. It prepares you for marriage. It’s life giving – for you, your future spouse and your future children.
The Seventh and Eighth Commandments are about Honesty. Do not steal. Do not lie. The world has long suffered from a crisis of honesty. Chastity and honesty are twin sisters. Without honesty, sex is an embittering experience. Bear courageous witness to honesty (honesty requires courage), even if it costs you. Moreover, your tongue is for truth. Deceit manipulates. It tries to control. It kills love. It ends in sadness. Truth is about love because it makes trust possible. Trust makes friendship possible.
“Mors et vitae in minibus linguae” – “Death and life are in the hands of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21).
The last two Commandments are about envy and greed. Be content with what Providence provides. Be content with (1) what you have and (2) what you can get through honest work and effort. Envy and greed are two tanks that never fill up. Gratitude wins blessings from God.
“Better is a dry morsel in quietness than a house of feasting with strife” (Proverbs 17:1).
My dear graduates, here are some words from the Pope: “You see, the new things of God are not like the novelties of this world, all of which are temporary. They come and go, and we keep looking for more. The new things which God gives to our lives are lasting, not only in the future, when we will be with Him, but today as well. God is even now making all things new. The Holy Spirit is truly transforming us. And through us he also wants to transform the world in which we live. Let us open the doors to the Spirit, let ourselves be guided by him, and allow God’s constant help to make us new men and women, inspired by the love of God which the Holy Spirit bestows on us! How beautiful it would be if each of you, every evening, could say: Today at school, at home, at work, guided by God, I showed a sign of love towards one of my friends, my parents, an older person! How beautiful!”
Fr. Frederick Edlefsen, Pastor