Looking back: My homily to the class of 2011

August 18, 2011

“Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched.” Motto, University of Chicago. “Strong deeds, Gentle words.” Motto, University of Maryland.

“Life, Sweetness, Hope.” Motto, University of Notre Dame.

“Here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.” Thomas Jefferson, University of Virginia.

“Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ.” Second Letter of Peter...

With this class, 66 years of students will have graduated from the Priory or Abbey School... Just as Christ was the cornerstone, the keystone, between the Old and New Testaments, you are now the living stones that Saint Peter is speaking about in today’s second reading. You must be foundations of living stone upon which God can build His kingdom. And so, your mission is to become perfect and to help others to become perfect, as our Heavenly Father is perfect.

And just as the Church grew in her infancy, so too have you grown. Some of you came here as small boys, and seven or six years have passed and now you are leaving us as young men, fortified in faith and in knowledge. Let me repeat the motto of the Unviersity of Chicago: “Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched.”

During your Anselmian years, we have tried to expose you to the basics of Christian Faith, and at the same time expose you to a corpus of knowledge that will lead you from your faith in God to an understanding, both intellectual and actual, of who you are, why you are, and where you are going in your travels through life.

To this, we now pray that you have been grafted onto a moral and ethical code that will serve you well for life on your own. I know that two of you are going to attend the University of Pennsylvania and it is fitting to note that its motto is “Laws Without Morals Are Useless.” It is not good enough just to have the law, you must have the moral fiber to obey the law. Blessed Pope John Paul II said that even before Moses came down from Mount Sinai, the Ten Commandments were already written in the hearts of man. These commandments offer “the only true basis for the lives of individuals, societies, and nations.”

Saint Anselm brought this moral and ethical search to a new level. Everything Anselm did and wrote had its origin in prayer based upon the spine of monastic life, the psalms, which the monks have recited each day for over 1,500 years.

For Anselm everything was a “faith seeking understanding,” by which we become what we most can be, and to make this available to others. For him, excellence in education was both a moral and a social responsibility. Through education one not only learns new things but through education one also has the means to form a correct conscience.

In today’s Gospel passage, Christ is preparing his disciples for his departure at the Ascension, just as we are preparing you for your departure at your commencement next week. I wonder what our Lord really thought when Doubting Thomas said, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” I am sure some of you do not know where you are going now, at this moment, on your continuing journey for the rest of your life.

But you do know the way. Just as Jesus said, “ I am the way and the truth and the life,” your way can be found in your faith, in your hard work, in your knowledge and understanding, and in your search for truth.

Perhaps Christ’s answer to His other Apostles: “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me?” is the same answer we can give you. You have been here so long, that you cannot say, “we do not know the way.” The way is everything that Saint Benedict and Saint Anselm stood for and how they lived their lives. Seek God first and above all things, and all the rest will be given to you. And have faith, and with faith will come understanding.

However, this is never done just for yourselves; it must be done for the benefit of others. Some of you will become teachers, some lawyers, some doctors, maybe some will become inventors, political leaders, soldiers, pilots, poets, priests, or perhaps even Benedictine monks. But whatever you become, no matter what religious tradition you belong to, you must become one with Yahweh, one with the Creator.

This is what Catholics call Our Father who art in heaven — for lack of words that cannot express or comprehend what is inexpressible and incomprehensible.

Let me leave you with some words of advice. My first word of advice is: Do not let your life pass by without keeping your eyes fixed on the future. From the many sides of your life, from your own reading and thinking, from your society and social conditions, even from your peers, you hear it said that “the future is yours.”

This statement is true, but only in part. The future can be yours if you live the present, here and now, realistically, with serious commitment on your part to pay the price. There is no free ride. You can only be tomorrow what you have been able to become today, what you let yourself become. Remember, the future will bear fruit for you only if you are able to give meaning and purpose to the present, to give meaning and purpose to your own life here and now.

My second word of advice is: Know that youth conditions the irreversible choices of adulthood. Once time has passed, you never get it back. Important choices require reflection and demand serious thought in order to be free human choices and not just instinctive or peer-pressured choices. You must become independent and honest with yourself.

In this monastery school, you have been guided by a Christian discipline and taught in a 1,500-year-old tradition to seek the truth first. And through this seeking of the truth you will acquire, with personal commitment, a profound sense of human values. This creative and loving experience is still increasing and can be broadened and enriched by your faith in God. Try not to close too many doors too soon.

My third and final word of advice is: Continue to pursue academic excellence. All of your personal and individual accomplishments, all of your talents... — all of these things are of no value if you cannot rise above the common denominator and be true to yourself and honest with one another. Left to ourselves, history has always taught, we will sink down to some bottom or base level that has nothing to do with our creativity, our love, or our ability to use our gifts and talents for humanity.

As Saint John Chrysostom says, “No one can harm the man who does himself no wrong.” Always pursue what will make you stretch, what will make you a better human being. Then in the ending words of today’s Gospel: “Amen, Amen, I say to you, whoever believes in Me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these.”

Rev. Peter Weigand is president of St. Anselm’s Abbey School in Washington, D.C.

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