Mount Saint Mary College, 5/15/10
Today is one of the most meaningful days in each of our lives: as graduates, professors, administrators, staff, family, friends and trustees of the College.
Today, we salute hundreds of graduates for reaching this milestone in their lives. We pray that they will enter into a world of opportunities with faith and courage. We pray especially that the Spirit of God, imaged in Scriptures as “wind” and “fire”, “force” and “energy” will inspire our graduates to meet successfully the challenges of life.
And there’s a lot of power in this prayer, because we’re joined by people at Commencement liturgies and ceremonies around the nation this month.
Now the Word of God, just proclaimed, describes how the Jews had come to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost, a harvest festival,
Suddenly the Spirit — described with images that symbolize energy and vitality — was poured out on the disciples and empowered them to preach the Good News fearlessly to all people. And in the Gospel according to John (7:37-39), Jesus appears to the disciples in the Upper Room, breathes the Spirit of God upon them and prays that the Spirit will inspire, guide, and empower them to stand up for the true and good and right.
I observe that a Mount Saint Mary College education attempts to do the same: to make you life-long lovers of truth and learning, and strengthen individual character with moral and spiritual values that will enable you to make life-giving choices as a person and a professional.
“Individual character” does not mean personality, but something deeper, more inward.
Your personality expresses your spontaneous reaction to your environment and is something that puts you in a class or category shared by many others — cheerful, or moody, or excitable, or a Type A or Type B personality.
Your character, by contrast, is singular and defines who you are, at the core of your inmost self.
Personality is an emotional reality. Character is an ethical reality, rooted in the soul.
Personality is neither good nor bad. Character, by definition, is either good or bad.
By character one stands out from the crowd. For better or worse.
A person of good character stands against the crowd — not against people, but against mass mentality: that part of us that does not take time to reflect on the life-giving choices we need to make.
Our graduates stand at the threshold of a lifetime of such choices. Our hope is that their experience here at Mount Saint Mary College, both inside and outside the classroom, helps form in them a good character, points them clearly in the direction of good values, and gives them a rich reservoir from which they can continue to draw as they struggle to define a worthy life.
We pray that the Spirit always will guide them in the discovery of true wisdom; and empower them to stand for something good and right—and not to fall for anything.
We hope that when they are called to choose between excellence and quality and what is slipshod or just enough, they will do something “just right” because it is the worthy thing to do.
We hope that when our graduates are called upon to speak up for what is right and to defend what is just, that they will take a stand on principle and an informed conscience. We hope they will show courage, and not simply get along by going along.
We hope, in short, that in the decisions, small and great, that affect work, career, family and social life, even leisure time, that our graduates will choose on the basis of what is true and good and right. We hope that they will have the courage to be known as standing for something.
And we hope that the Mount Saint Mary College community (trustees, faculty, administrators, alumni, and staff), mentors of our students, shall be known for having helped shape the habits of mind and heart that lead to a discerning life, a quality life.
“The beautiful”, said Plato, “is difficult.” So likewise are the true and the good. They are hard-won achievements of the human spirit struggling to forge its self-identity, its precious uniqueness, out of the whirlwind of choices that make up a life.
We who believe in God know that in this struggle we are not alone, for God has given his Spirit, the Spirit of truth, the Spirit of courage. This Spirit fills us with the life and attitudes of God, and thereby enables us to discern and choose what is of God and what is best for us.
But Scripture also calls this Spirit the Spirit of consolation and inner peace, and I want to emphasize something. I have spoken about the difficulty of leading a good life, about the courage it demands. So you may think I’m saying that life is all struggle and turmoil. I am not.
In the end, a life lived in accordance with intellectual and moral conscience leaves you at peace within yourself. And only such a life — and the struggle to have an informed conscience — can bestow this peace, this inner calm that comes from being in harmony not only with God, but with your own best self.
And so “Seek always what is right and good — not what is fashionable, not what is expected by others, not what is merely acceptable, but simply what is right and good. And having found what is right and good, as the Nike slogan says — just do it.”
After communion: Let me briefly express specific thanks, so you can savor the rest of the day:
-Thank you, Dr. Durward Entrekin and music ministers, and our liturgical ministers.
-Thank you, parents and families of our graduates: You have given them love, understanding, support, guidance and many other blessings. Thank you for entrusting their education for life to us. Please stand to accept our applause.
-And thank you, Class of 2010: You enrich the traditions of the College with your intelligence, hard work, good humor and esprit de corps. As I prepare to say, “Go forth” I think of Bob Hope’s advice at a commencement: he said, “Don’t go!” But we must go forward.
25 or 50 years from now—at home or at work, in your community or in some private place—the quality of your life and your soul’s destiny will be measured by your character: going the extra mile to help someone in need; living up to your promises; working for the common good; trusting always in a good and compassionate God who is ever near to you and who will guide you safely home.
My prayer for you, members of the class of 2010, as you go forth from your alma mater is a little corny, but here it is:
I said a prayer for you this morning,
And know God must have heard.
I felt the answer in my heart
Although God spoke no word!
I asked that God be near you
At the start of each new day
To grant you health and blessings
And friends to share your way!
I ask for happiness for you
In all things great and small
But it’s for his loving care of you
I pray for — most of all – throughout your life.
God Bless You, Mount Saint Mary College Class of 2010.