2018 Commencement Mass Homily

University of Notre Dame
Commencement Mass
Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center
May 19, 2018

Vigil Mass for Pentecost
Readings: Acts 2: 1-11; 1 Corinthians 12: 3b-7. 12-13; John 20: 19-23

At the start of every academic year, on the first day of class, we celebrate the Mass of the Holy Spirit to ask inspiration and guidance for our teaching and learning in the coming year. The readings for the Mass of the Holy Spirit happen to be the same readings as those for today’s feast day, Pentecost--the celebration of the sending of the Holy Spirit to the disciples after Jesus’s death and resurrection so that they may go out and be Christ for the world to proclaim the good news. 

It is appropriate that the readings we used in the opening Mass of the year to inspire and guide our learning and teaching are the same as today’s Mass, when we ask God to inspire and guide you, our graduates, as we send you forth from Notre Dame.

We talk a lot here about the spirit of Notre Dame, and we experience it regularly. We see it at our football games, basketball games and inter-hall games; we see it at the Fisher Regatta and Pop Farley week; we see it in your efforts to publish an edition of the Observer or put on a hall dance.

We also see it in less noisy, but more profound ways. We saw it when many of you came out on a cold February day in 2015 to line the road as the body of Fr. Hesburgh was driven to the Holy Cross cemetery.

We saw it too when you students voted to direct the proceeds for “The Shirt”—the tee-shirt students create and sell each year—to help fund the Office of Student Enrichment that supports your classmates who lack the financial resources that others enjoy. 

We saw it in the creation of Dunne Hall, which went from a new hall to Men’s Hall of the Year this Spring.

We saw it when, in a polarized political environment, you found a way to stay together, to support your DACA classmates, to remain in respectful conversation. 

You may also have experienced that spirit in less public, but no less profound ways. Perhaps at a moment with a genuine friend, with whom you can be open and vulnerable, and found yourself accepted, embraced and supported. Or on that late night in the grotto, with a hundred candles flickering with a hundred prayers, you offered your prayer and found some peace and hope. 

You may also have known the spirit in the more challenging moments of difficulty, struggle, disappointment, division and darkness, when you found the strength to go on and overcome whatever confronted you.

There is, of course, a spirit that is simply the expression of natural human emotions and enthusiasms. Yet I hope you found here at Notre Dame something more--the presence of God in the other person and in your heart. I hope you found a spirit in you that is not our own, but the mystery of God working in you. It is more than a passing feeling, a transient emotion, but an encounter with God through the Holy Spirit that truly transforms us.

In the first reading today from the Book of Acts, the disciples are gathered in the room, uncertain and afraid. The Holy Spirit comes to them, indicated by tongues of fire that burning over their heads. 

The fire is appropriate: The fire’s flame inspires and guides the desire for the good; the light of the fire lets us find our way; the warmth of the fire comforts us on the cold winter nights of our lives. 

If you reflect back on your time here at Notre Dame, you can perhaps recall those moments when you sensed God’s presence as the flame of inspiration, the light that guides and the warmth that comforts. As you go forth from here, continue to keep your heart open to that spirit, particularly at moments of decision and moments of challenge.

Remember, though, that here is one sign above all that indicates the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is the capacity to live a truly generous, loving life toward those who depend upon us, our spouse and family; to all with whom we live and work; to the stranger and immigrant; and, in a special way, to the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginal. 

We celebrate your accomplishment in earning a Notre Dame degree, and we are sure that other accomplishments lie ahead for you. There is, though, one accomplishment that matters above all: living a good, generous, compassionate, and caring life.

Remember always the words of St. John of the Cross: “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.”

The accomplishment of love is the only one that endures.

After receiving the Holy Spirit, the disciples scattered throughout the world and brought the gifts they had to preach the good news. In a similar way, you, the graduates of 2018, will go out from here to all parts of the world and bring the gifts you have and have developed here at Notre Dame. May the Holy Spirit inspire, illumine and comfort you in your lives and draw you on to do the good that God calls you, each with your own particular gifts, to do.

You will always be in our prayers here at Notre Dame.

Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
President, University of Notre Dame