2013 Commencement Mass Homily

Commencement Mass
Vigil of Pentecost Sunday

May 18, 2013

Bishop Rhoades, my fellow priests, faculty, staff, parents and guardians and—most of all—graduates of the class of 2013. Today we share the joy of the graduating class and I must admit that I, and many of my fellow priests and faculty members, share the pride your parents and family members must feel for you graduates.

In addition to Commencement, we celebrate this weekend a very important feast day: Pentecost. We celebrate the day when, after Jesus had ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples to enlighten, strengthen and guide them so that they could continue the work of Christ.

Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. Just as on Christmas Jesus took on flesh to be present for the world, the Church on Pentecost receives the Spirit so that Christ can live and act through us, and we can be Christ for the world.

It is really a remarkable teaching that we do not reflect on enough. God the Father created all that is; God the Son was present in Jesus as he walked the earth; but, also, God the Holy Spirit is alive in each of our hearts, quietly at work within us.

Pentecost, then, was a joyful day on which the disciples received the Spirit and then went out in the world. And so it is most appropriate that we celebrate this feast day as we send you graduates forth. It is a joyful day, but there are challenges ahead. You graduates know that senior week at Notre Dame does not last forever. You will face challenges, and uncertainties, and perhaps even some dark times.

Can you trust that the Spirit will guide you on these next steps? How do you know? Can you have confidence? Should you have faith? We perhaps cannot believe in God in the heavens if we cannot believe in God guiding us wordlessly in our hearts.

It is easier at these joyful times, perhaps, to sense the Holy Spirit among us. But will we have the guidance of the Spirit when we confront challenges that may be ahead? You will, and you know because the Spirit has guided you to this point.

At these happy times, it is easy to forget the struggles you have already overcome—so let me remind you.

This is from a February 28 piece in The Observer by Maddie Daly:

“As I sit at my three-by-three cubicle in the library trying to crank out that eight page paper worth almost half of my grade . . . I refuse to look around me because of how depressing the sight will be. There will be an engineer to my left, pulling out his or her hair over a programming assignment, a political science major slaving over a 50-page reading assignment and the guaranteed table of business majors arguing over a group project and cramming for a 6 p.m. exam. Basically, the two weeks before spring break are completely occupied with endless tests and papers, leaving everyone stressed and miserable.”

Or consider Courtney Cox’s January 23 column entitled, “Snow Day? Please?”

“Dear Notre Dame Administration: 
It’s freezing. 
In fact, it’s below freezing and that’s pretty much all I’ve heard in the past 24 hours . . . .
We as a student body have been driven into floor-length parkas, facemask-style scarves and hats pulled down below our eyebrows. And it really isn’t pretty. 
The only course of action is to declare tomorrow, Thursday, Jan. 24, a snow day.”

Finally, on February 16, Sam Stryker wrote a column entitled “Relocating Notre Dame”:

“It is kind of a thing here at the University this time of year to say you have seasonal affective disorder, commonly known as SAD.

In fact, I’d venture to say that you wouldn’t truly be a Notre Dame student if you didn’t wear a North Face, like squirrels and have SAD…… Therefore, I have taken the time out of my busy schedule to find potential sites for the University to relocate to.”

Sam then makes several suggestions, including Florida and San Francisco, but one is particularly interesting: Yakutsk, Russia. Sam writes:

“Moving the University [Russia] would be the only possible way to get people like me from complaining constantly about South Bend’s weather. Yakutsk is officially the coldest city in the world, with an average yearly high of 25 degrees Fahrenheit. . . 
All I can say is that makes Notre Dame seem tropic in comparison. Maybe if Fr. Jenkins threatened to move the University there, the whole SAD craze would go away.
Well, it’s your move, Fr. J.”

On joyful, warm days like today we can edit out of our memory the more difficult days, the struggles, the stumbles and the disappointments. While embracing fully the joys of today, it is important to remember those more difficult times. It is not only exams and the weather, of course; there were, I’m sure, darker and more trying times in your lives.

But it is important to remember that you came to today by going through the truly demanding times. And by going through them you grew up, became stronger, and learned to deal with challenges and disappointments. It is important to remember all this because it will give you courage and confidence that you can deal with any future challenges that life throws your way.

We are all, always, in a process of growing more fully into what God calls us to be, and that can be difficult and even painful, like childbirth. As St. Paul says, “We know that all of creation is groaning in labor pains until now; and . . . we ourselves . . . groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”

And that can be difficult. In the words of Courtney Cox: “It really isn’t pretty.” But maybe at those times the Spirit is most powerfully present—strengthening and guiding us in ways we don’t recognize at the time.

The Spirit is present when we seem to be surrounded by dry, dead bones that Ezekiel spoke about in the first reading, and we hear in our heads the question, “Son of man, can these bones live?” The Spirit gives us faith—the conviction that, despite it all, they can. The Spirit lets us answer, “yes”.

As we celebrate Pentecost Sunday on this graduation weekend, let us remember that it is the Spirit that got you here; it is the Spirit of God that rejoices in you; and it is the Spirit which leads you through the challenges and help you grow in the image of Christ.

So, graduates, our message to you on this Commencement weekend and Pentecost Sunday is this: go on to what is ahead with a courage and confidence guided by the Spirit to be Christ for a world that so very badly needs you.

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