2015 Commencement Mass Homily

Commencement Mass
Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center

May 16, 2015

Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 4: 1-7, 11-13; Mark 16: 15-20

One of the privileges the president of Notre Dame enjoys is delivering this Commencement Mass homily.  It is a one I guard jealously, because it is my last chance to speak to you as a class. And what better setting could there be than the Mass?

We celebrate with the Church today the Feast of the Ascension, when the risen Jesus left the disciples—at least in physical form—and ascended bodily to heaven.  It is an appropriate feast for this weekend, for as we recall Jesus’s departure, we mark your departure from this campus. But it is appropriate on a deeper level.  For after his ascension, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit that the disciples might go and, as Church, be the body of Christ for the world. Graduates, we send you too to be Christ for the world.

I was recently with an alumnus who graduated a number of years ago.  He confessed that, when he left Notre Dame, he did not have much of a sense of being formed in any particular set of values, nor did he leave with any special mission.  “But,” he told me, “a few years after graduation the demand for some higher value, some deeper purpose, exploded like a bomb in my head and ever since I have felt the responsibility to seek such a purpose.  Notre Dame did that to me.”

I told him that I hoped he never loses the discomfort that comes with that weighty responsibility.  And graduates, I hope that we have planted a similar bomb in each of your heads.

We all hear a lot about student debt, and many of you know this first hand.  Parents and students, I know you have sacrificed a great deal to come to Notre Dame.  Graduates, I hope that we have given you the experiences and skills that you will find useful, and you and your parents will conclude that your education was the best investment you have ever made.

But there is another kind of debt I want to reflect on with you graduates. You have accomplished much, and you should be proud, but so many people have done so much for you.

  • First of all, your parents and guardians have, from the moment of your birth, given their time, thought and energy—so much of their lives—so that you could flourish.

  • Your teachers and mentors, here at Notre Dame and at other places, have given their all to help you learn and grow.

  • Many generous benefactors have made the kind of education you have received possible.

  • And God has given you life, and given you the grace to live that life.

Graduates, I hope you are joyful and proud today, but I hope you also feel indebted--indebted for all that you have received.

What can you do to acquit that debt?  How can you repay what you have received? 

The answer from the Scriptures is clear:  we are to love, as we have been loved. “Owe nothing to anyone,” writes St. Paul, “except to love.”  Through living a life of love you pay the debts of love, and you store up “treasure in heaven”.

I have the privilege of meeting so many talented and accomplished Notre Dame graduates, and I am proud of them all.  But I’m particularly proud of those who give in abundance from what they have received.

Dr. Brandon Zabukovic—known as “Dr. Z—is a 1997 alumnus who, after graduating from medical school in 2006, found a vocation serving the medical needs to of indigent and homeless here in the South Bend area.  Informed by his faith and Catholic social teaching, Dr. Z uses his talents to attend to the underserved through the Memorial Neighborhood Health Center and the Center for the Homeless. “It is more than giving someone $20,” Dr. Z says.  “It’s going to the poor where they are and being with them.”

Fr. Pat Neary, C.S.C. is a 1985 Notre Dame graduate and Holy Cross priest who served in Campus Ministry here at Notre Dame.  At the request of his provincial, he went to serve the Church in East Africa. He has worked there in parish ministry, in the formation of African seminarians and was elected by his confreres in Africa to lead the Holy Cross District of East Africa.  He does this while he assiduously following Notre Dame football.

Ann Williams is a 1975 law school graduate, a Notre Dame trustee and currently a United States judge for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. In addition to her work as an appellate judge, she regularly leads teams of lawyers and judges who volunteer to go to developing nations to train lawyers and judges there in effective and just management of cases of human trafficking, sexual violence, corruption, war crimes and other offenses. She trained lawyers who were prosecuting the Rwandan genocide cases, and I recently spoke with her before she headed to Tanzania to work with magistrates and anti-corruption prosecutors on what was more than her twentieth trip to the African continent. Her goal is to contribute to building effective and sustainable judicial systems in these countries. 

And I see it in the lives of countless spouses and parents who, in the midst of demanding and complex lives, have made their families their central priority.

And there so many more Notre Dame alumni who, in celebrated and quiet ways, live generous lives of love.

So, graduates of 2015, it is your turn.  As Paul says in today’s reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, “By grace has been given to each of [you] the measure of Christ’s gift.”  You have been given remarkable gifts. Now use them to go and be doctors and business leaders, teachers and lawyers, scholars and scientists, spouses and parents.  You will be, I am sure, competent in your work. But never forget that in doing your work, your higher mission is, in the words of Paul, “to build up the body of Christ ... to attain ... the full stature of Christ.”

How do you do that?  Simply by living generous lives that witness to the love of God in Christ to your family, your friends, your communities and churches and particularly to the neediest.  Be compassionate and caring, seek justice and act with integrity, and attend to the needs of those that enter your lives. Remember, in the words of St. John of the Cross: “In the evening of our lives, we will be judged on love.”

I hope that you leave Notre Dame with bombs planted in your heads that will periodically explode to remind you of the higher, more important mission.

Remember that your alma mater will always be Notre Dame, Our Lady of Sorrows, who opened her heart in love to the struggle and suffering of the world and gave it its redeemer.  Like Mary, always be “tender, strong and true,” and through living generous lives bring Christ to a world in need.

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