On May 31, our parish school celebrated with 31 8th graders as they graduated and moved on to high school. I had the honor of being the homilist that night. A number of people asked me to post that homily. Here it is, kind of. I had only written out about half of it before Mass started; the second half I ad-libbed. (I had a plan for where I was going to go with it, but not much else.) Also, I did the whole thing without notes, so this isn’t really the text of the actual homily, it’s just an approximation.
We were celebrating the Feast of the Visitation of Mary; the readings can be found here. We used the second option for the first reading.
A lot of people are going to want to give you all some advice over the next few months. They mean well. They want you to succeed in high school. But here’s the thing. You can ignore most of it.
I can’t – they can’t – give this group advice collectively because it’s not like you’re all going to the same place. Some will go to Bishop Canevin, and some to Trinity; McGuffey; Canon-Mac; Wheeling Central; Bentworth; Lincoln Park; Wash High…and each of those places, while all high schools, are all different. And you will all experience them differently.
And even if you did all go to the same place, it wouldn’t matter. Because you will all drift to the groups that you most identify with. The athletes will associate with the athletes, and the band kids with the band kids, and the drama club people with the drama club people… And then some of you will have the courage to form your own group of friends, with your own weird inside jokes and stories and whatever…those, by the way, will be the friends you keep forever.
But ultimately, each of you has your own journey to take, and I would stifle that journey if I tried to tell you how to take it.
What I can give you – what I will give you – is some advice on how to live as a graduate of John F. Kennedy Catholic School. Although to be honest, it’s not really mine; this comes from Saint Paul in tonight’s first reading.
Let your love be sincere.
Let it be genuine, let it be truthful, let it be honest. Let it animate you. Let your love look like the love the Blessed Mother showed in tonight’s Gospel, when she dropped everything to go and take care of her cousin Elizabeth, even when she herself was scared and confused as to what was coming. Let your love be sincere. Let your love be humble, as humble as Elizabeth’s when she asks, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” And then let it be as bold as Mary’s, when she proclaims that indeed the Almighty has done great things for her and holy is His name. Let your love be sincere. And let your love, ultimately, be giving. Let your love be like Jesus. Don’t hold back on your love, but give it freely. Don’t count the cost. Let your love be sincere.
Fine. Well and good. Love needs to be authentic, genuine; giving; all those things…but love needs an object. Who, or what (really, just who) are you going to love in this kind of way? Let me give you three answers to that question.
First, love one another. I know, you’re used to me saying that. And I almost always mean it in some kind of global sense; that we’re all each other’s brothers and sisters, and we need to love and serve everyone, regardless of where they are or who they are or what they do…but tonight, I mean a very specific group. I mean the people gathered here tonight. Love your classmates. Some of you have been together since kindergarten, maybe before; some of you have only been together for the last couple of years, but either way it doesn’t matter. You’ve cried together, laughed together, fought together – please God, forgiven together – achieved great successes together, and sometimes failed together…but what you really did was you learned together. You grew together. And you became the people that you are tonight, together. Love your teachers. You’ll never know the sacrifices they’ve made for you. The extra hours they worked, either in the classroom or at home; the extra money they spent out of their own pockets for supplies…you’ll never know the hours of sleep they lost because they were worrying about you and how they could best help you. And you’re not even their kid. On that note, love your parents. Love your grandparents. You want to talk about sacrifices? You think they’ve made a few? For your entire life, all they’ve been trying to do is to pay back God for the blessing that you are to them; they’re looking for a way to show God that they are worthy of the trust He has placed in them by giving you to them…and maybe sometimes that hasn’t always worked out right, or worked out the way you wanted it to, but so what.
Love one another. And let your love be sincere.
The second person I want you to love is yourself. There will be people out there that will tell you that your views are irrelevant, that you are worthless, that you’re wrong, that you count for nothing. There will be people who will try to use you for their own pleasure or to get ahead. Don’t let them. Don’t believe them. You were created in the image and likeness of God. Before time began, He has had a plan for you. He created you and said, This one, this one, is my beloved son or daughter. This is the one I would do anything for. I’ll send my Son to die on the cross for this one. And God still continues to love you and hold you into being today…so don’t ever let anyone cheapen you. You’re too good for that. You were not made for that. Love yourself. And let your love be sincere.
The final object of your love needs to be God. What God most desires of you is to have a relationship with you. He wants to be with you at all moments of your life, because it is in Him that our lives find any kind of meaning. So love God. Turn to Him in prayer often. Read His words in Scripture. Go to church. Seek Him in the people you encounter. Don’t try to push Him off to one side or keep Him separate from the rest of your life. Love God, and see how that love changes every other aspect of you for the good – and in turn, changes the world. Love God, and let your love be sincere.
Class of 2017, we love you, we’re proud of you, and we congratulate you. We just ask that the one lesson, above all others, that you carry from this place is the need to love. Put it into practice every day. And do it sincerely.