Homily for Pontifical Mass for Giving Thanks to God on the occasion of the Graduation of Campion College in Year A 2016 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta 13 December 2016
It is with great joy that we have gathered in this Cathedral to give thanks to God with the graduates of 2016 from Campion College. “If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the builders labour”. Therefore, give thanks to God for the variety of gifts and activities that mark academic achievement but we also give thanks to God for those who have carried us and nurtured our gifts. With the prophet Isaiah, we can say: “Let us sing the praises of the Lord’s goodness, and of his marvellous deeds, In return for all that he has done for us and for the great kindness he has shown us in his mercy and in his boundless goodness.”
Along with sentiments of gratitude, we are also filled with a profound awareness of our mission in the world. After all, as a college that forms leaders for the church and society, we are committed to be agents of the Good News, enriched as we are by what we have learned. Thus, the graduation ceremony today is also a celebration of our commitment to live our Christian discipleship and to work in service of the kingdom.
The Gospel today is rich in instruction. It contains the central teaching of Jesus which he speaks in the most personal and intimate way. “Love one another as I have loved you. A person can have no greater love than to lay his life for his friends and you are my friends”. These words are both encouragement and a challenge to us. We are encouraged by the knowledge of God’s love for us and his friendship with us in Christ. We are also challenged to manifest that self-giving love to others. That is the essence of Christian discipleship.
The very mission of a Christian is to be a conduit for God’s grace or in the words of St Francis, a channel of peace. In the last analysis, it is this capacity to make the difference to the lives of others that we become true disciples. “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it unto me.” The measure of our authenticity is the way we are capable of enhancing, extending, ennobling the life of others, especially those entrusted to our care.
How can we become the visible signs of God’s grace in the world today? How can we be light in the midst of a church that seems to be engulfed in a looming shadow, not least by the crisis of its own identity and mission?
In this our time and in our culture, we Catholics find ourselves in a crisis relevance, alienation and even despondency. We ask ourselves how we can continue to proclaim the Good News when – like the exiled God’s people of old – their captivity seems to become our captivity. The traditions the signposts of yesterday disappear from view and yet the hopes of tomorrow are not yet realised. Like the people of God in the exile, we are being led to a place of great trial and temptation, a place until now untrodden and uncharted. Like them, we can try to relive the glorious past with nostalgia and risk loving our prophetic witness or we can go forward with courage and faith trusting that God will bring about new life out of our barrenness, light out of our darkness.
In fact, if the experience of the faithful remnant was any guide, it was the exile that was the catalyst for a new Israel; it formed a new consciousness of who God was and what it truly meant to be his people; it brought about the most transforming experience that profoundly shaped the faith of the renewed Israel. Perhaps, we need not fear the long dark winter before us. Rather, we need to live through it in hopeful anticipation of a spring of new life.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus spoke of the love that gave itself totally away to the beloved. He showed us the way to new life and it was by embracing the vulnerability of suffering and death. God’s grace is manifested in weakness. We see this pattern in the journey into the Promised Land, in the exile, the reconstitution of the remnant faithful. We see this pattern in the entire salvation history and it is epitomized in the total self-emptying and self-giving of Jesus on the cross. Such is the distinguishing feature of Christianity and indeed our DNA.
Hence, the only way that we learn to be the visible sign of God’s grace and the sacrament of God’s light to the world is to live our own vulnerability, to seek strength through humble faith, to pattern ourselves on the dying and rising again of Christ in all facets of life.
I am heartened to know that even in the midst of a very secular environment, there are those committed to Christian discipleship and all that it entails. As Campion College graduates, you are commissioned to be the salt and leaven of the earth, ready to make a difference according to the Gospel. May we learn to be humble servants, seeking the truth, living it and speaking it in love. May we be alert to the many unsuspecting, surprising ways in which God makes known his will and purpose, thus being always given and appreciative of goodness wherever it is found. May the Holy Spirit guide you and bring to fruition all of your endeavours for a fuller life, for yourselves and for others.
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