My brothers and sisters in Christ,1
Today is a very special day for all of you and for Franciscan University as you celebrate your graduation. We give thanks to God for all the blessings that you have received during your time here and ask for God’s blessings for the future.
I’m sure that you will remember your time here as a time of grace. There are many good memories: moments of success, challenges, etc., and most importantly the foundation of your future.
I personally would like to congratulate you, your parents and families and wish you the best in your life. You have the grace of God and a solid education. Academic excellence and great Catholic values that will be a source of joy and success in the future.
The readings from sacred Scripture that we have just heard challenge all of us. They point us to our Lord’s Ascension, which we will celebrate on Sunday.
In the Gospel, we heard Jesus getting his apostles ready to live in the world after he is gone. He knows that they are going to be sad but he makes a beautiful promise:
I will see you again
and your hearts will rejoice.
My brothers and sisters, just like those first apostles, you and I are called to live by trust in this promise. We live “in between” times. In between the time of his Ascension and the time when he will come again.
His Ascension begins the time of mission, the time of the Spirit. This is our time, my brothers and sisters. His Ascension is our mission.
He has given his Church — he has given each one of us — a mission to finish. His mission.
We are called to be his witnesses in the world. We are called to say to our neighbors — “Jesus has come. He is alive. The Son of God has become the Son of Man, and he shows us the way to the Father.”
Like St. Paul, in today’s first reading, we need to proclaim this good news — in every area of our daily life. As Paul did, we need to teach the Word of God. And we teach the best by the way we live.
Not everyone in our world wants to hear this Word. Proclaiming Jesus Christ can lead to violence, to persecution. This was true in the time of St. Paul and it’s true today.
So in this Mass, and in every Mass we celebrate, we should give thanks for all the martyrs — known and unknown — who laid down their lives to keep the Christian faith alive in many dark and faithless times. Because of their witness and courage, this beautiful faith, the truth of the living God, has been handed on to us, my brothers and sisters.
In every Eucharist, we should also remember those Christians around the world who are suffering and dying today for Jesus.
You know and I know — that persecution comes in many forms. The Church in our country knows the “soft” persecution of those who would deny us our rights to live our faith in freedom. More and more, we face pressures to compromise and abandon our beliefs as “the price” for living in our society.
We need to expect this, my brothers and sisters. Just as St. Paul expected it. Just as our Lord expected it.
I’m sure you noticed the charges that they accused Paul of today in the first reading:
This man is inducing people to worship God contrary to the law.
Living faith, true Christianity challenges all the false idols of our society — the idols of the flesh and consumerism, the idols of the marketplace, the idols of individualism and nationalism. So we have to expect that powerful forces will want to keep the Church out of the public square.
We’re living now in a highly secularized society. As a Church, I really don’t think we’ve come to grips with that yet. But it’s true. Our society thinks it has no need for God anymore. That’s just a fact. And it isn’t going to do us any good to appeal to the faith of America’s founding fathers or to talk about the ways the Church contributes to the common good.
I’m reading a new book by our new Pope Francis. And he talks about Buenos Aires being a “pagan” society and culture. And he says that’s not meant to be a criticism, it’s an accurate description.
I think that’s true about our country. We’re like Corinth in the time of St. Paul — we have become again a society that lives as if there is no God, or as if his existence doesn’t make any difference. Worshipping God — living our faith — is more and more contrary to the law.
This is a challenge for the Church — and for each one of us. Especially to you who are graduating today. You have to go out into this world and find new ways to engage this culture. We have to find new ways to proclaim Christ and to live as Christians in this culture. This is what the new evangelization is all about.
But the good news is that we don’t go alone. We go with Jesus. We go with God. The words that Jesus speaks to St. Paul in the first reading are meant for us.
Do not be afraid. Go on speaking and do not be silent. For I am with you.
In the Gospel, today, Jesus uses the image of childbirth. That’s what we are doing. As Christians, we are called to help God give birth to a new world — a world of love, the family of God.
That’s what we’re here for, my brothers and sisters. Our mission is to continue his mission. To redeem that little part of the world that we live in — our homes, the places where we work, our neighborhoods. To sanctify reality. To help our loved ones and the people we meet every day find God.
We go with Jesus. And we go with God. He gives us the promise that he made to his first apostles. The promise that he will be with us always, no matter what, until the end of the age.
So let us draw close to him at this altar today. Let’s ask him for grace and strength today to bring his light to the darkest corners of every human heart, to the darkest corners of our world today.
And may our Blessed Mother Mary, who is Our Lady of the Angels and the Queen of Heaven, help us to always live as apostles of Jesus. May she help us go forward in faith to be his witnesses, serving our brothers and sisters in love, waiting in joyful hope until he comes again in glory.
1. Readings (Friday of the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C): Acts 18-9-18; John 16:16-20.