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“How then shall you live?”

Gerard McKeon, S.J., ’76By Gerard McKeon, S.J., ’76, Assistant Chaplain

The following homily was presented by Fr. McKeon at the Baccalaureate Mass on May 23.

Men and women of the Cross! Four years ago you were given this title. Please carry it with you as you take leave of this beautiful College on the hill.

In these days when you find yourself reminiscing, can you hear the cheers ring out on the basketball court, down at Fitton Field, and behind the Hart Center? Once again, the Cross stands out, unique among its contemporaries. A name like none other. And you, men and women of the Class of 2002, how have you lifted high the Cross during your years on Mount Saint James?

In truth, some of you have surprised the complacent with your generous service and your courage in speaking out for justice: At Fort Bennings, Ga., protesting the abysmal human rights violations from graduates of the infamous School of the Americas. In Washington, D.C., joining thousands in the march for life. During spring break through your Appalachia Service Projects and your work with Habitat for Humanity. In the city of Worcester, serving so many elderly, youth, homeless and hungry brothers and sisters. And on this campus, in your efforts to promote respect for the dignity of all. “No more gay bashing,” some of you have cried out. “No more violence and abuse against women,” others of you have powerfully proclaimed through a variety of dramatic presentations. Leaders among you have witnessed to the call for greater unity on Mount St. James, even as others cling onto attitudes that perpetuate classism and racism.

Men and women of the Cross, surely, you have known something of your calling during your undergraduate years. And now as you ready yourselves for that wider world, do you recognize your mission? Can you stand apart from the crowd, unafraid to declare your allegiance? In a culture of narcissism and materialism, can you witness to the Cross of self-giving love and compassion for the least of your brothers and sisters?

Members of the Class of 2002, you come to this day with a sense of great achievement and accomplishment. You have so many talents, so much to offer, so much potential. Why not seize the day! Make the most of the opportunities that come your way. Become the very best in your field. Surely, this is the path to true success. And who could argue with such common sense?

But let us dwell with this a little more. Let us move beyond the cheerleading and open ourselves to the truth of our calling as men and women of the Cross. Jesus has words for us who want to listen from the depths of our hearts. If you want to become my followers, he tells us, then lose your life for my sake and for the Gospel. Then you shall save it. Let go of the need to gain the whole world. Be not ashamed of me and my words. Rather, take up your Cross and follow me.

The invitation is placed before you. How then shall you live? How shall you seize the day? You are men and women of the Cross. Men and women called to the greater, the Magis as we like to say in Jesuit circles.

You are called to travel with Abraham and Sarah from the safety of your homeland to that unknown territory where you will witness to the faith—the faith that places trust in God above the security of human power and control. You are called to walk the journey of the Cross in all of its mystery, for you are men and women of the Cross and may you never forget this.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great Lutheran theologian who was martyred by the Nazis in 1945, was a man of the Cross. In his classic work, The Cost of Discipleship, he reminds us that the first cross everyone must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of the world. It may be an experience similar to the first disciples who are called to leave their security and risk for the unknown future. It may be an experience like the rich man in the Gospels who needs to let go of his self-will so as to find the freedom of discipleship. It may be the call to let go of prestige in the eyes of our peers so as to embrace a passion for justice that flows from a heart of compassion. And within our contemporary Church yearning for reform, it may well be the choice to abandon the cloak of secrecy so as to allow the light of truth and integrity to shine forth.

As men and women of the Cross, your success finally cannot be measured by worldly honors. For you, to be the very best in the field is to move from personal achievement toward the grace of service. In this shall you find lasting fulfillment as you join with all men and women of good will in that noble task of building up the “civilization of love.”

Your greatness is your care and concern for those brothers and sisters who have failed to recognize their own dignity as God’s beloved. You seize the day by helping to make the world a more just place, a more loving place, a more forgiving and reconciling place. Surely, this is a noble calling at a time when the dignity of humanity is being threatened by forces of violence, greed and lust.

As graduates of the Cross, you leave the security of Mount Saint James to travel along the journey that invites you to ever greater generosity. Many of you have already discovered the joy of this path. Perhaps the words of theologian, Jon Sobrino, can encourage you and challenge you to persevere along this pilgrimage of service and compassion: In his classic work, Christology at the Crossroads, he says the following: “The privileged mediation of God continues to be the real Cross of the oppressed. Oppressed persons are the mediation of God because they break down the normal self-interest with which human persons approach others. Merely by being there, the oppressed call into question those who approach—questioning what it means to be a human being.”

Perhaps Sobrino’s reflections speak to your own experiences of service through the SPUD program. Through your encounters with the marginalized in our wider Worcester community, perhaps God has spoken to you in ways you never expected. Perhaps your trips to Appalachia and Mexico have opened your eyes to a deeper understanding of God’s revelation. Perhaps the suffering and oppression of the poor and marginalized have shaken your own beliefs about how you want to live in this world; about your understanding of success; about your calling in life.

You are educated men and women of the Cross who are not ignorant of the economic injustices that lead to an ever widening gap between the rich and poor in this land and throughout the world. You have learned about how the developing world cries out for justice and equity. And you know that the oppressed are prevented from experiencing the fullness of their dignity as God’s beloved children. Your minds have been engaged, and your hearts have been touched.

Now as you set forth on your new journey, do not forget the values of loving service and compassion which you have learned at the Cross. Do not close your hearts to the injustices that perpetuate poverty for the majority of our brothers and sisters. As you continue along, allow the Cross of selfless love to deepen within you. Personal success and worldly prestige will tempt you toward complacency and shallowness of vision. But the Cross will lift you up to that place of holy restlessness. The Cross will lead you forward to that sweet place of freedom. Freedom from self-promotion, and freedom for loving service in solidarity with all who struggle for dignity and fulfillment.

My brothers and sisters of the Cross, go forth with the name that places you at the forefront of contradiction among so many graduates throughout this land. Do not settle for mediocrity. Do not settle for greatness in the eyes of the world. “For what will it profit to gain the whole world and forfeit your life?”

Carpe Diem. Seize the day and lift high the Cross. Continue your mission as men and women for others and with others. Let the goodness of God shine through you. And as you lift high that glorious Cross of love, may you discover again and again what our loving Savior desires for all of us when he says, “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.”

 

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