Congratulations on your graduation! This is a beautiful and deeply gratifying moment in your lives and in the lives of your loved ones as, indeed, it should be. It is the end of a chapter and the beginning of another in the amazing story of your lives. I want you to know that your families and this community of faith love you and are so very proud of you.
As you come to this significant moment, do not forget to take the time to thank your parents and loved ones. They have stood by you and surrounded you with their love, support and encouragement. They have also made sacrifices for you in so many ways so that you can experience the joy of your graduation. Please do not take their love for granted.
As you move on to the next phase of your lives, I would like to share a few words with you, to help you along your journey. Speaking of journeys, a verse from one of my favorite hymns called “The Servant Song” has these memorable lines: “We are pilgrims on a journey/We are travelers on the road/We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.” Is that not why we belong to a community of faith? As our holy Father, Pope Francis preached in a recent homily, “Our life is a journey, and when we stop moving, things go wrong.”
Do not forget to use your gifts and talents to serve God and others. Service to God and others are the keys to joyful and meaningful lives. A German theologian, Albert Schweitzer, addressing his students as they are about to graduate, has this to say: “I do not know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.” Put simply, the most joyful people in the world are those who have sought and found ways to serve. Self-centered and stingy people are among the most miserable. Moreover, when we give of our time, talent and treasure, we receive infinitely more. “It is in giving that we receive,” St. Francis of Assisi wrote in his inspirational prayer, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”
Remember that from the person to whom much is given, much is expected. When I was much younger, my mother never tired of saying those words to my siblings and me. You have been given so many wonderful opportunities in this beautiful country you have been fortunate to be born in, to become absolutely anything to which you set your mind. Do not forget how privileged you are! Please use the many advantages and opportunities that life in this country offers you to make the world a better place. This work will not be easy. It will stretch you and take you outside your comfort zone. This could make you uncomfortable especially relating with people who look, think and talk differently, but be not afraid. Besides, the world is not made up of people who look, think and talk exactly like you. Such is the diverse beauty of God’s creation.
In America, we are fiercely attached to our comfortability, avoiding any and everything that threatens it. Occasionally being uncomfortable, however, is an inescapable part of being human. Best-selling author and business executive Chris Lowney, underscores the unavoidable reality of discomfort, despite the many conveniences afforded by modernity. “Modern life may have blessed us with every imaginable creature comfort, but, in a deeper sense, modernity can be pretty uncomfortable as we are buffeted by near-constant upheavals, wondering, for example, whether our job will still be there in 10 years, or for that matter, in two months.” Such is the reality of modern life. Embracing this reality with bold faith, we grow in wisdom and depth.
Take the time to appreciate the little things in life. This almost sounds like a cliché, but it is important. God is often to be found in the seemingly insignificant and ordinary details in life, the small things. “The God of Small Things” is, incidentally, the title of a delightful, funny and award-winning novel by the acclaimed Indian novelist, Arundhati Roy. It was a joy to read and I recommend it.
Take the time to grow in your faith and to cultivate a relationship with Jesus Christ. Why is this important? It is because you will need the inner light, guidance and strength that only God can give, for the times in your life when challenges and difficulties arise. You will need your faith as an anchor of stability when storms and tempest come, as they surely will, at some point in your lives. This is one of the few guarantees in life.
Having a relationship with God sustains you and keeps you grounded. You will feel lost without it. How do you build this relationship? Through prayer, study and service to those in need. There is no better way to grow in prayer than by making the effort to come to Sunday Mass. You cannot do it on your own. None of us can. Spiritual reading is also a great way to continue to learn and grow in faith.
It is a great sadness that many Catholics today, who are advanced and sophisticated in many other aspects of their lives, still have a sixth-grade level of religious education. Little wonder that they sooner or later cast it aside. As one of my former seminary professors used to say, “Faith won’t grow, if you don’t want to know.” Do not be indifferent to the lives of others. Do something to help those less fortunate than you. Be involved. You will be surprised by how much your faith will grow in the process. You will also be amazed by how much joy this will bring you.
May God richly bless you as you conclude this exciting chapter of your life stories and begin another. May this new phase of your young lives be even more exciting and life-giving. Please know of my love, prayers and best wishes.
Once again, congratulations!
Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Alvan Amadi
Fr. Amadi is outgoing pastor of St. Mary Parish, Algoma.