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You Don't Have to Stay the Same
Homily for the Baccalaureate Mass at Maryvale Preparatory School
My guess is that you graduating seniors will understand me when I say that we reach this strange place in life at which it is possible for us to like or dislike the person who we are. The whole phenomenon is remarkable. One day we just go along with life in a state of blissful ignorance, frustrated maybe but never too critical of ourselves, and then the next day we find ourselves forming all of these judgments about our lives. Who am I? Do I like this person? Am I intelligent enough? Good enough? Responsible enough? Do I have what it takes to have a good future? Will I always feel alone like this? Do I have real friends? Maybe I love myself, otherwise life just doesn’t make much sense, but do I like myself?
We don’t ask those kinds of questions for years, and then all the sudden we are asking those kinds of questions all the time. We obsess over our lives and usually we reach a point at which we do not want to be the person that we are and want to become a different kind of person. You can look out there in the culture today—listen to the music, watch the shows—or you can follow the headlines and you will find that the world is saturated with feelings of discontent. Many, many people are not satisfied with their lives, there are so many raw desires to be someone different, someone new, and based on what I see out there in the culture or on the news, no one is having much success becoming someone new or different. Lots of people try; few succeed.
These thoughts are on my mind because I am on this two-week run of asking myself what advice I wish I would have known when I was your age, a graduating senior about to set out into the unknown with the excitement and the fear that such a journey entails. Last Tuesday, I told the graduating class at Notre Dame Prep that the hardest choices in life usually have nothing to do with good and evil but everything to do choosing between two goods; deciding what matters to us in life is very hard. There is something I wish I knew when I was your age. A couple of days later, I told the graduating seniors of Mount de Sales Academy that we do not need to worry so much in life; we spend our days living in the hands of God. We don’t know how or when, but God will take care of us and all we really need to worry about in life is keeping close to him. There is something else I wish I knew when I was your age.
Tonight, I have the final piece of advice I wish I knew when I was your age, and part of me thinks that this is the truth I needed to know the most when I was young: Christianity is true, and real, authentic conversion is possible when we give ourselves to Christ. The person you are right now, if you struggle with that person, maybe if you don’t like that person, you don’t need to remain that person.
Another way of saying these things is that I like the person I am now more than the person I was when I was your age, and the only real difference between the ‘me’ of twenty years ago and the ‘me’ of today is that at a certain point I discovered who I am in Christ.
What does that mean, to say that I discovered who I am in Christ? I think it means that at a certain point I started to take St. Paul seriously when he wrote:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
A transformation of your life by the renewing of your mind; becoming someone new, someone different. What St. Paul talks about is conversion, growth in virtue, a commitment to the ways of Christian maturity. And I know that you all know something of what St. Paul is talking about. Each of you has experienced some kind of conversion these last four years at Maryvale. You have. You have grown in virtue. You have grown in the ways of Christian maturity. You are not the person you were when you started at Maryvale four years ago.
But neither are you the person who you will become in Christ. You have work to do. What kind of work? Well, it is hard work, but it is good work, the best kind of work. It is the labor of sacrifice, the work of love. ‘Offer your bodies,’ St. Paul says. ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world,’ St. Paul says. What does he mean? To my mind, St. Paul tells us that it is possible for us to live like Christ. To take every single passion or desire that we have for ourselves in life and to let them die for the sake of someone else. That is a sacrifice; that is the work of love. The renewal of mind that St. Paul talks about, what he means is that in our lives we can think and live and love like Christ. We can let our own desires go, we can set our passions to the side, and we can sacrifice our lives for the people around us. St. Paul calls that kind of life ‘holy,’ a life that is ‘pleasing to God,’ he even calls is a form of ‘true and proper worship.’
I call that kind of life becoming who you really are. Because your life in Christ, the way you are called to perform the work of love, is unlike the life of any other person who has ever lived. St. Paul says that:
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.
The life you are called to live, no one else has ever lived it. And the life you are called to live in Christ will be beautiful, honestly, as beautiful of a reality as you could ever imagine. And the people who love you, the people who have sacrificed of themselves for your good, the people who have labored for your sake these last four years at Maryvale, I promise you that these people who love you cannot wait to see who you are in Christ. I don’t really know any of you, and I cannot wait to see who you are in Christ. Your life is a gift to the Church and to the world, and I cannot wait to see the lives that you will live.
What we are really talking about here is freedom. You can live in freedom, real freedom, and that is what I wish I knew when I was your age. Not the freedom to do whatever you want, chasing after whatever desire happens to be the strongest in you from one moment to the next. That kind of life has nothing to do with freedom. I mean the freedom to live a life that is so deeply good and true and beautiful. For four years now at Maryvale, you have worked toward that kind of life in ways large and small, and now you will need to begin again the work of sacrifice and love and labor. And the upside of that kind of labor and sacrifice is that we become someone new, someone different—really, we become who we are, the person who exists in the mind of God whom we have yet to meet.
The world out there is so broken, so dissatisfied and discontent. Many, many people want to become someone new or someone different. Many, many people say they care about the work of love but cannot find the strength to sacrifice what matters the most to them for the good of other people. And that is why most people have no luck with lasting change, becoming someone new or different. You cannot become a new person by chasing after what you want the most. That is not a strong enough foundation for real conversion or authentic growth. Love demands that what you love the most is love, and love is self-sacrifice for the good of another.
You guys can make those kinds of sacrifices, live those kinds of lives. You really can. I didn’t know that when I was your age. I wish I did. I think I would have found much hope in the very thought that life could be so good and true and beautiful. I think I would have found real consolation in the reality that my life could be different, better, that I could become someone new. And that is what I want you guys to know: You can become someone new, someone different; you can become who you are in Christ.
Homily preached on June 1st, 2023 at Maryvale Preparatory School