Homily for the Graduation Mass of Pope St. John Paul II Prep Class of 2023

Gathering to celebrate the commencement services for the St. John Paul II preparatory school class of 2023, the Church commemorates the Ascension of our Lord. Today, we celebrate that moment when Christ, having already thrown open the gates of heaven through His passion, death, and resurrection, ascended to the right hand of the Father, where, as we will profess in just a few moments, He will come to judge the living and the dead. Just prior to His ascension, today’s gospel reading recounts for us how Jesus commissioned His disciples by commanding them to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them and teaching them to observe all that He has commanded, before promising He would be with them until the end of the age.  

While these words were addressed to the 11 apostles, as Jesus’ final words to them before departing for the right hand of the Father, they can just as easily be given to each of our graduates as the final words from our school as you prepare to depart for the next chapter in your life. For, just as, after spending three years with His apostles, Jesus sent them forth to teach all that He had commanded them, so too, we here at John Paul Prep, having spent these years with you, now send you out into the world to share all that has been taught to you. And lest you need any reminder, all that we have taught you culminates in one concrete goal, to become a saint. After all, “the only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.”[1]

As you prepare to move on to the next chapter in your life, many people will tell you to go out and become successful and while this may not be bad advice, it is incomplete advice, because it fails to properly define what success is. The world is filled with many smart, hardworking and capable people, and look at what that has produced in our society. Our society is suffering. Today, studies show that depression and anxiety are on the rise worldwide.[2] As someone who was raised in a family of overachievers, I certainly sympathize with this. Growing up, I found happiness in my worldly achievements and that desire to be celebrated manifested itself in hard work, yet the harder I worked and the more I achieved, the more unfulfilled and avoid of purpose I found myself. Look, there are too many examples of people who have achieved great worldly success and fleeting happiness but in the end are unfulfilled. At the same time some of the most successful people in history have remained unknown and their stories are yet to be told. Think about it, behind every successful person is there not someone who set them up for success?

Perhaps the best proof of this is St. Joseph. The story told of Joseph is far from complete. In fact, we know very little about him, other than that he took Mary into his home and provided for the Holy Family. What a profound example to be motived by your purpose rather than the spotlight of the world. That my friends is greatness, a simple carpenter called by God to be the protector and provider for the Holy Family, who without much fanfare simply lived out his vocation by providing for the Holy Family and in the process providing for and protecting our Savior, Jesus Christ, and our spiritual mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Perhaps we could say the same about you own parents. I doubt the history books will say anything about your parents, yet day in and day out they have faithfully lived out their vocation striving to help you achieve the goal of sainthood and when God willing you enter the kingdom of Heaven, I have no doubt you will come to understand the indispensable role they played in forming you into a saint.

Friends, “the Lord asks everything of us, and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created. He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence.”[3] As you leave here for your next adventure, the world will show you all kinds of attractive options, but never forget “you do not belong to the world, and I (God) have chosen you out of the world.”[4] You and I are called to be in this world, but not to be of the world. “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire”[5]

The measure of your success here at John Paul II prep has nothing to do with you enrolling in a prestigious college, entering a prestigious career, amassing a big bank account, or even achieving fame. After all, none of this will matter in the end if you are not a saint. Rather than setting you up to have power, achieve fame, or worldly success, we have labored to help you to use your talents to fulfill the potential you were created for, to become a saint.

So today, as we turn the page to a new chapter in our graduates’ lives, each of us has the opportunity to take a look at our own lives and take stock of our mission. The French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery, is claimed to have reminded us “a goal without a plan is just a wish”[6] So what’s the plan? The world has plenty of famous people, plenty of rich people, and plenty of people experiencing worldly success, but what the world today really needs is mystics and saints, men and women who “to believe so profoundly in him (Jesus Christ) as to become for this world the image of Christ.”[7]

As we gather here one last time as the class of 2023 we give thanks to almighty God for your parents and teachers who have sacrificed so much to get you to this point. Personally, I can think of no better thank you, that you could offer them than to be able to point to them when we are all gathered together again in heaven and say, “you helped form me into a saint.” As you walk out the doors today with your diploma, we are sending you forth to teach all that has been commanded of you and the measure of your success will be how you used the blessings you have received here at John Paul Prep, so that your life may culminate with Jesus saying to you “come share your masters joy.”[8]

[1] Léon Bloy, La femme pauvre, Paris, II, 27.

[2] “Depression and Anxiety Are on the Rise Globally,” Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/use-your-brain/202111/depression-and-anxiety-are-the-rise-globally.

[3] Pope Francis, Gaudete et exsultate, apostolic exhortation, Vatican website, March 19, 2018 https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20180319_gaudete-et-exsultate.html par. 1.

[4] John 15:19

[5] St. Catherine of Sienna as quoted by Rowan Williams from the sermon at the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, Westminster Abbey, 29 April 2011

[6] “Antoine de Saint-Exupery Quotes.” Quotes.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2020. <https://www.quotes.net/quote/40255&gt;.

[7] Pope Francis. Wednesday Audience Address of June 21st. Vatican. 2017. Available at https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2017/documents/papa-francesco_20170621_udienza-generale.html

[8] Mt 25:23

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