Endings & Beginnings

Homily for the Final Mass of the Semester

This seems like a season of goodbyes. I’m not just referring to the fact that many of you will soon graduate and move on to bigger and better things. Many of you know that a short while ago that priest that baptized me and brought me into the Church, my pastor when I was a student here in the 90’s, passed away. Then last week my father-in-law, who was such a model for me of humility, charity and virtue, also unexpectedly passed. And now a lot of you are graduating and leaving me. I have a lot of people to miss!

“Don’t be such a sad-sack, Deacon Matt! Why are you bringing us down?” Well, I don’t mean to, really. But this is how life is. If you’ve read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (or even seen the Muppet movie), there is a line Bob Cratchet says about life being full of meetings and partings. And that’s true. Life has many meetings and partings, beginnings and endings. And the end of one thing is always the beginning of another. A school year ends and another one begins. We call graduation “commencement” which means “beginning.” It’s the start of something new. 

And that can be both exciting and scary for us, because we don’t know what that something new will be. There are probably some of you about to graduate who have no idea what you’ll be doing after college. You’re still trying to figure that out, and that’s okay. It’s okay to not be certain. God will take care of you. Many of you, I know, have a good idea of the next step. Some of you have jobs lined up already, or you are looking forward to marriage and family life. But even if you have it all planned out, the truth is that you still don’t really know what the future has in store. None of us do. That’s why we are called to trust in God and not ourselves. Only God knows the whole course of our life and what he has planned for us. 

Lest I neglect those who are not graduating, this is an end and a beginning for you, as well. Even though you may be coming back to the same school in the fall and studying the same thing, participating in the same campus ministry, it will be different. Many of your friends that you love and rely on will be gone. There will be new faces, new friendships, new struggles and new triumphs in the coming year. 

Life is full of beginnings and endings. Amidst all this change, what can we hold on to? What can be our sure foundation, our rock, our refuge and our stronghold? What can we really have faith in that we know will never change and never fail us?

Our Lord Jesus comes to us today and says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me” (Jn 14:1). Do you hear that? Whatever may be weighing on your heart right now, whatever uncertainty you have about the future, our Lord is speaking to you: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. I am here. I am with you. Have faith in me.” 

We don’t celebrate the Ascension for another couple of weeks, so I won’t get to celebrate that feast with you; but before Jesus ascended into heaven he told the Apostles, “I will not leave you orphans” (Jn 14:18), and “I will be with you always until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).  St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom 8:39). This is our constant, this is our hope, and this is our salvation. 

I don’t remember exactly what I preached to you at the opening Mass of this year, but I’m sure it was something like this: God loves you. You are made in God’s image. He made you for a purpose, and He loves you. This is who you are, this is your true identity, this is who you were made to be, a beloved son or daughter of the Father and a member of the Body of His Son, Jesus Christ. Whether you’ve been part of our campus ministry for four years (or longer) or just part of a semester, that’s what I want you to take away with you. If you’ve truly heard and received those words then I’ve done my job.

Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places… I go to prepare a place for you, [and] I will come back and take you to myself” (Jn 14:2-3). You may be uncertain about your life, but Jesus is not. He knows where you are going; or where he intends you to go, if you don’t wander off like a lost sheep. And even if you do, what does Jesus tell us about the lost sheep? The Good Shepherd will seek that sheep out and bring it back into the fold. 

God has a place prepared for you in heaven. He certainly has a place prepared for you on earth. He created you because he has a place for you in His heart, a heart He reveals to the world in Jesus Christ. 

So what does this mean for life after college? And I’m not just talking to those about to graduate here, but to all of you, because none of you will be college students forever (God, I hope not; that would be some purgatory). Most of us, after college, plan to enter into some sort of work. For many of you that’s why you are earning your degree. You want to be a nurse, or a teacher, or an accountant, or engineer. Or maybe, like I said, you are still trying to figure that part out. Some of you are looking forward to marriage and becoming husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. Some of you are still trying to figure that part out, too. 

But regardless of where life takes you or the particular vocation that you have, Jesus has a job for you. St. John Henry Newman, the patron saint of campus ministry, has a beautiful meditation that I will paraphrase.

God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission — I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes… I have a part of His great work, a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place if I keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling. Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. God does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers — still He knows what He is about. 

St. John Henry Newman

Jesus says in our gospel today, “Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these” (Jn 14:12). So regardless of your career or state in life, if you are a Christian you are to do the works of Jesus. And what are those works? (If you are one to take notes during the homily, get out your pen).

You will feed the hungry. You will clothe the naked. You will visit the sick. You will comfort those who mourn. You will console those who suffer. You will instruct the ignorant. You will forgive others. You will seek out the lost. You will set captives free. You will worship God in spirit and in truth. You will suffer injustice with patience and charity. You will die and be buried. You will rise from the dead. And you will reign forever in God’s kingdom as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation (cf. 1 Pt 2:9). 

This is the good news of Jesus Christ and this is the purpose and meaning of our lives. If you ignore this then you will have nothing, even if you become the richest CEO or the most powerful politician in the world. If you remember this and heed these words, keeping them close to your heart, then regardless of what life throws at you, you will have everything, because you will have Christ.

This is what matters. This is who we are. We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song. So congratulations to our graduates, blessings upon you all during your exams, and Happy Easter, everyone. Christ is Risen, Alleluia!