Graduation from high school is a “rite of passage,” an event shared with your high school classmates here and throughout the United States. The phrase “rite of passage” simply means “a ceremony that marks the transition from one stage of life to another.” And that is certainly true for you.
For you, this “rite of passage” is something that couldn’t arrive fast enough during your high school years. You thought graduation would never come. And here it is … and here you are.
For your parents, this “rite of passage” is a bittersweet moment of recognition and pride that their young daughters and sons have grown up, their lives will start to take a whole new direction from this point on. But they are still and always will be your daughters and sons. You will always need each other. Never forget that!
For your teachers, this is a time of achievement: they have successfully mentored another group of students through adolescence to a celebration of academic accomplishment. They join the proud ranks of your school’s great alumni.
In the Diocese of Trenton, the celebration of this “rite of passage” begins the same way in each of our Catholic high schools: with the Eucharist, the “source and summit of the Christian life (Lumen Gentium, 11)” and the Church’s most important prayer. I celebrate at many of these “Baccalaureate Masses” as my schedule permits, not as a commencement speaker, but as the Bishop preaching God’s Word to our graduates and those who love you. I bring you messages from God.
God’s first message for you as you leave your familiar surroundings is simply this: “Have faith” … always approach your uncertain future with faith in the God who created you and loves you as you are. The Prophet Jeremiah states: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart (Jeremiah 1: 5).” Think about that reality for a moment. And then remember the words of the Lord Jesus as he ascended to his Father: “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of time (Matthew 28: 20).” You are never alone. God is with you always. Have faith in his Word.
God’s second message to you is this: “Have hope.” Hope is confidence and trust that God “has your back.” Again, the Prophet Jeremiah presents God’s reminder: “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your good and not for despair, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29: 11).” Remember the Gospel story of the Apostles in the boat on a stormy sea. Jesus said to them, “Take courage, I am here. Do not be afraid (Mark 6: 50).” In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “In the world you will have troubles but take courage – don’t be afraid – I have overcome the world (John 16: 33).” Have hope.
And God’s third message to you tonight is: “Have love.” The whole of Jesus’ life was one of love and mercy, freely given, no strings attached, unconditional. Remember that. Over and over again, Jesus asks us to “love one another” because “God is love … whoever abides in love, abides in God and God in him (1 John 4: 16).” Abide, live your lives in him, in love. Have love.
God’s Word to you, graduates, is simple. What he says to you, he also says to everyone who surrounds you in this happy time, no matter where their life has been or where your life will lead. God’s three messages to you are an invitation, an encouragement, a challenge, a comfort, a goal presented “special delivery” through Christ Jesus, Our Lord. You are graduating from Catholic school but not from your Catholic religion. Bring it with you wherever you go.
Congratulations to the 2018 graduating classes of the Diocese of Trenton and to your parents and grandparents, your families and your teachers. As your Bishop, I want to say one more thing, again with God’s Word, to bring it all together through St. Paul: “There are three things that last forever – faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13: 13).” May this message stay with you!