Bishop Kevin’s homily at Mass on Graduation Day for students of St Angela’s College, Sligo

Bishop Kevin’s homily at Mass on the day of graduation for students of St Angela’s College, Sligo

4th November 2016, St John’s Church, Carraroe

The word “graduation”, as you probably know, comes from the word “step”. Today you take an important step forward when you receive your degree. This will be reflected symbolically when you step up on the stage where we can all see you and congratulate you. Taking any step forward has to be looked at as part of a journey and it is worth reflecting briefly all the other steps that brought you to this point on your journey:

  • Your own commitment (dragging yourself out of bed in the mornings to get to lectures, more or less on time)
  • The support of your friends
  • The sacrifices made by your parents
  • The hard work done by your teachers in primary and secondary school as well as your lecturers in St Angela’s
  • God’s gift to you of life, with all its possibilities, for which we give thanks today

Today is not just about looking backwards with gratitude; it is about look ahead and exploring the various roads that are open to you. Many of you are already employed or following post-graduate courses. Thankfully, from an economic point-of-view, things have improved a bit in the past couple of years. But the future is not just about what you will do to earn a crust; it is about who you will become and how you will use your gifts in the service of others. I think that is partly what the prophet Jeremiah means when he talks about “standing at the crossroads” and “looking around you, “to see what road served you well in the past”.

If you think about the first landing on the moon, you will probably be familiar with the comment that this was “one small step for man; one giant leap for humanity”. On a scale of things, your graduation may not appear to have the global implications of a moon landing but, on the other hand, why should we not think in terms of the gifts that you can bring to humanity, which are the fruit of who you are and of the education that you have received. Like Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth, you too have received the Holy Spirit and you too have been entrusted, at your Baptism, with a mission.

Speaking to over two million young people in Krakow this Summer, Pope Francis said:

At times in our lives, we aim lower rather than higher. At those times, it is good to realize that God remains faithful, even obstinate, in his love for us. The fact is, he loves us even more than we love ourselves. He believes in us even more than we believe in ourselves. He is always “cheering us on”; he is our biggest fan.

He encouraged those listening to him to avoid what he described as a kind of paralysis that comes from being too preoccupied with questions of security.

I like to describe it”, he said “as the paralysis that comes from confusing happiness with a sofa. In other words, to think that in order to be happy all we need is a good sofa.  A sofa that makes us feel comfortable, calm, safe….  “Sofa-happiness”!  That is probably the most harmful and insidious form of paralysis, which can cause the greatest harm to young people.  He encouraged young adults not to be “couch-potatoes”.

My friends, Jesus is the Lord of risk, he is the Lord of the eternal “more”…..  Following Jesus demands a good dose of courage, a readiness to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes and to set out on new and uncharted paths.  To blaze trails that open up new horizons capable of spreading joy, the joy that is born of God’s love…….. To take the path of the “craziness” of our God, who teaches us to encounter him in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the friend in trouble, the prisoner, the refugee and the migrant, and our neighbours who feel abandoned.  The God who encourages us to devise an economy marked by greater solidarity than the one we have.  In all the settings in which you find yourselves, God’s love invites you bring the Good News, making of your own lives a gift to him and to others.  This means being courageous, this means being free!

Speaking of solidarity, I am aware that some of you have just recently embarked on a career in teaching. In these days, our thoughts are with teachers who are engaged in an industrial dispute which most of them don’t want; and students who look like having more days off school than they can really afford, especially those doing important exams. These have been difficult years for everybody in our society and it is understandable that many people feel that they have been treated badly. Please God a way forward will be found soon.

Unfortunately, however, the message is going around that, if you have the capacity to exercise economic or social muscle, then you are more likely to get what you want. If that is the way things work, then those with no economic muscle or social influence, always lose out. An essential element of solidarity is dialogue and the recognition that the goods of the earth were intended by God for all to share. We need to return to some model of social partnership, even if we choose to call it something else and I hope that all of you, whatever your chosen path, can be part of a world where people listen to one another rather than simply trying to shout louder.