The following is the text of the homily Deacon Pat Hessel of Holy Trinity Parish delivered to the St. Peter the Apostle Catholic High School Class of 2019 on Saturday, June 2, 2019:
Many cultures around the world have initiation rites for men and women. An initiation rite is sometimes called a rite of passage: a ritual that people go through that marks a change in their status in society. Initiation rites are usually linked to reproductive maturity, representing the movement from childhood or adolescence to adulthood.
Those being initiated are sometimes challenged physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The challenges are not necessarily meant to test the abilities of the person. Rather, the whole initiation process is a quest of self-discovery. The initiates are forced to discover who they really are. They often face very dangerous situations. One of the purposes is to show them that, in some circumstances, they are powerless. So, while the initiation occurs at a time in their lives when they will become increasingly powerful members of their society, they have this experience of powerlessness, in hopes that the wisdom that comes from this experience will prevent them from abusing the power that will come to them.
The initiation rite ushers them into a new position in their society. Some of our aboriginal groups in Canada still have initiation rites, but for the most part we don’t have this experience. And no, that wild beer-bash on your 18th birthday doesn’t count as an initiation rite! In our society, I think today – graduation day – is the closest we have to a rite of initiation. As a graduate, you will be viewed differently by society. But will you view yourselves differently? Do you see this as a milestone? Does this change anything?
In your retreat, Mike Landry used the image of a blank canvas, suggesting that your life to this point has been about shaping the frame and stretching the canvas – getting things ready. And the rest of your life will be about creating a work of art on that blank canvas. It’s a wonderful image, and it does make your graduation look a lot like an initiation rite. In an important way, your life can change, but that’s up to you. Today could be the start of an amazing new journey, or just another day.
As I said, one of the things that happens in an initiation rite is that the initiates, through the challenges they endure, discover who they really are. So, for you, that means questions like: “Who am I apart from the expectations of my parents – my teachers?” And as you take more control over your life, you ask: “What things are important for me? How will I fill that blank canvas – the canvas I’ve prepared with the help of so many people? Am I really ready to grow up yet, to take responsibility for myself?”
I don’t pretend to be an artist (it was my worst class in school), but often, the artist begins a painting by laying out the background for that painting. The background then, anchors the painting. And I think it’s important – actually critical – that you consider carefully, what will be the background – the anchor of the work of art that will be your life. For some people, their main purpose or goal is the accumulation of money, for others, the accumulation of things, or a successful career. For some, it’s marriage and family. You can understand that whatever forms the background of your painting – whatever anchors your life – will have a profound effect on your decisions, your actions – the course your life will take.
In the first reading today, Saint Paul told the Ephesians: “I pray that according to the riches of [God’s] glory, [God] may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through [the] Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts…as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” So, for Paul, the background – the anchor – was love. He described it as: “…the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge.”
And Jesus said something similar in the Gospel that we just heard: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” When we hear the words: “abide in my love,” we can, again, envision the painting that is our life set against this background of love. And then, the primary motivation of our life is that, as Jesus said: “…you love one another as I have loved you.” And he said that he wanted us to base our lives on love, in his words: “…so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” Doing this, loving one another as Jesus loved us, doesn’t get in the way of career or family, or material comforts. It simply anchors all of these parts of our lives to the love of God.
I think it’s important that each of you considers where God, and the love of God, fits into the work of art that will be your life. Will God be the background – the anchor, the touchstone? Will your decisions and actions always refer back to Jesus’ words: “…love one another as I have loved you?” Or will God show up in your painting only intermittently, like when you get married, if you do get married: “Got to do that in church.” Or when your children, if you eventually have them, need to be baptized: “Got to do that in church.” Or when your loved ones pass from this world to the next: “Got to do that in church.”
Do you see what I’m asking? How will God appear in your picture? Will God be the anchor of your artwork, or just a minor detail here and there, or not at all?” I hope that for each of you, “not at all” is not an option, but increasingly the world seems quite happy proceeding without even acknowledging the love of God – even the existence of God. But, you know, whether we understand it or not, God IS the anchor for all of our lives. The real question is whether and to what extent we realize it, and how that realization affects us each day. You’ve all attended Catholic school for a number of years. You cannot be ignorant about the message of Jesus – the message of love. The question is what you will do with that knowledge.
Elsewhere in Saint Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, he says: “Let us, then, be children no longer, carried about by every wind of doctrine…Rather, let us profess the truth in love, and grow into the full maturity of Christ the head…Through him the whole body grows, and…builds itself up in love.”
Today can be just another day for you, or it can be the beginning of a new and intentional way of living in the world; intentionally showing to yourself and others the love that God has shown you, and will continue to show you. Your canvas is waiting. You are the artist. Create a true work of art – a work of art anchored in God’s love.