Dream and Dare, Prayer and Work
I was blessed to address the 2016 graduates of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas this past Saturday. Can I share what I said with you?
Praised be Jesus Christ!
Now and forever!
Thank you, everybody, for your gracious invitation and warm welcome. As one who grew up along the Missouri River, and who has heard exhilarating reports about the success of Benedictine College, even back in New York City, I am thrilled to be with you!
What do you say that, for ten minutes or so, we engage in one of humanity’s most popular activities: talking about other people! Our national past time! Talking about other people!
First, I want to talk about you, class of 2016, beloved graduates, now, with the honorary degree I deeply appreciate, my new classmates . . . congratulations! You did it! Four years ago you made a very significant choice: “to call the bluff” offered by contemporary higher education and spend your college years on this bluff overlooking the Missouri River.
You had a dream, class of 2016; you took a dare . . . a dream, a dare similar to that of Lewis and Clark, who camped out on these very bluffs a half-century before Benedictine pioneers founded this college in 1858 . . . a dream, a dare, to entrust your future to a college that believes – – contrary to the reigning ideology – – that faith and reason are hardly foes but allies, that allegiance to Jesus and His Church actually liberates one for greatness and maturity, and is the foundation of the most fascinating and ennobling culture known to humankind, Western Civilization, a culture handed on by what we call the “liberal arts” . . . a dream, a dare, to believe that faith and reason are not just about yesterday, but about today and tomorrow, just as “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.”
This bracing morning, graduates, we all acknowledge that this dream and dare of four years ago was all worth it. Know how much all of us love you, are inspired by you, and congratulate you!
Let’s keep talking about other people! How about your folks, Class of 2016 – – moms and dads, grandparents, families – – Alleluia! The congratulations we offer your sons and daughters goes to you, too!
Let’s talk about Dr. Stephen Minnis, his first-rate faculty and board, his alumni and benefactors; let’s talk about my friend of fifty-two years, who grew-up on the Mississippi, not the Missouri, Archbishop Joseph Nauman, who brags constantly about what he calls this “community of faith and scholarship”; let’s talk about the Benedictines, sons and daughters of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica, whose own perseverance in the dream and dare of their founders to renew culture through Catholic higher education is as game-changing today as it was in the sixth century . . .
Let’s talk about a fellow named Joshua Radick. You know him? Like you, class of 2016, he is a proud alumnus of Benedictine. I met Josh last month in Erbil – – yes, Erbil, in Kurdistan, in that violated and violent corner of Iraq, teaching English to brave Christian refugees who had fled Mosul rather than renounce their faith, refugees your own age who had lost family, homes, careers, possessions – – everything but their faith and that thirst for learning that gives them hope in a terrain blotched by international bullies, bombs and blood.
There is Josh Radick, your fellow alumnus smack-dab in the middle of them. Something happened in Josh’s life that prodded him to sense a “call to greatness,” a call he sensed on this campus . . . as otherwise dispirited youth now bless the college from which he came – – here – – for giving them this source of encouragement. They know of Benedictine in Iraq!
Let’s talk about Michelle, a beautiful twenty-four year old French woman I also met in Erbil. Michelle, like Josh, was volunteering among the refugees, teaching 500 little children in a wonderful makeshift school run by Dominican Sisters. “What do you teach, Michelle?” I asked her. “Reading, spelling, history, science?”
“No, none of those,” she replied. “I teach the children to pray. Every day I take them, class by class for about fifteen minutess, to our little chapel, in front of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. I read a bit of the Bible to them, and we’re silent for awhile. Then I remind the children, who have their eyes closed, that God lives within them, that He knows them so well, that He loves them, that He hears them, that He’s always with them, that He’ll never abandon them, that He wants them to spend eternity with Him.”
“See,” Michelle went on to explain, “these children have lost moms and dads, homes and friends. They’re so scared and alone. If I can just give them a sense of God’s presence and love, that will help them even more than computer skills!”
How Benedictine! As we left Michelle, one of the Dominican Sisters whispered, “When these children came here fourteen months ago, they couldn’t stop crying. Now because of Michelle, they can’t’ stop smiling.”
Michelle and Joshua: Ora et labora! Prayer and work! How Benedictine!
I’m looking out at a sea of Joshuas and Michelles, who have sensed a summons to greatness here at Benedictine, who have learned that reason without faith is dry and sophistic, that reason and faith yoked to love and service can stop barbarians, renew culture, and give hope to refugees.
Let’s talk about another person, Michael Martin. Mr. Martin is your classmate, Liv’s, dad, suffering a terminal illness, whom I had the honor of anointing in the Sacrament of the Sick at Ferrell earlier this morning. Michael Martin could give, I suspect, a much more eloquent commencement address than mine. I have a hunch he’d tell you how wisdom is more important than even knowledge; that faith, family, and friends are more essential than function; that dreams and dare hardly diminish even when sickness and adversity come; that the call to greatness is actually ultimately answered in eternal life.
Finally, let’s talk about a woman whose grotto I visited right before the ceremony, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, our blessed Mother. She never went to college. Yet, the ages call her Sede Sapientiae, the Seat of Wisdom, as she gave Wisdom, the Word, the eternal Son of God, flesh. Her virtues – – listening, reflecting, pondering, wondering, serving, trusting – – are all very “Benedictine.” She is at home here; we are at home with her.
Her fiat; her “be it done unto me according to thy word”; provided a human nature to the Eternal Word.
Let me conclude by asking: are we not called to do the same?
If you respond, yes! dear graduates, “your light will shine in the darkness” as Jesus challenged us, as much as the candles at his grotto illuminate this venerable campus.