Baccalaureate Mass Homily
Dec. 15, 2012
Church of the Gesu, Milwaukee
I had a framework for this homily in my mind for a little while now. But then, the tragedy of yesterday happened in Connecticut, at a school, no less. 20 children killed, and six educators. It stopped all the world in our tracks. We, at Marquette, we all know what a school should be and what it should not be, because we know the great work, day in and day out of the faculty at Marquette. Most days at Marquette, and hopefully in all other schools, we educate. We innovate. We collaborate. We celebrate more life. More life.
Yesterday's awful day shakes us at our heart's core. It can, if you let it, force us to focus on what matters most – what matters most here at Marquette and beyond. Against the darkness, the most dismal backgrounds, we try to find a still, certain point, in a world that swirls around us, suggesting that all coherence is gone.
But despite tragedy, and despite the world's gritty realities, at Marquette, we cling to the conviction that God has been, and God always will, come into the world with good news for God's people. Yesterday might tempt us to believe that evil has the last word. But here at Marquette, huddled in this church tonight, we say "no" to that temptation.
Instead, together at Marquette, we organize the world for ourselves differently. Or at least we organize our understanding of it differently. We reflect it, refract it, criticize it, grieve over its savagery, and then help each other to discern, amidst the gathering dark paths of resistance, pockets of peace and places from whence hope may be plausibly expected, from such a network of souls, us here at Marquette, human life springs.
That's what the prophet Zephaniah is so convicted about in tonight's first reading. He wants to console a troubled and downtrodden tribe of Israelites. This is a people who have lived through a world of trouble, and he has to actually tell them to shout for joy. Shout for joy, even when your circumstances all indicate otherwise. Shout for joy. Why, you must legitimately respond? Because, the prophet reminds us — we cling to the dearest hope that God can be found in our midst.
That is Marquette's most cherished assertion. God can be found in our midst, and in all things. God can be found in all things. That is an audacious assertion, when you think about it. But it is the first principle and foundation upon which a Jesuit education has been built and grounded. God can be found in our midst.
Your days and works here have hopefully born that out. Tonight, tomorrow, in the days ahead, look back at your Marquette experience and marvel at how God has been revealed to you. In the love of your first, best teachers – your parents, your families. In the friends who found a place in your lives here. Faculty who form the life of the mind, service that shapes the contours of your heart, your world. Those are Marquette experiences that will forever transform your soul.
St. Paul gets at this, too, in our second reading. Twice, he exhorts us to look up and rejoice because of the presence of the Lord in our world and in our lives. There will be moments when that presence requires diligence to discover, to appreciate. But it's work for which you have been well-prepared at Marquette.
So on the eve of your graduation, in the midst of yesterday's tragedy, you might well share the question that was asked of John the Baptist — "What should we do?" "What should we do?" John essentially tells them what Marquette has been telling you: Be faithful to the circumstance of your life. Be attentive to the movements of your heart. Neglect nothing of your humanity. Be assured that the Lord is as near as the next moment, and whatever it brings. God bless you. God bless Catholic and Jesuit education, and God bless Marquette.