Working in Campus Ministry, this is always an exciting time of year. This past Thursday we celebrated Commencement for the more than 5,000 graduates of Montclair State University. The build up over the last few weeks with all kinds of celebrations; awards dinners... even seeing graduates taking pictures with friends and family members all around campus - you definitely felt that excitement in the air. But I have to confess that there’s something amazingly bittersweet about this time of year that I never really appreciated when I was the one graduating all those years ago. I don’t know if this is true for everyone else, but it seemed that when I was the one donning the cap and gown, I kept seeing graduation as that finish line and the requirement to help launch into whatever that next big adventure is going to be. In High School I couldn’t wait to go off to college - to have that independence, studying specific things that I was interested in, living in a dorm with peers they’ve never met before and establishing life long friendships. As college was ending, I was excited to be done with papers, exams and talk about moving on to"real life" which for me was going into seminary and to seriously discern and then prepare for priesthood. It seems similar with a lot of the seniors I see graduating now: they are excited about being able to actually do something rather than studying and talking about something. For the most part, graduates are extremely excited about what comes next.
But it’s interesting – for parents - while they have eagerly anticipated this day for their children and are proud and joyful... you can see for some of them the shock of it as they ask themselves "weren’t we just bringing them home from the hospital??? and not quite ready to yield even more freedom and independence to their ‘babies.’ For those of us who work with and have gotten close with the students, it can be pretty jarring too. A couple of years back when students I had met as freshmen or sophomores when I was new as well, and I got to know them and work with them and see them grow from an up close vantage point... well I was kind of shocked by how choked up I got at our Senior Send off Mass. I had never had an experience where a quarter of my congregation would leave each year... and for the kids who were in leadership who I got to work with and spend time with more closely, I was stunned by how hard it hit having to say goodbye to them. There was a selfish, fleeting thought of not wanting them to leave.
Now I’m older and embittered by having been left multiple times – I’ve gotten over that(Hahaha) Joking... I still can catch myself with a lump in my throat at these senior gatherings looking out and seeing some of these kids I’ve gotten close with and realizing I’m not going to see them much anymore or have that same experience of working so closely with them. But that’s a good thing. They aren’t meant to stay at Montclair State forever (which is welcome news to their parents I’m sure) - nor are they to stay as part of Newman Catholic forever. They were created by God for much greater things. He has bigger things in store for them... And I’ve just been blessed with the opportunity to meet them and hopefully help them to appreciate and see how much God loves them and has these amazingly beautiful dreams in mind for each of them.
But if they, and we, get stuck on that - we would forget and miss how each and everyone of us has been created by God to accomplish greater things than we can imagine... Jesus didn’t want the apostles to get stuck on those understandable but self centered thoughts . And so those words from the Last Supper speak of deeper realities that only make sense in hindsight. Jesus being glorified in His Sacrifice on the Cross. Jesus being glorified in His Resurrection from the dead. Jesus being glorified in Ascending into Heaven. Jesus being glorified in the works His apostles and the young Church would accomplish in their own sacrifices, in their own obedince to God’s will. And now Jesus being glorified in us . That as you and I take on the work that God the Father had given Christ to do He is glorified.
We might all be hesitant, resistant to any changes we encounter. Even spiritually. Our faith lives can become a routine, start to form familiar patterns. Yet, Christ encourages us to be open to not simply settling for what’s comfortable, what’s familiar. Jesus expects us to take on the work of compassion, of justice, of reconciliation, of peace. Each of us is called to be Christ in our own time and place to the poor, the suffering, the lost. Each of us has a role to play in realizing Jesus’ dream for His Church: to be a community of salt and light for the world, to be the forgiving father of the prodigal Son, to be humble and eager "foot washers".. as we serve one another. And in the process discover the beauty of witnessing how Jesus’s presence and action has not diminished, but continues to expand and grow, and challenge, and transform us and the world around us in ways we never imagined.