Fr. Richard Frechette, C.P., D.O.
Saint Vincent College
Saturday, May 12, 2012
Congratulations are most assuredly in order, to you graduates of Saint Vincent College, Class of 2012, for your hard efforts and achievement today, a day of great joy! And we offer double thanks to your families, especially your moms, those living and those gone before us, on this beautiful Mother’s Day weekend!
At the same time, today is a new beginning for you in your life’s journey, and those of us who are proud of you want to also prepare you for the courses you will now take in the school of life. I hope you will see the importance of having a double major: in faith and in humanity.
Deep inside of each of you a journey is being traced. The journey is a dance with many partners: You, God, the deep molding life does to you, and the wonderful mystery of goodness, and the insidious presence of evil.
The movements of this dance bring choices to you. Your ongoing choices shape your destiny. Your life story has very deep dimensions, alternating between comedy and tragedy. Tragedy in the sense of critical suffering and the danger suffering brings, comedy in the sense of the ability to heal, resolve, and unify, and grow, in other words, the opportunity the suffering brings.
Comedy fills us with hope and courage, with dreams and song, and speaks joyously of our Provident God. Tragedy devastates us, makes us confused and cynical. Some of us never get up again. Tragedy turns harmonious song into discordant lament, and mocks that God has abandoned us.
The real art of living in faith is about how to deal with tragedy in life. If we manage this wrong, tragedy will seed self-disdain and blame, false voices within us will lead us to deny what we know, what we feel, and what we are. This inner betrayal leads us to dulling and destructive behavior, destroying ourselves and all the good that might be real through us, making us, although sill alive, stillborn to the vibrancy and vitality that could mark our lives. Lost in this darkness, toxic to ourselves and to those around us, unable to see another light. Not even knowing we are in the dark, we become victims and servants of a culture of death, spawned by the denial of God.
Our rich and practical Catholic tradition, reinforced for you here by the illustrious Saint Vincent College community, offers much support to you for this journey. She offers medicines, balms, and nourishment for well being your soul as you walk a difficult path through a world that tries to uproot and deny the soul, a world that sees you basically as a cost center, a world which will devalue you fast and even unto death if your productivity and economic value declines, if you don’t literally measure up against the gold standard of money and power.
In the developed world we are weakened by our trance with technology, by our fascination with many material things, and the illusions that they generate. We have abandoned our spiritual powers, the art of faith living that is our heritage in favor of our powers to count, measure, weigh, stock and dominate, and place cash value even on tragedy.
As consumers ever consuming, we are also ever digesting: half asleep, life blood shifted from our brains and hearts to our guts. Tired and sleepy, we lie down and watch someone else live false lives on TV and in movies. Long have we forgotten how to quiet the mind, still the heart, and silence the endless images and sounds, that swarm us, so we can heal ourselves and be healed by the Lord of the soul who shares with us the power of resurrection from deepest realms within us.
Ironically, in our developed countries of plenty, there seems to be much more a tendency to get lost in this inner darkness. Having everything we need, we want even more, and in fact accumulate an inner emptiness that leads to a boredom with life, dysfunctional families and social disorders, including high prevalence of suicide even in the very young, and widespread addiction and depression.
And yet, for the people in countries of great poverty, there seems to remain a remarkable gusto, a joy of living, a determination to work through every problem and sadness, to strive for fullness of inner life, inner and outer, even in the face of abject poverty.
It doesn’t make poverty a good to be sought. It highlights our Lord’s words: how difficult for the jaded and the satisfied to enter the kingdom of heaven.
In Haiti, where I have worked for 25 years, I can attest to the great witness the Haitian people give to the strength and power of the human spirit. Imagine a people that has suffered relentless tragedy for centuries: the ancient scourges of violence, ignorance, sickness and poverty. Brutal repression. And in recent years, two enormous twin tragedies of earthquake and cholera. During those terrible days, driving at night with relief supplies through a city of rubble that fell on the heads of the poor, leaving them without home, and because of the massive numbers of dead, without wives or husbands, children or friends, and leaving many without limbs: those drives through the city at night gave witness to songs in the night.
A broken and battered people, singing. By the thousands. By the tens of thousands. Melodious laments that can only be born of faith, rich hymns begging for help and final victory from God that can only be born of hope, tender songs of praise of God that can only be born of love.
The people of Haiti have shown time and time again that when you have lost everything but faith, hope and love, you still have everything.
Just three weeks ago in Port au Prince, a young man came to see me with injuries that keep him twisted and limping. His name is Lucien. More than two years ago, when the earthquake struck, he was downtown in the poor, rented room of his brother playing cards. An old, tall hotel next to their lodging tumbled on them and crushed them. For three days, Lucien lay trapped and crushed next to his dead brother. Weak and listless, and when rescuers broke through on the third day, both Lucien and his brother were taken for dead and thrown on top of the mile long piles of corpses near the fallen general hospital.
Unable to speak, unable to signal for help, too weak to gesture, unable to stand or walk because of his many fractures, as the bulldozers and backhoes approached to deliver the dead to the massive common graves, Lucien realized that if he did not act he would be buried alive with his brother, with multitudes of his brothers and sisters. With an equally massive desire to live, he kicked up his multi-fractured leg into the air and caught the attention of the heavy equipment operators, and was pulled from the piles of the dead and dragged to the realm of the half-dead, to the tents of the Red Cross workers. When he had casts and medicines and nourishment, he fled the city for two years to hide and grieve and pray. Just now, he has the courage to come back, to risk another building falling on him, to face the destroyed street that took his brother, in order to try to heal more fully, to aim by deep instinct toward fullness of life. This is the deepest possible appreciation of the gift of life, the deepest possible witness of desire to live in spite of unbelievable tragedy.
What art of living do the Haitian people know? By what power did the overwhelming tragedy of Lucien’s life exponentially multiply his love for life and willingness to fight against all odds?
The art is not a secret. It is just refused. The power is not unknown, it is just ridiculed and denied. To great peril.
It is the secret that by God’s grace, we can become perfected, rather than destroyed, by suffering. It is the power of the risen Christ, present in any heart that will make room for Him.
It is the deep inner faith that bends the floodwaters of tragedy into life-giving rivers of life. It is what can make any ordinary person great, even heroic. It is what can help us get up over and over again, stronger and more determined. It is resurrection, the hidden power of the soul, gift of the Risen Lord.
As graduates of Saint Vincent College and beneficiaries of the ancient Benedictine tradition, let your brilliant, sharp and well-trained minds be now set at the service of these truths. Do not seek truth only with your mind but with your inner heart and your deep gut. Your heart and gut speak their truths, and will correct errors of the mind. They will never allow you to rationalize God and all good things out of your life, and out of society.
The holy word, the sacraments that bestow grace, the advice and prayers of good people throughout the ages, our own good friendships will sustain us inwardly.
Our goal is not to retreat from the world, but, to the contrary, to enter into the world fully prepared. The world which teems with its own comedies and tragedies. The world full of its own false voices and lures to destruction. The world which also offers its true lights. The world of which Christ’s will is that not even ONE be lost. The world which itself is, as St. Paul says, aching and groaning for salvation.
You march into this world today, a world which needs you badly. With the power from your heart of faith you will beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. You will bring hope where there was despair, light where there was darkness. You will drive out darkness and lies with the light of your love, enkindled by God’s grace. You will work tirelessly with many of us to rid the world of injustice, of degrading poverty, of war.
So you thought you were done? Sorry! You are just beginning!
Let the young graduates of 2012 from colleges and universities across the world unite in this task. Rise up to this great task, you graduates of Saint Vincent College! May you be bright stars in a dark sky, and may your individual lights gather over the years ahead into one great light, the light of a new dawn, ushering in a deeply human day, where God’s Gospel of life prevails and God is glorified forever.
Congratulations! Much courage! And may God bless you, Class of 2012 Saint Vincent College!