Chesterton Academy Graduation Homily 2022

Homily for the Baccalaureate Mass
Chesterton Academy of the Holy Family
26 May 2022 – Ss. Peter and Paul, Naperville


Dear Mr. and Mrs. Bowles; Ms. Jurado and Mr. Janeiro; my esteemed colleagues and friends, the faculty; to you, dear family and friends of our graduates; and to you, children, brothers and sisters in Jesus, the honored Chesterton Academy Class of 2022: 

Four years ago, a wonderful adventure began. An adventure of grace, an adventure with truly cosmic implications, an adventure that has the potential to impact untold numbers of lives and hearts for generations to come. 

No, I’m not talking about you. 

On this day, May 26th, four years ago, I was ordained a priest. 

There is a moment in the Rite of Ordination when the man about to be ordained kneels before the bishop, who asks him: “Do you promise obedience to me and my successors?” And the man, if he knows what’s good for him, responds: “I do.” The bishop replies with a marvelous formula taken from Paul’s letter to the Philippians (1:6): “May God who has begun this good work in you bring it to fulfillment.” 

These are the words I wish to leave with you tonight. This formula sums up not only what I believe is happening to you, and I pray that you will continue to cultivate a sense of wonder at the privilege of being a Christian and of being alive in this world over which God remains the sovereign power; but these words are also the perfect expression of my very deepest and most sincere wish for your lives; that this sovereign God would continue to bring to fulfillment in you his wonderful design, and that as your grow and mature you would begin to see falling into place the fulfillment of the Father’s dream for your life. 

When I heard God calling me to the priesthood, almost 12 years ago at Midnight Mass in this very church, I had no idea how things would unfold. One of the last homework assignments I did during my time as a student across the street at North Central College was for a gen-Ed speech class. I don’t remember what the topic was, but I remember giving a speech about Johnny Cash’s rendition of Tom Paxton’s great song, “Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound.” 

It’s a long and a dusty road, a hot and a heavy load
and the folks I meet ain’t always kind;

Some are bad, some are good,
some have done the best they could
And some have tried to ease my troubled mind. 

And I can’t help but wonder where I’m bound, where I’m bound
Can’t help but wonder where I’m bound. 

It’s crazy to me that when I first felt the desire to be a teacher, I was in junior high, and none of you was even born. 

It’s crazy to me that when I went away to seminary, Chesterton Academy didn’t even exist. 

It’s crazy to me that one split-second decision is what kept me from being sent to Rome two years ago to study Liturgy and work in the diocesan Chancery, and I got assigned as part-time chaplain at Chesterton while living 40 minutes away and with two other parish assignments. 

It’s crazy to me that I got sent back to Naperville as a priest, and was finally able to spend more time at school, and was asked (as a kind of experiment) to try teaching senior theology. 

It’s crazy to me that I’ll get to be at school full time next year and can combine my two greatest loves of priestly ministry and teaching.

I’ve been wandering through this land, just doing the best I can
Trying to find what I was meant to do.

And the people that I see look as worried as can be
And it looks like they are wandering, too.

And I can’t but wonder where I’m bound, where I’m bound,
Can’t help but wonder where I’m bound. 

And as I look out at you, and think about all that we’ve been through together this year, I know I speak for all those at Chesterton responsible for your formation and instruction when I say that I look upon you with joy tonight, and am filled with gratitude just for the pleasure of being here, of having been given the chance to know you and watch you figure out what God has always known and what we have come to learn: that each of you is good, so deeply good, and filled with grace and truth. 

In the grand scheme of things, you will find that high school will seem like a little blip on the radar of your lives; if anyone tells you that “the best four years of your lives” are now over, run – do not walk – run from that person and their puny worldview, for they lack the zest of the life.

I know that in these years at Chesterton, each of you has felt at one time or another completely splendid; untouchable, indestructible, immortal. I know, also, that at one time or another each of you has felt the opposite of splendid – sordid, maybe – and that, for most, the bulk of your time was spent somewhere in between. Part of a healthy self-conception is the knowledge (and acceptance) that none of us are ever completely one or the other.

Fulton Sheen famously said that the devil knows our name but calls us by our sin, and God knows our sin but calls us by our name. God sees our sinfulness, that much is certain. He sees also our shortcomings, our imperfections, our doubts and questions, and he hears each silent cry of our hearts. He knows who you are, he knows in what font you have been washed, by what spirit you have been reborn, and by whose blood you have been redeemed; and he knows who, ultimately, even in your weaknesses, you desire to love and to serve. 

Your parents, I’m sure, can offer a unique testimony to this kind of love. At one and the same time they can be mad at you for not cleaning the bathroom, for leaving your socks on the floor, for leaving your shoes strewn about, for not filling up the car with gas, or even for an act of disobedience or disrespect…and at the same time they can stand in your doorway while you sleep and be grateful for you, for your life and existence, for the gift you have been and are and will be for them; for the joy that it is to know you.

You are moving from this place. Thank God. No really, thank God. It would be wrong for you stay even one moment longer than the appointed time. This place, we pray, has done for you what it was designed to do: not to make you perfect, not to make you complete in holiness, and not even to make you amazingly smart.

The simple of mission of this place is to give you a time and a place and a community where you can be introduced to the most Sacred Mysteries of all, that you might become acutely more aware that life is worth living, and that there is so much beauty in being human, and that this beauty will help you learn to seek the good; and that, as I have said so many times, you would move from choosing the good because you are afraid of the consequences of being bad to choosing good because you love what is good. “May you love what is good and become what you love.” 

If you see me passing by and you sit and you wonder why
And you wish that you were rambling too
Nail your shoes to the kitchen floor, lace ‘em up and bar the door,
Thank your stars for the roof that’s over you.

And I can’t help but wonder where I’m bound, where I’m bound
Can’t help but wonder where I’m bound.

No one can blame you for being excited about being done at Chesterton. In fact, it makes it easier since we wouldn’t let you stay even if you wanted to. But pay close attention to where you see yourself going and what you see yourself doing. The plan I had for my priesthood when I moved into the Cathedral on June 20th, 2018 has been dead and changed since June 21st, 2018. 

My mom always says, “Bloom where you’re planted, and let yourself be where you are.” When you get to college or work or ordination or final vows or wherever you’re going, and you feel yourself drifting out of the present moment into where you’d rather be, or would like to be, or perhaps thinking that what did happen coulda/shoulda/woulda been different, please do yourself a favor and knock that off.

Rather, give yourself over to looking for what is good, here and now. Remember that basic lesson from the beginning of our time together that reality is always positive because it is where God is found. And where God is found is where truth will be, where beauty will be, where goodness will be. 

Amen, amen I say to you: you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve but your grief will become joy. Because where God is, where his vision of the cosmos is coming to fruition, even if the factors and circumstances are not favorable, there is still easily accessible joy.

For our part – your chaplain, and teachers, and parents, and friends – for our part, we look at you tonight and we say: thank you. Thank you for sharing yourselves with us. Thank you for listening to us, and for correcting us, and for being joyful with us, and for keeping us accountable. Thank you for sharing yourselves with us and opening yourselves to what we had to give you. 

I was planning to stop my homily here, and just end by reading you Oh, the Places You’ll Go! in its entirety, but I think I’ll just stop and give you the only real advice I know: 

Go further up, go further in. Deeper and deeper into the mystery. Learn about yourselves, learn about God, learn about creation; plant a garden, watch the sunset, and move somewhere you can see the stars. Eat a cream puff every now and then, drink black coffee, buy a Volkswagen, and eat bananas…as many as you can. Ask questions and listen carefully to the answers. Make sure there’s one person on earth (besides God) who knows absolutely everything there is to know about you, and then learn to rejoice in the great joy of being completely known and still being chosen. 

Then go – be spouses and parents, become priests and nuns; live your lives as doctors and lawyers or musicians or teachers or bakers or, or whatever. Go further up and further in, and learn to engage the mystery. 

Because I think when we engage the mystery, we learn to see everything differently; we learn to see things a bit more in the way that God sees them…and suddenly, slowly at first then all at once, everything becomes splendid. Even the things we thought before were sordid and bad.

Dear Class of 2022, even though we had many experiences together like the disciples had in the Gospel today, where you looked at each other in class and said, “We do not know what he means.” You gave me a chance, and have helped me to grow as a Christian man, and being able to know you and teach you is a singular joy for which I am so grateful as I celebrate these four years as a priest. 

Let me sum up every good wish and prayer that all of us – teachers, staff, parents, family, fellow students and friends – have come to express; and likewise, in sincerity and humility, it is the same thing that I would ask you to pray for me:

May God who has begun this good work in us bring it to fulfillment. 

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