Among the many festive occasions being celebrated this month are the graduations of our high-school students in every community of our diocese. I expect that they number in the thousands. And, I know that for them and for all who love them this is a most significant time.
It’s significant for a great number of graduates because their choice of jobs, military service or schooling will take them to other communities. For the first time in most of their lives, they will be away from home for a significant length of time. That circumstance will call them to a new level of self-reliance and, for most, open them to a deeper level of day-to-day responsibility.
There can be much excitement attached to this transition. Most of us enjoy a new challenge; young people at this stage of their lives want to have an experience larger than what life has offered through high school. They want to see new places, make new friends and explore more deeply themes which are of interest to them.
Notwithstanding all of the excitement that attaches to such a moment of transition, the young people with whom I have spoken of such matters are ready to acknowledge a certain level of apprehension about making such a move. Will I be able to make new friends? Or adjust successfully to the new responsibilities that will be mine? How will I find the time and energy to establish new relationships, while preserving those that have been so important to me to date? These are challenging questions to which there is no one set of answers that apply to all.
Rather, it is in their honest efforts to live lovingly and responsibly that our young people will find their way successfully and peacefully into the future.
An even deeper question — I suppose it’s the one which will form their response to all the rest — is what do I want to do with my life? It includes questions such as what values and virtues are most important to me? What are the basic non-negotiable convictions by which I will make the significant decisions? What will bring me a sense of purpose and enduring happiness as I move through the years?
A few weeks ago, we gathered 300 seniors at Sacred Heart Cathedral for a day called the Senior Scene. It had several purposes: to express our affection and respect for these women and men; to indicate that we knew that this was a critical moment in their lives and that, therefore, it was a moment of special importance to us; to encourage them to connect with the faith community wherever they choose to go — people with whom they could share their journey and from whom they could receive support.
On that day with our seniors, I shared with them some of my recollections of my life when I was just a few weeks from high-school graduation. I knew that I was going to the College of the Holy Cross and that I had some rather unfocused orientations to law, education and the priesthood. Beyond that, the future was a blank to me.
Fifty-two years later — almost 45 of which have been spent in the priesthood — I look back with great gratitude to the year and a half I spent at Holy Cross. It was a critically important time for me because in that relatively brief period, I decided that I wanted to test out what had become, over time, a growing sense that God might be calling me to the priesthood.
There was nothing dramatic about the slow, gradual process that led to that decision. It had more to do with a steady, quiet attraction to that vocation, with the peace I enjoyed when thinking and praying about it, with the encouragement of mentors and friends with whom I shared what was happening in my life.
Some of my contemporaries knew earlier what they wanted to do with their lives and set a clear course to achieve their goals. Others were slower, more tentative in making such decisions.
Whatever the pace or timing of our decisions, what seems most important to me — for us then and for today’s seniors — is that we all understand that God calls every one of us to use our unique gifts in such a way that we glorify God, serve our neighbor and come to the full maturity in Christ for which we were made.
Some good guides or signs in the process are: a desire for or attraction to the vocation we are considering, a sense of peace and joy when we consider it, and an affirmation from mentors and friends that they recognize in us the gifts we need to go further.
Please join me in prayer through the month for our seniors and their futures. And, if you have an opportunity to encourage any of them personally, please do so.
Peace to all.