HOMILY FOR UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME AUSTRALIA GRADUATION MASS
St. Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, 5 April 2022
Old guys like me tend to ask younger people the same question. Not: do you prefer the Marvel universe or DC? Not: what’s your favourite team / fast food / dating app? Not: what’s your university, Netflix or Stan? Not even: what’s your religion, Apple or Android? No, the question we oldies regularly put is: what would you like to be when you grow up? It’s a lamer version of the big question on all your minds today: what will I do with my life?
Some view education just as a means to an end: the provision and consumption of educational services for the benefit of manufacturer and customer; or as a step toward a career and a higher income; or as preparation for being a more effective cog in the wheels of economy and society. Some of that helps explain why you’d put yourselves through all you have these past few years, pandemic lockdowns and all, and why others would support you in doing so. Yet your UNDA years have hopefully been about more than this…
Who we want to be when we grow up is surely tied to the kind of beings we are: rational, free, loving, with the potential to be heroes, to be saints. The second-century Greek bishop of Lyon France, Irenaeus, was a great leader, teacher, martyr and saint. Long regarded as one of the Church’s greatest thinkers, Pope Francis recently conferred a doctorate on him, declaring him the 37th ‘Doctor of the Church’. The most quoted of Irenaeus’ sayings is that “The glory of God is the human being fully alive.”[i] Fullness of life is, in the end, what Christian life is all about: “I came,” as Jesus said, “that you might have life, life to the full” (Jn 10:10). One way to think of fullness of life is in terms of striving. To be fully alive is to strive to cultivate every dimension of our humanity, so we become more true and good and beautiful. To be our best selves we must nourish our intellects. Knowledge is good in itself; it feeds mind and soul; it is good for us, good for humanity whether or not it has immediate application or is valued by employers, politicians or the media!
Of course, knowledge also has its uses. What you’ve learned at Notre Dame will bear fruit in some of you in midwifing babies into this world; others educating those little ones as teachers; some of you may pursue justice in the legal world; others contemplate truth in the life of a philosopher, theologian, priest, even doctor of the Church; some may even hold up the winged caduceous or rod of Asclepius or brazen serpent of Moses as in our first reading (Num 21:4-9), the symbol of medicine, sharing the gift of healing as doctors, nurses or physios. However these fruits may manifest themselves, what is clear is that they are for sharing with others: “No one lights a lamp just to hide it under a bucket,” says Jesus (Lk 8:16; Mt 5:15; Mk 4:21).
For the academic achievements we celebrate tonight and tomorrow, of which you are justly proud, are not yours only. The thinking upon which you drew is the accumulated research and thought of many others down the centuries. Others established your excellent university and its many facilities, or provided your Commonwealth supported place or student loan, or actually taught you or supported you through your degree: however much came from within you, much also came from outsiders. Even when you felt most alone, typing your assignments on your computer late at night, or during Zoom lessons when you were the only one in your flat, or during exams when everything seemed to depend on you—even then, there was an entire academic community around you, and behind it, a society, a Church and a tradition that value such things and enabled your education to happen.
Some of you may be wondering how you got through it all! Doubtless you worked hard. Doubtless others helped in all the ways I mentioned. But thankfully you had another community of support backing you and the university: a great communion of saints which our university calls upon as heavenly tutors for its students. There was St Albert the Great, patron saint of science, who is remembered above all because he had such a clever student in Thomas Aquinas; Albert was there helping you discover your own genius. St Thomas himself, most brilliant of all doctors of the Church, was praying for your mind to understand and your memory to be retentive. St Frances de Sales, patron saint of writers, was there to get you through your writers’ block and help you find the right phrase. St Expeditus, patron of procrastinators, was beside you when you had a thousand excuses to neglect your studies. Sts Ursula, Mary MacKillop, Ignatius and so many others, who devoted themselves and their orders to the education of the young, were concerned to see you got the best education. St Joseph Cupertino, who was a rather mediocre student himself, was there calming your nerves and telling you that you would be fine and that there are things that matter more than academic assessments anyway. All those times the Zoom link wouldn’t work or the computer had frozen and you feared you’d lost all your work, there was St Isidore of Seville, patron of technology, doing his best to intervene with the IT. And when it all seemed too much, there were St Jude and St Philomena, patron saints of lost causes, picking you up, brushing off the dust, and getting your ready to start again!
There were lots of others, also, because the generations that went before you still care about your welfare and the Church of today is an extended family that cares about your happiness in this life and your eternal happiness in the next. And if all these tutors weren’t enough, watching over you through it all was Our Lady, Notre Dame, the Seat of Wisdom and Mother of God, who with the greatest tenderness, was imploring wisdom for you from her divine Son. What all these saints wanted for you, what this university wanted for you, was what Irenaeus explained God wants for you: “the human being fully alive.”
There was a second half in fact to what Irenaeus said, that’s too often ignored. “The glory of God is the human being fully alive,” he said, “and the glory of the human person is the vision of God.” Dear graduands, graduation is a time to celebrate your hard work and achievements; a time to be grateful to those who helped to get you there; and a time to consider how best to apply all you’ve learnt in the future. It’s a time to ask where God fits into your plans or, better, where you fit into God’s. By God’s grace you were given a mind and heart, imagination and memory, a body and a stretch of life, talents to do good and freedom to choose it.
Some here tonight are believers, some non-believers, and many still searching. But we all care deeply for the world and each other. We want to do our bit to make our communities more just, compassionate and peaceful. We want to be beacons of hope, idealism and care. We want to demonstrate that love that Jesus demonstrated when, like Moses and Asclepius’ serpent, He was raised up on the tree of salvation (Jn 8:21-30). Success for us will not be measured just in salaries achieved or wealth accumulated, in gadgets or experiences. No, as we grow up, we seek a happiness that comes from commitment to some higher things and a willingness to give ourselves to them. We seek, dare I say, to be human beings fully alive and enjoying the vision of God.
Congratulations, Class of 2022.
[i] Irenaeus, Adversus haereses, IV, 20, no.7.
INTRODUCTION TO UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME AUSTRALIA GRADUATION MASS
Welcome to St. Mary’s Cathedral for the celebration of our annual Graduation Mass for the University of Notre Dame Australia. I acknowledge concelebrating with me Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney and Liaison for Tertiary Education, Most Rev. Richard Umbers; Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney, Most Rev. Terrence Brady; Sydney Campus Chaplain Rev. Fr Reginald Chua OP; with Rev. Frs Brian Cook and Anthony Crook. I also welcome the Chancellor of the University Hon. Chris Ellison; Vice Chancellor Prof. Francis Campbell; Pro Vice Chancellor People and Culture, Jane Street; Chief of Staff and Principal Legal Counsel, Charbel Haddad; Associate Provost, Samantha Jonsson; Chief Property and Facilities Officer, Steven Dickson; Deans and Professors, Executive, Academic and General staff; Distinguished Guests, Donors and Benefactors, Affiliates and Friends of the University from the Church, academy, judiciary, health or business. Above all, I welcome our graduands, their family members and friends: to you all a very warm welcome!