Fr. Roger J. Landry
Bishop Connolly High School, Fall River, MA
BCHS Baccalaureate Mass
Holy Name Parish, Fall River
Feast of the Visitation, May 31, 2002
Zeph 3:14-18; Is 12:2-6; Lk 1:39-56
1) It’s very fitting that this Baccalaureate Mass for the Class of 2002 is taking place within the context of the Mass in which the Church throughout the world celebrates the Visitation of the Blessed Mother to her cousin Elizabeth. There are many parallels between the events that happened just over 2000 years ago and the events that are occuring for you in these days. And in order to appreciate even more deeply the meaning of the events that are happening to you, we can look at them through the prism of these events in the life of Mary.
2) The motive for Mary’s visitation was a direct result of what had happened in the Annunciation. The Angel Gabriel was sent from God to Nazareth, to a woman betrothed to a man named Joseph of the house of David, and the Virgin’s name was Mary. The Angel Gabriel greeted her, “Rejoice, O Highly Favored Daughter! The Lord is with you.” He told her of what the Lord’s plans were for her, how she would be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and through the power of that Spirit conceive Jesus within. When she asked how this would be physically possible, to become a mother while remaining a virgin, the Angel replied that “Nothing is impossible with God,” and told her that her elderly cousin Elizabeth had conceived a child in her old age. Mary said a trusting and complete “yes” to the Lord’s plan, saying “Let it be done to me according to thy word.”
3) After the Angel had left, she went with haste to visit her elderly cousin Elizabeth who had naturally conceived John the Baptist. Perhaps Mary went in order to care for Elizabeth; perhaps she went because she thought that if there were anyone on earth she might be able to talk to who could believe what was going on inside of her, it would be Elizabeth, who had likewise been singled out by the Lord. Whatever the reason, this teenage girl, Jesus’ and our Mother, went without delay, making a journey of slightly more than one hundred miles to Ein Karim, which is about five miles west of the Old City of Jerusalem. Did anyone accompany her for the minimal 4-5 day hike? We don’t know. But what we do know is that along the way she had to be meditating upon the encounter with Gabriel and the reality within her, a reality that still she could only believe since it would have been far too early for any internal or external physiological signs confirming that she was indeed pregant. But she was absolutely convinced in faith of the reality of the Archangel’s news. Her explosive first words to Elizabeth upon her arrival — which we hear in today’s Gospel, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior”— demonstrating this faith and the joy that comes from saying yes to the Lord. Mary became the first Christian missionary, the first bearer of the Good News that would change all of human history, forming Jesus to be the itinerant preacher he would become even before he had developed the tiniest of feet. And when she greeted Elizabeth, Jesus inside of her sanctified his precursor, John the Baptist, who leapt within the womb of St. Elizabeth.
4) What does all of this have to do with you? A great deal. Let’s start with the greeting. Just like the Angel of God greeted Mary, “Rejoice, O Highly Favored daughter,” so today all of us do the same. Your parents are thrilled to say, “Rejoice, O Highly Favored Daughter!” “Rejoice, O Highly Favored Son.” Your teachers here are say, “Rejoice, O Highly Favored Son and Daughter!” Your grandparents, Godparents, Aunts, Uncles, friends, all of say, say, “Rejoice O Highly Favored Sons and Daughters.” There is great reason to rejoice. We’re all proud of you. You did it. We know that it wasn’t easy and required a great deal of perseverance and grit. And you so obviously are favored, favored with great intelligence and potential. But that’s not the greatest reason for our rejoicing tonight or the greatest reason for you’re being favored. The greatest of both is because God says here “Rejoice, O Highly Favored Daughter!” “O Highly Favored Son!” He, who formed you out of love about 18 years ago, making fruitful the love of your parents, favors you tonight and wants to fill you with his grace. The greatest reason of all for our joy tonight is because of his love. Just as the Angel gave to Mary the deepest cause for her joy, so God says to you tonight, “Rejoice… because the Lord is with you.” The Lord is with you tonight, as he has been with you since the day of your baptism, as he has been with you in each of the major stages you’ve taken in your life, when you received his forgiveness, his body and blood, his Holy Spirit. He remembers well your first day of school, and he rejoices that all of those days leading up to this one have paid off. He who is the Truth in the flesh (with all respect to Paul Pierce’s athletic abilities which hopefully are shining at this very moment at the Fleet Center) was with you trying to bring you to the truth that comes from him in all your classes. He gave you your brain and all your skills so that you might use them to come to know him and to transform the world he gave you as a gift as responsible stewards. And he who has been with you the whole time and is with you now rejoices that you have developed these talents and are taking this great step. But as with the Blessed Mother’s Annunciation, this end is only the beginning. The conclusion of this chapter in the chronicle of your life is the start of another. And so, in this context, we are lead to ask, “What do you do from here?”
5) Well, what did Mary do? As soon as she received these tremendous blessings from God — this young girl who would have been the age of a freshman — she immediately went to take Jesus to others. She took Jesus out to those in need. It’s our hope, it’s our prayer, that you, after the great blessings of Bishop Connolly and, for what was for most of you, 12 years of Catholic education — you will do the same and take Jesus out to others just like she did. The purpose of a Catholic high school like Bishop Connolly, as I have often said, is not just to help you to do well on the SATs so that you might get into college, but rather to help you on the final exam of life so that you might get into heaven. We’ve tried to form not just your heads, but your hearts as well, to come to know God in everything, so that you might come to love him, imitate him, and enter into communion with him forever. We’ve tried to focus on the fact that each one of you, without exception, is loved immeasurably by God, who knew you before he formed you in the womb, and created you with a mission, a special, unique mission which we call a vocation. In the annunciation, God didn’t say to Gabriel, “Find me any old virgin,” but instead sent him to a very specific address, to a very specific person. Likewise, in creating you, he just didn’t say, “Let’s add another to the population of the world,” but created you, with all your various gifts, so that you might be faithful to your mission of first saying yes to God, like Mary did, and then, having received Jesus inside, bringing him to others.
6) And how much God wants you to be faithful to this dual mission! How much the world needs you to be faithful to this mission! Our world today is one that needs Jesus and his Gospel tremendously. Our society is marked by a tremendous amount of violence. When your parents, your teachers and I were growing up, for the most part, the violence was “out there.” It was in other parts of the world. In Europe, in Russia, China, Cuba, Vietnam, the Middle East. During the span in which you’ve grown up, it’s come much closer to home. It’s happening in federal buildings in Oklahoma City, in high schools in Colorado, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. It’s happening to skyscrapers in Manhattan and in the Nation’s Capitol. And that’s just the beginning. As I look out upon you tonight, I’m filled with remorse that at least about 1/3 of the Class of 2002 isn’t even here. About one-third of your classmates throughout the United States of America never made it here, not because they weren’t given the chance to make the grade, but because they weren’t even given the chance to live. Each of you was born when it was perfectly legal for your mother or your father to have exercised a so-called “constitutional right” to do terrible violence and kill you before you even saw light for the first time. In 1984 when most you were born, 1.6 million of your classmates were killed by abortion in America alone, which means on the day you were born over 4000 of your classmates were destroyed in the name of freedom of choice. Your birthdate was September 11 for your classmates. That’s why tonight I’d like to thank your parents for making the choice to let you live. Without that love from the beginning, affirmed thousands of times over the past 18 years, this night would never have been possible. I’d like to encourage you to thank them as well, tonight in words, but in deeds by your life, by making sure that any child you bring into existence, no matter what the circumstances, has the same chance to have a night like this.
7) This is the world that the Lord wants you to take him to. The Lord trusts you enough to entrust you with this mission. You’ve got so many talents that can be used to bring him to others. Whereas Mary 2000 years ago took Jesus over the hills by foot to her cousin, you have so many tremendous opportunities that your Connolly education has helped you to cultivate. You can do it on the web. What a tremendous opportunity the internet is for evangelization, but the Lord is leaving it to your generation to develop that full potential. The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has called on you specifically to make that means an instrument for building up God’s kingdom. The Lord is calling you, just as he called Mary, to a noble adventure with him. He’s calling you to share in his mission of the salvation of the world. As husbands and wives, father and mothers, priests and nuns, as doctors, lawyers, students, teachers, artists, musicians, policemen, politicians, to receive him into your life and to take him to others. Not to be merely idle listeners of the word of God, but those who put it into practice.
8 ) I know these great days are ones in which your eyes are set, above all, on the future. What comes next? How will my Connolly experience affect me as I head on, next year, five years from now, ten, 25, 50? I know you all want to make a difference with your lives, which is one of the reasons we all admire you. I know you all want to seek a happiness, a peace, that no one can take away. All of these great desires were given to you by God and he wants to help you fulfill them. If you want to have that type of life, the type that really makes a tremendous difference and brings you a happiness above all others, than I urge you, tonight, to reflect carefully on the example of Mary. Mary is probably the most famous woman who ever lived and her life is probably the most important human life in human history, because it was her yes to God that made our redemption possible, that made eternal life possible, that gave our life here on earth eternal value. As Mother Teresa used to say, “No Mary, no Jesus!” She doubtless wasn’t the most educated person by human standards. She wasn’t the strongest, or most athletic, or probably even most popular. She wasn’t a sex symbol in her day. But she did what each of you is capable of doing, and this is what made her great. She opened herself up to God’s plans for her, said yes to them, and kept saying yes the rest of her life. As Jesus once said when some woman cried out from the crowd, “Blessed is the womb that bore thee and the breasts that nursed he,” trying to praise her only because of her physical relationship to him, Jesus said, “Blessed, rather, is she who hears the word of God and keeps it.” Mary listened attentively to the word of God in prayer, heard what God was trying to say to her, treasured those words in her heart, and then put them into action in her lives. This each one of us, this each one of you, is capable of doing as well. To be doers of the word, we need to listen, hear, treasure and then put into practice. Prayer and action. Follow her lead, because she always leads us to Jesus. May Jesus one day be able to say of you, as he said of her, “Blessed is he, blessed is she, who hears the word of God and keeps it.”
9) Finally, we celebrate this great event in the context of the Mass, which is another Annuciation. The same Holy Spirit who overshadowed Mary in Nazareth 2000 years ago, will overshadow this altar. The same Jesus who was conceived in her womb will become present among us, just under different appearances. The same Jesus she carried in her womb to others, you will soon carry in your stomachs and in your souls. The Mass is the greatest event in the history of the world, because in the Mass we have the chance to receive God — not a symbol, but God himself. And if you want to come to the eternal Honor Roll, the most important thing you could ever do is to hunger after Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist. If I were to say that on Sunday, Bill Gates were going to be here and he would give out $10 million to anyone who showed up, do you think the Church would be packed? Would you call your friends and let them know, so that they could come to receive the $10 million? Would you be able to get to sleep easily the night before, just thinking about the possibilities? Well, what we receive at Mass is worth so much more than all the money in the history of the world, because we receive God at Mass. This is God’s tremendous gift to you, worth far more than all of your graduation presents combined. Your gift of thanks to God tonight would be to receive his Gift fully, say yes to this gift, and then, like Mary, to take him out to all those you meet, not just tonight, but tomorrow and all of the days that he grants you on earth, so that Jesus, inside of you, may make others, like John the Baptist, leap again.