Fr. Roger J. Landry
Mater Ecclesiae College Commencement Address
Mater Ecclesiae College, Greenville, RI
May 30, 2015
To listen to an audio recording of this commencement address, please click below:
The following text guided the address:
Your Excellency, Bishop Louis Gelineau, My Brother Priests and Deacons, President Kingsland, Dean Camarero, Distinguished Faculty Members, Formators and Staff, Dear Soon to be Graduates of the Class of 2015, Family Members, Alumnae and Friends…
A New Beginning
There’s a good reason why we call College graduations “commencements,” because we’re focused far more on what’s beginning than what’s ending, on the future instead of the past or even the present. We’re here today in celebration because something beautiful and important is commencing. More than an exclamation point punctuating an end, it is meant to be the opening line of a new chapter in an exciting drama, not just the vague “first day of the rest of your life,” but a mission, a mission given by Christ. It’s not a radical beginning, but one in continuity with the great preparation you have received. Nevertheless it is a real commencement, with all the excitement and the occasional human anxiety that a new stage in life brings with it.
Mater Ecclesiae “University”
In one sense you’ll be leaving Mater Ecclesiae College and joining the ranks of so many other integrae mulieres who have gone before you, who are already doing great things for Christ’s kingdom and whose example has inspired you. But in another sense all you’re doing is changing physical campuses. The reason is because the whole Church is a School of Mary. Every Catholic formational institute, every apostolic work, every parish setting, every Domus Mariae or house of consecrated women, is meant in some way to find its identity in a relationship with Mary as Mother of the Church.
We think of the various other famous campuses of Mater Ecclesiae College. The first was a one-room vocational school in ancient Nazareth. The second was outside the city gates of Jerusalem as a beloved disciple, representing all much-loved students, was admitted into the school with a full scholarship paid that day by the school’s Founder. A third campus was held in an upper room in Jerusalem that had unforgettable commencement exercises full of strong driving wind and tongues of fire. Each of us attended another from the first days of our life in an alma mater ecclesiae that also doubled as a domestic church and we give a special thanks to the professors of love and wisdom who were our tutors, particularly those who are here today. And we know from here each of you, soon to be graduates, just as those before you, along with your dedicated faculty members and so many others who studied and taught here, are going to be moving to other Mater Ecclesiae campuses all across the global university Jesus himself chartered in his valedictory address when he said “Go and teach all nations.”
The Mater Ecclesiae curriculum, certainly on this campus and everywhere, has always sought to form whole person humanly, intellectually, spiritually and apostolically. The aim here has been to help you to become an integra mulier in the image of the integra mulier God the Father chose to be the mother of his Son and that Son from the Cross chose to be our mother: a fully-formed woman, a woman with integrity, a woman who’s all there, a woman who, as St. John Paul II famously stated, is a “feminine genius,” not necessarily in terms of IQ but one with a nurturing heart that has grown eyes and ears, eyes that look with love and ears that listen with compassion. We give thanks to God, as well as to the Mother of the Church, for all the growth that has taken place in you here and in the other campuses of Mary’s school since the beginning. We also ask the Mother of the Church in a special way, as you enter into the special form of graduate school you’re about to commence and head toward your respective missions, to help you to become her capable teaching assistants aiding other women and men, girls and boys, grow up to be whole as well.
Thanks for this Mater Ecclesiae
It’s also fitting during these commencement exercises to give thanks for all the blessings God through Mary’s intercession has given through this particular institution of Mater Ecclesiae here in Rhode Island, both in Wakefield and in Greenville, over the last 24 years. We know, as St. Paul teaches us, that only three things ultimately remain, faith, hope and the greatest of all, love. While in Church history there have been many Mater Ecclesiae institutions, apostolates, schools, parishes, even whole dioceses that have served Christ’s kingdom gloriously and fulfilled their missions, the faith, hope and love that gave them their most essential character and greatest fruit endures long after their earthly purposes have ended. Qohelet in the Book Ecclesiastes has told us that there is a season for everything under heaven, a time to build and take down, a time to laugh and weep, a time, we could say, to found and a time to close, but we know that the Lord remains the God of history, and Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Just as the God permitted the sufferings of the early Church so that Gospel might be proclaimed in the diaspora and just as the Holy Spirit prevented Paul and Silas from proclaiming the Gospel in Asia and Bithynia precisely in order to open up the doors of the Gospel to Macedonia and Europe, so God is permitting this campus to turn off its lights in order to make possible other satellite campuses where the lights can be turned for the integral formation necessary for the full flourishing of the baptismal consecration and the “more intimate form of consecration” that characterizes the consecrated life can occur under Mary’s tutelage.
The Year of Consecrated Life
There’s something truly historic about these commencement exercises. They are taking place in the first Year of Consecrated Life in the history of the Church. An ecclesiastical holy year is meant to have an influence on everything that the Church does during that jubilee, from the way it marks the major liturgical seasons, celebrates baptisms, weddings, funerals, ordinations and professions, to the way people are helped to pray and sanctify their daily work, to just about everything that the Church is and does. The Year of Consecrated Life is meant to provide a particular focus to all Church institutions and in a special all Catholic educational settings. For an institution like Mater Ecclesiae, which is so focused on helping young women to live out their consecration according to the example of Mary, the Year of Consecrated Life has particular resonance.
Right before this holy year began last November, Pope Francis published a letter to the consecrated men and women of the world, pouring out his heart about the graces he hoped the Church would receive from this holy observance. The words he wrote there are particularly significant, I think, for these commencement exercises taking place within the context of the Year of Consecrated Life. He said that the Year has a three-fold aim: to look to the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion, and to embrace the future with hope. We can receive a rich orientation for what’s happening today from those three perspectives.
Thanks for the Past
We, first, look to the past with gratitude. We thank God for all the talents he’s given you, especially the gift of your Catholic faith and the desire he’s given you to live it to the full, to nourish that mustard seed and let it grow into a tree in which so many others are already able to find refuge. We give thanks for your parents and grandparents, for your godparents and teachers, for your siblings and friends, and all who have played a very important role helping you to get to this day. Me gustaría decir unas palabras especiales de agradecimiento en nombre de Dios y de la Iglesia a los miembros de sus familias por todo lo que han hecho para nutrir y estimular los dones de la fe, de la intelligencia, y de carácter en ustedes, para prepararles en la Mater Ecclesiae de sus hogares para tener hambre y beneficiarse de todo lo que ustedes han recibido aquí. Cuando miramos hacia el pasado con gratitud, queridos familiares de nuestras graduadas, ellas y nosotros miramos con agradecimiento especial para ustedes. We also thank all those who formed you here at Mater Ecclesiae, passing on as of the first importance what they themselves received, not just in the classroom, but in the halls, in the dining room, in the chapel, on the sports fields, in the grotto, on apostolic assignments and elsewhere. The School of Mary features this type of grateful memory for all that the Almighty has done for us in our lowliness that makes our spirits rejoice and souls magnify him.
Pope Francis wrote in his letter to the consecrated men and women of the world, “Recounting our history is essential for preserving our identity, for strengthening our unity as a family and our common sense of belonging. More than an exercise in archaeology or the cultivation of mere nostalgia, it calls for following in the footsteps of past generations in order to grasp the high ideals, and the vision and values that inspired them. … In this way we come to see how the charism has been lived over the years, the creativity it has sparked, the difficulties it encountered and the concrete ways those difficulties were surmounted.” He adds, poignantly, “We may also encounter cases of inconsistency, the result of human weakness and even at times a neglect of some essential aspects of the charism. Yet,” he stresses, “everything proves instructive and, taken as a whole, acts as a summons to conversion. To tell our story is to praise God and to thank him for all his gifts.” That’s the first thing we do today.
Passion for the Present
Pope Francis also summons us to look to the present with passion. The commencement, the beginning, we are celebrating is something God wants us to do with passion: with inflamed hearts, ardent minds and tongues of fire. One of the things that has distinguished Mater Ecclesiae in all its campuses across the centuries, but something that has marked this campus over the last quarter of a century, is preparing women to live the Catholic faith with the zeal with which it deserves to be lived. The very word “student” means someone who is impassioned, fervent, eager and we rejoice to see that avidity in each of you, something that stands out all the more in contrast to the indifference that mark so many today. The School of Mary, Mother of the Church, is one that prepares us with passion to go with haste to bring Christ to others, just as Mary did in the Mystery of the Visitation that we heard in the Commencement Mass earlier this morning and that the Church marks tomorrow, so that Jesus may make everyone from seniors exult and infants in the womb rejoice. We thank God that you’ve been formed here in a hearth, a fireplace, filling you with a desire to light the world ablaze.
In his letter to launch the Year of Consecrated Life, Pope Francis wrote about living the present with passion that “the Year of Consecrated Life challenges us to examine our fidelity to the mission entrusted to us. … Do we have … passion for our people, are we close to them to the point of sharing in their joys and sorrows, thus truly understanding their needs and helping to respond to them?,” he asks. Then he clarifies that to live present time with ardor means to live it with others. “Living the present with passion,” he says, “means becoming ‘experts in communion,’ ‘witnesses and architects of the ‘plan for unity’ which is the crowning point of human history in God’s design.’ In a polarized society, where different cultures experience difficulty in living alongside one another, where the powerless encounter oppression, where inequality abounds, we are called to offer a concrete model of community that, by acknowledging the dignity of each person and sharing our respective gifts, makes it possible to live as brothers and sisters.”
Pope Francis is calling you, graduates, and all of us in a particular way to express our passion in the way we live out communion with him, with our companions, and with all those we seek to bring into communion with God and us Christ’s kingdom is one in which we, like the members of the Mater Ecclesiae campus in the early Church, seek to have all things in common, to pray together, to eat together, to make pilgrimages together, to sacrifice for each other — and to do so passionately. It’s a kingdom in which we take loving responsibility for each other, recognize we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, and cross the hallway or the road to sacrifice for those in need. To live the present with passion means, in essence, to live community life with passion, to recognize that individual straws aflame eventually burn out but when they burn together they become a bonfire that can last. We know what Jesus prayed for more than anything else on Holy Thursday night. When he should have been distracted by the sufferings he would undergo later that night and on the morrow, he was praying to the Father, begging three times that we would be one, that we would have a communion among us that resembles the communion among the Three Persons in the one God. People are supposed to see that Trinitarian communion glimpsed in the way you treat each other, by the way consecrated women live together in every Domus Mariae. To live out the consecrated life well, to live out our baptismal consecration well, is to live it ardently with a love that brings us into ever greater communion with God and others. That’s something that you have been formed to do here and the whole Church is grateful that you’re being sent out as “experts in communion.”
A Hope-Filled Future
The third element Pope Francis mentions is to look to the future with hope. Because of all God has done in the past throughout salvation history, because all of life is a Litany like Psalm 136 of all God has accomplished because his mercy endures forever, because the Father sent his Son to be God-with-us and Father and Son sent us the Holy Spirit to be our helper and guide, because of all these things and more, we have every reason to approach the future with hope. To live with hope, as Pope Benedict told us in his beautiful 2008 encyclical Saved in Hope, is to live with God in the world. In the School of Mary, Mater Ecclesiae and Mater Spei, we learn how to grow and live with hope constantly under the shadow of the Holy Spirit. It’s this hope that gives us confident assurance and the proof of what we cannot yet see. Especially in an age in which so many are living without the great hope that comes from God, when many in the Church in the West are tempted to think that the Church’s best days are behind her, when Catholics can begin to feel overwhelmed before so many lost and wounded sheep, when they sense they’re woefully ill-furnished with only a few loaves and fish before a vast multitude starving for God, it’s all the more important that Catholics live with the hope that cannot disappoint. That’s what the Pope is hoping all consecrated men and women, all Christians, can give to the world.
Pope Francis wrote in his letter, that the hope with which we’re called to live “is not based on statistics or accomplishments,” it’s not based on “numbers and efficiency,” or endowments and material means, “but on the One in whom we have put our trust (cf. 2 Tim 1:2), the One for whom ‘nothing is impossible’ (Lk 1:37). This is the hope that does not disappoint; it is the hope that enables consecrated life to keep writing its great history well into the future.” It’s especially important for you, dear soon-to-be graduates, to recognize that in your youth you embody this hope for the future, in the Church as a whole and in the movement of Regnum Christi in particular. The Pope wants you to share the natural and supernatural hope that accompanies your youthful creativity, enthusiasm and excitement, offering “all the freshness and generosity of your ‘yes.’” He urges you to engage in an active “dialogue of gifts” with those who have come before you, being enriched by their “experiences and wisdom while at the same time inspiring them by your own energy and enthusiasm,” so that you may help them to “recapture their original idealism” and first love. In this way, he says, taking from the storehouse old and new, “the entire community can join in finding new ways of living the Gospel and responding more effectively to the need for witness and proclamation.”
The school of Mary, Mother of the Church, is precisely a school of hope, a hope that wasn’t extinguished even when darkness fell across the land, earthquakes shattered rocks, opened graves and tore temple veils, and when the Light of the World seemed to have been extinguished. Yet Mary knew that unless a grain falls to the ground and dies it remains just a grain, that to save lives we needed to lose them, so she never lost hope — and we know how abundantly that hope was rewarded. She is the great teacher of that hope, a virtue with which all her consecrated daughters, all the alumnae of her school, are called to specialize in summa cum laude.
We remember well what happened when after three years of formation and a final novena of spiritual exercises, the graduates of the Mater Ecclesiae campus of the Upper Room left to face the same people who had conspired to execute Jesus, the same mobs who had cried out for his crucifixion and for Barabbas to be released to them. Rather than being drenched with dread, they were filled with hope, and we know that that hope is never thwarted. Pope Francis is calling the alumnae of the class of 2015 to leave this Marian Academy with the same hope in what God can and still does accomplish.
Your New Mission
As you commence the mission for which Mater Ecclesiae has prepared you, you are doing so within the context of the missionary metamorphosis of the Church, the New Evangelization, the Holy Spirit has inspired Pope Francis and all his predecessors since the Second Vatican Council to summon. How important it is for the entire Church to see enfleshed in you what Pope Francis called the Joy of the Gospel. It is here at Mater Ecclesiae that you did more than study that apostolic exhortation, but you were formed to proclaim it with your words and your life.
You are being sent out as joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of goodness and the beauty of a life of fidelity. You are the ones whom the Church is asking to manifest that the Christian faith is a gift before it is a demand. You are the ones who are meant to show the world, as Pope Francis wrote so eloquently, that “it is not the same thing to [know] Jesus as not to have known him, not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly, not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it, and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship him, to find our peace in him, as not to. It is not the same thing to try to build the world with his Gospel as to try to do so by our own lights. We know well that with Jesus life becomes richer and that with him it is easier to find meaning in everything” (EG 266). You are the ones who are called to incarnate the kerygma, announcing by your own life that you know that “Jesus Christ loves you, he gave his life to save you, and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.”
By what you have received in the various Mater Ecclesiae campuses of your life, and especially here, you have been formed to love and recognized how loved you are by the blessed Fruit of Mary’s womb, that you have received the “treasure of a life and love that cannot deceive, a message that cannot mislead or disappoint,” which ennobles and is never out of date. Your mission is simply to give witness to this love, to speak of this Beloved, to make him known, so that others may enter into the great stream of joy which is the Gospel.
By your poverty, you will show the joy that comes from finding your true wealth in God’s kingdom. By your chastity, you will show the joy of loving others in the same self-giving, unselfish way with which Christ loves us. By your obedience, you will show the joy of true freedom, which comes from listening to and following God all the way to eternal happiness. By the evangelical counsels and your entire lifestyle, you are to reveal the face of the poor, chaste and obedience Christ, the Answer to the deepest questions people have and the Savior of the world.
Pope Francis has said that, in short, consecrated men and women are called to “wake up the world” and show that there is a better, more radical and joy-filled way of thinking, acting and living — in other words, a more Christ-like way of life — than most in the Church and in the world have adopted and many in the world no longer think possible. You are those alarm clocks ringing to remind people that Christ is with us in time and wants to awaken us to eternity.
Recapitulating the Crucial Elements of the First Evangelization
In this joy-filled but challenging work of the new evangelization, I would urge you to remember what made the first evangelization, launched from the Jerusalem campus of Mater Ecclesiae, so successful, and always to keep this in mind.
The first element was the Holy Spirit, whom Mary, the Mother of the Church, helped the apostles and disciples to get ready to receive and to respond to wholeheartedly. Mary was always overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and she taught the early Christians how to be similarly docile, to cooperate with his gifts, to show his fruit, to discern the manifestation of the common good he had given them, and to invest that talent for the building up of the Church. You are leaving here with that same gift of the Holy Spirit. Let him continue to be your helper and guide, let him continue to remind you of all that Jesus taught and to lead you into all truth, so that you might help lead the world to discover that that truth has a Name.
The second element concerns how the ancient world was converted by the members of the early Church led by the Holy Spirit. Yes, it had to do with the words that the Apostles proclaimed, as we see in St. Peter on Pentecost and St. Paul throughout his missionary journeys. Yes, it had to do with some of the signs, the miracles, that God worked through them.
But it happened fundamentally because of two reasons.
The first was Christian charity. They had a communion among themselves that was unlike any communion the ancients had ever seen. They had a love for each other that others recognized they wanted. Never forget, as I mentioned earlier, that the most important way you will proclaim the joy of the Gospel is the way you live it in your communities, the love you have for your fellow consecrated women, the time you spend with each other and with the Lord. That is your most important apostolic work and long-term the biggest contribution you will make to the new evangelization.
The second way the ancient world was evangelized was through martyrdom, through the witness that Christ was worth living for and dying for. The blood of Christians is the seed of the Church, Tertullian told us 1800 years ago, and that is still the case. The graduates of Mater Ecclesiae Jerusalem left with a holy parrhesia, a boldness, a courage inspired by the Holy Spirit that couldn’t be intimidated, and it was that sane confidence in God, that joy even in the midst of suffering, that was worth thousands of powerful, kerygmatic homilies.
You’re being sent out from Mater Ecclesiae at a time in which many of our Christian brothers and sisters are being slain for the faith in Iraq, in Syria, in Nigeria, in Kenya, in China and many other places. You’re being sent out at a time in which, even here in the United States, some will consider you anti-woman just because you hold to Jesus’ teachings about the dignity of every human life, anti-American because you recognize Christ in immigrants and want them to be welcomed with love, bigots just because you hold to the truth Christ has revealed about marriage as a union of one man and one woman, and hopelessly naïve because you proclaim peace rather than belligerence.
Don’t be afraid. The same God who evangelized through the bold witness of the members of the early Church will be with you, and it is through your fidelity to the Lord when it costs, your own martyria, that others will learn about the priceless pearl that you’ve given your life to obtain.
In the School of Mary, the great advice given by Mary in her valedictory address at the Mater Ecclesiae campus in Cana ever reverberates. Mary continually points to her Son, our sole Master, and says, “Do whatever he tells you!”
Our prayer, dear graduates of the Class of 2015, is that you will follow that sage, maternal advice, find the joy that comes in doing so, and help so many others to discover that same happiness so that they enter the kingdom to which that joy points here in this world and set out firmly to the place where that kingdom and that joy will know no end.
Mater Ecclesiae et mater nostra, ora pro nobis et praecipue his consacratis tuis, nunc et semper. Amen!