There is another world to sing in if we remain faithful

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An O’Gorman High School student receives Holy Communion from Bishop Swain

Publisher’s note: Below is an edited version of my homily preached at the O’Gorman High School Graduation Mass on May 20. I pray it offers some perspective and encouragement for all who are facing transitions.

At another graduation one person in attendance could not understand what the main speaker had said and asked “what did he say.” The reply was “I think he said ‘school’s over’”. That may be all that you hear tonight. While it is true that school at O’Gorman is finished yet before you a less regimented beautiful school awaits, the school of life as an adult. A new freedom will now be yours. God gifted you and us all with free will. With freedom comes opportunity, temptations and responsibility.

What will you take with you as you ‘change schools’?

One gift I pray you will take with you is the virtue of hope. In your new school of life whatever its dimension I pray you draw on the hope in Jesus Christ that you were introduced to these last years. As you reflect on your time at O’Gorman please recognize that it is in hope for each of you that so many have made this night possible. Education itself is a gift of hope.

All those who have taught and supported you have done so because they care about you…The teachers and staff, the benefactors and families did not have to support you yet they did because they have hope for you and see hope in you. Be grateful for them and seek to live up to the hopes they have for you whatever your vocation or occupation.

Peter in the second reading (1Pt 3:15-18) urges us to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping a clear conscience.” That is a charge to share our joy in Christ while respecting the dignity of all persons from conception through natural death.

In the Gospel reading (Jn 14:15-21), Jesus reminds us of the reason for our hope: His love and mercy. “I will not leave you orphaned,” Jesus promised. “Love one another as I have loved you.” What is that love? It is not the schmaltzy love based only on feelings that come and go. It is not even the admirable love of friendship that changes with time and circumstance. It is the love the crucifix so powerfully depicts. It is a love that is selfless and sacrificial and sees beyond the moment or personal preference or advantage. We can be hopeful because we know that God created us and that our destiny is to return to him and be one with him for all eternity. In anticipation of that goal we prepare ourselves by how we live our lives, how we carry our crosses and how we recognize others as brothers and sisters, as part of our family in Christ.

One measure of how we live His love might be how we use ever changing communications technology. Does it isolate us from one another or does it empower us to be the hands of God within our human family? Everywhere we go these days we see almost everyone including me looking down onto cellphones and other devices. That is fine as long as we also take time to look around at others in need of sacrificial love and look up to God the Father who is our creator, God the Son who is our friend and God the Holy Spirit who is our guide and consolation.

Over the last years there have been movies about being home alone and the opportunity to take advantage of freedom from constraints, often with surface joy that does not last. The fact is that there are many who are alone and lonely, aching for someone to assure them that they are worthy, that they have value, that they are cared about and cared for when necessary. That is the virtue of hope you can share from your experience in our Catholic schools.

I remember when especially in rural areas a simple telephone with a party line in every home was a great advancement. One feature in that ancient time was what was called “information.” A person could pick up the phone and talk with a live operator without being put on hold or greeted by a computer voice.

One day a young boy was home alone and playing around he hit his finger with a hammer. He cried out in pain but no one was there to hear him. So he climbed on a stool, picked up the phone receiver and asked for information. A friendly voice answered “how can I help you?” “I hurt my finger,” he cried out as tears fell. “Isn’t your mother home?” “Nobody’s home but me.” “Are you bleeding?” “No, I hit it with a hammer and it hurts.” “Can you open the icebox?” “Yes.” “Take a little piece of ice and hold it to your finger. Don’t cry. You’ll be all right.”

After that he felt welcomed and called information for all kinds of things – help with school work, what to feed a chipmunk. One day the family canary died. He called information and told the operator the sad story. “Why is it,” he asked, “that a bird should sing so beautifully and bring joy only to end up as a heap of feathers feet up on the bottom of a cage.” The operator responded gently, “young man, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in.”

The boy grew up and moved away. One day on a lark he called his hometown and asked for information. The familiar voice answered. He asked, “Could you tell me please how to spell the word ‘fix’?” There was a pause as she recognized the voice and responded, “I trust that your finger must be healed by now.” He said, “I wonder if you know how much you meant to me as I was growing up.” “I wonder,” she answered, “if you know how much you meant to me. I never had any children and I used to look forward to your calls. Silly, wasn’t it?” They never had actually met so he asked if he could visit her when he next returned to this hometown. “Please do so,” she said, “just ask for Sally.”

When he came home he asked for Sally. A strange voice answered. “Are you a friend?” “Yes, an old friend” and told his name. “I’m sorry to tell you that Sally died a few weeks ago. But she left a message for you. Here it is: ‘tell him I still say there are other worlds to sing in. He’ll know what I mean.’”

There are folks who have played that role of mentor and consoler for you. Thank them and pray for them. It is also a role you now can assume for others, to be a sign of hope and a messenger of God’s love.

Because of the selfless and sacrificial love of our Lord, amidst the tragedies and wonderment of our day, we know that there is another world to sing in if we remain faithful. In your new school of life, share that Good News and always be open to wherever God leads you, the ultimate mentor and consoler.

Bishop Swain's Column, June 2017