‘You are ready for the rest of this life and life eternal’
EDITOR’S NOTE: College President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. ’80 gave the following homily at the Commencement Mass on Saturday, May 17.
This evening’s gospel is the beginning of that part of John’s gospel known as Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. It is after the Last Supper and just before Jesus’ passion and death. It is Jesus’s last chance to try to teach his disciples the deepest meaning of his life’s work and impending death. What I would like you to believe is that this farewell discourse is also for you as you prepare to say farewell to Providence College. It is Jesus’s last chance to teach you something deep about the meaning of your time here with Him.
Most of the farewell discourse is lecture in format, but in the beginning it is interrupted by two questions from disciples which betray that they have not yet grasped the deeper meaning. It is providential that they ask these questions because they represent the ways in which many of Jesus’ later disciples—that is us—can fail to understand the teaching of Christ. And in both cases what Jesus does is remind them of what they already know but do not yet clearly grasp. That is what a good teacher does: helps us as a student to see better what is somehow known but not yet clearly grasped or articulated. Let us look at the questions and the answers.
Thomas: We do not know where you are going—how can we know the way? I am going to return to the first part in the end, but I want to start with the most pressing question for you as you leave college: “What is the way?” for you going forward. Where are you going? We did not offer you a life map telling you where you are going. No such thing exists. But pay attention to Jesus’s answer: I am the way, the truth, and the life. The way forward for you is to follow Jesus. You know that already.
Yes, you might say, but how does one follow Jesus and so know the way? Again, you already know that answer: Do what you are doing now. Continue to celebrate the Eucharist, where you hear the word of God and receive the body and blood Christ, the food for your journey along the way. Listen to the teaching voice of the Church. Pray daily with the word of God, especially the gospels, and you will hear the voice of Jesus in your life.
You do know the way.
Philip: Show us the Father. Jesus is a little exasperated at this question. Philip thinks there must be some other secret that Jesus has not yet revealed that will finally show the Father. Jesus reminds him that He is the complete revelation of the Father. In the life, words, and deeds of Jesus we learn everything that we need to know about God. Everything that we need to know about God is revealed in Christ. God holds nothing back and reveals to us in the most exquisite way possible—a human life—for us to come to know and love him and find Him.
The Dominican Order was founded to preach against a heresy—Albigensianism—that was a form of Gnosticism. Gnosticisms have in common the idea that there is a secret knowledge of the divine that is known only to an inside, intimate few. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and I would not be faithful to my Dominican identity if I did not remind you that God keeps no secrets from us. Everything we need to know about God is revealed in Christ. You know the Father if you know the Son.
Finally, let me return to the first part of Thomas’s question: We do not know where you are going. You know where Jesus is going: Back to the Father through the Spirit to glory. Heaven. He is going ahead of us to prepare a place for us so that we can be together in communion with “the love that moves the heaven and the stars” to quote the end of Dante’s Paradiso. There is a movie out now called Heaven is for Real. I have not seen the movie but I have read the book. I hope one of the things that you have learned here is that heaven is for real and for you. When we do what we are doing now, we anticipate and participate in heaven. It is real. We may gather together in future reunions here at Providence College, and we encourage you to return here often, but the only reunion that really matters is the one that lasts for eternity. We educated you not only for happiness in this life, but happiness that lasts forever.
In closing, I hope I have reminded you of what you already knew. You know your ultimate destination in life, you know the way there, and you know who the God is who calls you there. So you know everything that you need to know about the ultimate meaning of life. I would say that we did our jobs here. You are ready for the rest of this life and life eternal. Do not be afraid going forward. The way lies wide open before you.