This is not the high school graduation celebration you expected when you began your senior year back in September.  Who could have imagined then what you are experiencing now and how your senior year would end?

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted your plans and those of your parents and schools to mark this special occasion with and for you in the traditional ways. Disrupted, yes.  Cancelled, not at all.  Here we are, though at a distance from one another, still celebrating this milestone in your lives, in a different way, still recognizing all the accomplishments that this great occasion represents.

You are graduating from high school – your high school – and moving on from the place and people that have been so familiar to you into a new and exciting set of experiences. As your Bishop, I am so happy and honored that I can be with you, your parents and families, your classmates and teachers, your administrators, coaches and staff at your Baccalaureate Mass.  Yes, this year’s celebration is not the way you expected your graduation to be, but nothing can take away the meaning of this moment and the joy you should feel.  You’ve made it! And we are all so proud of You!

Today we celebrate a great part of your Catholic education, of your graduation, and we begin with Holy Mass, the most important prayer of our faith.  Although we cannot be together, we are never far apart because of the faith that unites us.

We as your administrators and teachers, your parents and families, repeat the words of St. Paul from our First Reading:

… we “give thanks to God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.” 

You are about to graduate from high school, my young friends.  In all the excitement that surrounds this great event in your lives, the Lord has put so much before your minds and hearts to celebrate. Throughout your lives, the Lord has spoken to you often, as he did to his own disciples: through your parents, your teachers, your friends and your Church.  You have been told what to do and have been given many words of instruction and advice how to do it.  Now it is up to you.  Yes, we will all continue to be a part of your lives, and we will continue to give you advice. Now you must take responsibility for the things that are most important in life.

When you were born, your parents brought you to Church for your baptism, to become a member of a larger family, the Christian family of faith that is the Church. Stay close to that family and all that it offers you … and all that it asks of you.

As you celebrate your graduation from a Catholic high school, don’t lose sight of all the things that have made your life possible and beautiful, especially the great sacrifices your parents made to bring you to this moment. Be grateful, be thankful first to God who gave you to them and them to you and know that the Lord will remain with you always and will help you take your faith deepened in the experience of Catholic high school into a happy, healthy and wonderful future.  And continue to believe that the Lord is with you always.

The world is a big place and the future is uncertain.  But your faith is NOT uncertain.  It is true, and it will carry you through all the uncertain moments that the future lays out before you.  God goes with you, and your faith will make you strong, able to handle whatever comes your way.  Do not forget God.  Do not forget your faith and all that you have learned about it.  Do not abandon for any reason what the Lord has spoken, offered, promised and fulfilled in your lives so far.

Whether you go to college or some other path, take your faith with you.  Go to Mass.  Receive the sacraments of confession and communion.  Remember your confirmation promises to God and his Church.  Do all these things, even though there is no one who tells you to.  Do all these things, even though you will meet people who tell you not to bother.  Don’t believe them.  They do not know the truth or, worse, they don’t care about it.  Believe that the Lord is with you always.

The 19th century American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson once observed: “What lies behind us, and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.”   That is where your faith lives; that is the home of hope; that is source of the love that lasts forever.

Your graduation will mean many things.  But, most importantly, it means that it is now up to you.  Go forth with God as your guide and your faith and hope and love as your path through life.