On Sunday, May 17, on the sixth Sunday of Easter, Bishop Jaime Soto celebrated a Baccalaureate Mass for Graduating Seniors at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. Below is the homily from the Mass:
“I will not leave you orphans,” said the Lord Jesus to his disciples. This is not a word we are accustomed to hearing, “orphan”. It refers to children who have lost their mother and father, usually through some tragic event, an accident, an act of violence, war, a plague. Given the number of deaths because of the coronavirus, there are certainly among the survivors those children who have been left orphans by this dastardly disease.
Jesus spoke these words to his disciples on the night before he died. Indeed, many disciples, after the horrifying death of Jesus on the cross, would feel abandoned, lost. The one whom they had followed from Galilee to Jerusalem was gone. He would seemingly no longer lead them. They were a flock without a shepherd. Jesus, in his final instructions to his friends before the events of Calvary, wanted to assure them. “While the world will no longer see me, but you will see me.”
Many of you are preparing for your graduation from our parochial schools, our Catholic high schools and other from the region’s universities and colleges. Most of the usual festivities related to graduation have been suspended or delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is lots of disappointment and frustration because of this global plague. The pandemic has afflicted everyone. More people are unemployed than any time in recent memory. The coronavirus has stealthily spread throughout society afflicting many of our most vulnerable neighbors. Health care providers – doctors, nurses, and staff – are struggling to care for the sick while fearful for their own safety and the health of their families. All the customary springtime rituals of gatherings are restricted by the necessary precautions to avoid spreading the disease. Amid all this painful disruption, confusion, and sorrow, Jesus assures us, “You will see me.”
One of the common feelings about graduation is a sense of independence. Many of you have laudably acquired many skills and knowledge. You have further developed your gifts and talents. With this comes the feeling of being less dependent on others, more reliant on oneself, more independent. You may have a sense of moving away from the sheltering influences of home and school with an eagerness to be untethered, to take more initiative.
The social devastation of the pandemic has provided all of us with a sober, salutary reminder. We are unavoidably connected. We are part of a fabric of family, community, and society. The virus has used this to confound us. The Lord Jesus is using this moment to convince us of the essential responsibility we have to one another. Physical distancing cannot be a reason for moral-distancing. Your graduation should not be about independence. As you cross the threshold of graduating from various institutions of learning, understand that more will be expected of you because so much has been given to you.
You have worked hard to arrive at this moment. Recognize the many sacrifices of those who have helped you come this vantage point. While you look out on the future filled with hope and aspirations, look around you with hearts full of gratitude for the bonds of family, mentors, and friends who have brought you to this happy juncture.
Do not let a false sense of freedom turn you into emotional and spiritual orphans. The truest expression of freedom is sacrifice. You have seen this in the sacrifices of those whose self-less devotion has brought you to this moment. We have seen this in the men and women risking their lives for the care of those afflicted by the coronavirus. We see this most clearly in the image of Christ crucified on the cross. His death did not leave the disciples abandoned. He bound himself even more closely to them with a bond that can never be broken.
The words of Jesus to his disciples then are also intended for you today. “I will not leave you orphans.” These words speak of his enduring, merciful commitment to each of you. “I will not leave you orphans.” Let these wise and tender words of the Lord also remind you of the bond of friendship to which each of us must respond. As you step into the future that awaits you, do not leave the Lord behind. Take his hand. His kind and merciful spirit will always be within reach. He says to you, “While the world will no longer see me, but you will see me.” Believe him and belong to him.