Dear Father Tom, Parents and Graduates, and Friends,
First of all I want to thank all of you for your presence and your help. This is a momentous occasion: the first ever MODG graduation ceremony! Fr. Tom, I am so glad that you could be part of this with us. I want to thank in a special way all of the MODG staff who made it possible, and Chris Sebastian in particular, who spearheaded the whole effort. I am very grateful.
Now, let me say: Congratulations!
As I was a homeschooling mother myself, I have seen homeschooling from the inside. I know that for the homeschooling parent, graduation of their students from a significant course of high school studies is a testament not only to the students (which it surely is) but also to the parents who have invested countless hours, energy, thought and prayers in their students' education. I salute you parents, each every one.
I also know that schooling at home is demanding for the students. Students who are successful in this endeavor, as you students have been, are disciplined, for they have to impose internal deadlines on themselves, and keep them, or no work gets done. They also have to truly learn what they learn, for there isn't anyone else in their class to come up with the answer. So when I say congratulations today, I am not just giving a perfunctory, formulaic, response to the occasion. I truly mean congratulations to all of you.
I homeschooled my own six children through high school. That is now many years ago; my baby is a Dominican brother and my oldest has five children of her own, whom she is homeschooling. But I thought then, when I was a young homeschooling mother, as I think now, that homeschooling is a great and important work. It is a demanding work for all involved, but it is also a gift. It is a gift to you students who have learned as well and as much as you have learned. It is a gift to you parents that you were able to contribute so directly to the intellectual and moral formation of your children. It is a gift to all of you that you were able to work together, successfully, on a noble task.
Like all gifts, however, it comes with a certain price. Jesus explained that those to whom much is given are those from whom much is expected. I want to talk about that, as it pertains to you graduates, for just a few minutes today. As I contemplate the upcoming years and what they may hold for you, two thoughts occur to me. They both have to do with things other people have said.
Fr. John Hardon, whom some of you may remember, was a holy man. He spoke at many of the same home school conferences I went to. He had a favorite saying, "Only heroic Catholics will survive". He said it over and over (and over). It scared me, to be perfectly frank. I do not consider myself an heroic Catholic, but I do truly want to survive. Remember, Fr. Hardon was a very holy man. One has to pay attention to holy men.
Then I was at a Population Research Institute conference. Fr. Fessio was the keynote speaker there. He said that homeschooling was the hope of the Church, and of the world. Why? Because, he explained, you can't survive as Catholics in this world unless you are willing to be different. Homeschoolers, by the very fact that they are homeschooling, are different. Thus, they will be better able to survive, and to lead those who are afraid.
When I heard Fr. Fessio, I understood Fr. Hardon. "Only heroic Catholics will survive" means that only those who are willing and able to be different will be able to maintain their Catholic identity. Jesus calls us sheep, and He does so advisedly. We are social beings. We want to fit in. We want to be like those around us. In ordinary circumstances that is not bad; in fact, in ordinary circumstances that is good. We are made to live in community, to live in families, in cities, in countries. But in the circumstance of our day, where most people are not listening to the call of Christ the Shepherd, we can't be like those around us. We have to be different. We have to follow the call of Christ, no matter what the people around us are doing. That is hard, because it is against our nature as social animals. That is why Fr. Hardon called it heroic.
Along the same lines, one of my homeschooling friends, whose last child has graduated from high school, said something that I think is important for you to know. She said that for years she thought about homeschooling as something she was called to do, something hard but good, something that she was willing to do for her children because she loved them so dearly. She thought, in other words, that it was primarily about her. Then, recently, she realized she had it backwards. She was indeed called to homeschool, but it was because of her children, not because of her. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, was calling her children. He was calling them out of the world, to be educated in this special way, because He had a special plan for them.
You are those children. The very fact that you have been homeschooled, that you have had the gift of dedicated parents who care deeply about your formation, that you have been taken out of the world to be formed, is a sign that Christ is calling you in a special way to follow Him, to be heroic Catholics. I am truly honored to be here to speak to you today; I look forward to seeing the great things you will do. People often say to graduates, "You are the hope of the future." It's a standard remark for this kind of occasion. But in your case it is literally true. You are the hope of the future. It is through you, at least in part, that the Holy Spirit is going to renew the face of the earth.
You are about to enter the Church Militant in a new way. All of us on Earth are members of the Church Militant. Those in Purgatory belong to the Church Suffering, and those in Heaven belong to the Church Triumphant. We all belong to the Church, but we have different roles based on our condition of life.
Up until now you have been part of the Church Militant, but in more subordinate position. You have been in training, in terms of your education and way of life. You are about to assume a more responsible role where you will exercise what you have learned. You will now be a witness to the world, showing what it means to live a truly Catholic life. This will be true no matter where you go next year, and no matter what you do.
Interestingly, this means that you should be happy, in the best sense of that word. Then you will be a true witness. Live your life so that you are able to be happy. God made us for happiness, and that is what He wants for us. Every rule you have learned, every truth you have contemplated, every virtue you have attained, is ordered to your happiness. God wants us to be happy, and He knows how we need to live to be happy. He has been training you in that knowledge through your parents and through your education. Now you need to take the responsibility to continue that way of life.
A friend once put it to me this way. When you buy a new car you get an owner's manual. You can choose to read the manual and learn where the oil goes and how often it needs to be changed, where the gas goes, and how large the gas tank is, and how to change the tires. Or you can throw the manual away and experiment. Over time you may learn where the gas should be put, and how large the gas tank is, where the oil goes and how often it needs to be changed, but before you figure that out you may do some real and lasting damage to the car and you are quite likely to run out of gas at some point. The lesson is that it pays to read the manual, and to implement the directions given there. The manual was written by those who put the car together in the first place. They know the car and what is needed to make it run well.
God made us. He knows and loves us. He knows what we need to do to run well, which means, in our case, He knows what we need to do to be happy. People are not happy when they lie, or cheat, or are unfaithful. They are not happy when they do not do their jobs well. They are very, very unhappy when they are not chaste. They make mistakes that affect their whole lives. In large measure, they do these things thoughtlessly, and they don't know why they are unhappy. This is where you come in.
Your happy life, lived as a practicing Catholic, loving Christ and keeping His commandments, can transform the world. You will witness to the truth, and lead people to it by your faithful and happy obedience to the Church and to Christ. That you are honest, dependable, faithful and chaste will make you visibly happy. Your way of dealing with suffering (and most of us will have some suffering in our lives) will speak volumes. I have known more than one person who came to the Church because he knew a happy Catholic who evangelized by the witness of his life, both in good times and in bad. We can all do that. It is the basis of all further evangelization.
So, I rejoice with you, because you are now ready to evangelize the world. You understand the reason for rules, and the importance of God's law. You know that you are made for happiness, and you know what it takes to be happy. Christ has called you to His service by the training He has given you. You need have no fear, because "If God is for us, who can be against us?" You can transform the world, one soul at a time. That is a reason for congratulations.
So I give you congratulations. I salute you for your work up to this time, and I wish you very well in the future. You have been blessed and I ask for God's continued blessings on your lives. May He hold you in the hollow of His hand.