We’ve all spent a great deal of time together today, and I imagine many of you—especially our new graduates—are getting just a bit impatient to celebrate with your families and friends. And I never like to be the person standing between people and their next meal, especially on joyous occasions.
Before I share just a few brief thoughts with you, however, I must thank our speaker today, Mark Shriver, for those inspiring remarks—and giving our new graduates a message they can carry with them as they begin this next part of their lives.
Congratulations to Mark, to Ed and Ellen Hanway, to Mary Catherine Bunting, and to the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council for the honors they received today. Each of you has made a lasting impact on our university and on our communities. And a special thank you to Kasey Seymour for her wonderful remarks to her classmates and all graduating students today.
I must also ask you to pause for a moment to recognize Dr. Timothy Law Snyder, vice president for academic affairs. Dr. Snyder, who always leads this ceremony with poise and enthusiasm, is stepping down to teach as a full-time faculty member. That means it’s his last Loyola commencement as MC. Please join me in thanking him for his seven years of distinguished service to Loyola—and for all he does to make this moment—or, I should say, these hours—a memorable one for you, your families, and friends.
Just a little more than a year ago when the white smoke came out of the Sistine Chapel chimney, a colleague and I were watching to see who our new pope would be. He asked me, “Father, did you ever want to be pope?”
I said: “If that was one of my ambitions, I certainly entered the wrong order. There’s never been a Jesuit pope—and won’t be in my lifetime.”
Moments later, of course, I was proven wrong—and over the past year our world has encountered the first Jesuit pope.
Even after we met Pope Francis, however, I didn’t believe that much would change. Sure, he didn’t move into the Vatican Palace, and he demonstrated great compassion and concern.
But I expected that soon enough reality would kick in, that he would realize he had to live in the Vatican and take a more traditional approach to the papacy. There again I was wrong.
Instead, Pope Francis has inspired all of us to focus on the ministry of Jesus and embrace a genuine concern for the poorest in our world—a concern that is at the heart of the Gospel. And his words—and more so his actions—have really energized people.
Now, with his care for the poor, I don’t know whether Pope Francis would approve of my Commencement bling. But I have a feeling I know what he would say to each of you, our new graduates, with your new diplomas and your mind, body, and soul strengthened with an exceptional Jesuit education. He would encourage us to look at how we live, how we use the resources we have, and the education we’ve received, and consider how we can have a positive impact on social justice all over the world.
And that’s significant. There is a fundamental human insight that isn’t even theological, that says that our wellbeing and humanity are tied most intimately with those who are most compromised. My security, my prosperity is always threatened unless those who are least well-off are making progress toward a better life.
A few weeks ago at 4 a.m. on a Sunday I woke up to hear a car alarm going off outside my window. It went off every 15 minutes until Campus Police tracked down the owner, one of our students. He apologized and promised to make it up to me. Of course, as the parents here can attest, once you reach a certain age, you can never make up for lost sleep. We don’t bounce back the way we did in our early 20s.
If you think this Commencement ceremony is long, you should have been waiting for that alarm to stop. But in those early mornings while I was waiting, I was thinking, why do we have car alarms? It’s because we are afraid someone will steal our cars. Who would steal a car? Most likely someone who sees a way to gain material advantage. But rather than dealing with the problem of poverty, we buy alarms and build gated communities and move farther away from areas touched by crime. We think we can isolate those who are poor in material wealth and in opportunity and then we won’t be afraid of them. But the truth is that is not an option.
Pope Francis is telling us that our security, our wellbeing, our happiness is tied up with concern for the poor.
When I was living in England in 1996 and 1997, Tony Blair was campaigning for the Labour Party in the general election and the prime minister’s seat. When Catholic priests preached about the common good, people assumed that they were speaking for the Labour Party. But speaking of and working for the common good is not a political action. It’s an ethical one, and one I feel certain each of you here can appreciate.
As you take the education you’ve received at Loyola and go into the world, remember that this education brings with it a responsibility to improve your community, and our world. As you begin this next chapter, I encourage you to consider not just what is in your best interest, but also what is in the interest of those most in need.
Remember that there are many people who have not been fortunate to benefit from education, never mind an exceptional Jesuit education. There are many who have no one to speak for them. As you travel onward and upward, to the personal and professional success that your professors, families, friends, and I know await you, always keep in mind those who have less material wealth, less security, less opportunity.
Last year when I spoke to the Class of 2013, I was guarded in my comments about Pope Francis. I told them how I hoped he might change our conversation, but I was not confident that he would lead us so profoundly in this direction. Yet here we are.
Class of 2014, you have learned so much in your years at Loyola. Whether you are an undergraduate or a graduate student, today you are armed with an extraordinary amount of knowledge and experience. You are undoubtedly ready to face the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead and thrive in your field.
Look at how much Pope Francis has accomplished in one year. Then think of the opportunity you have over your lifetime to transform the world into a richer and more beautiful version of the one we know today. By recognizing the potential that lies within each person, you can help realize God’s vision for all of his people.
Congratulations and God bless you. Now go forth and set the world on fire.