Homily given by Bishop Geoffrey Jarret at the Commencement Mass for Trinity Catholic College celebrated in St. Carthage’s CathedralFebruary 11, 2004 10:58 am
Lismore, 11 February 2004
One of the things you would surely have learned over all the years at school is that you can have lots of fun with words. In fact life wouldn’t be much fun without them. Over centuries every language grows, changes, and compresses itself into pithy little sayings which say a lot in a few words. All of us have a store of little proverbs we’ve picked up across the years. Some are funny, some are dark, most are wise. Lots of them have passed into our language from the Bible and the words of the liturgy. Christian faith has had a huge impact on shaping the way we speak, think and act. “Man cannot live by bread alone”, “With God all things are possible”, “As a man sows, so shall he reap”. These phrases that go down the generations cover every aspect of life and human character: Actions speak louder than words; Marry in haste, repent at leisure; Least said, soonest mended; A liar ought to have a good memory; Believe nothing of what you hear, and only half of what you see; As a tree falls, so shall it lie; Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other; He who sups with the Devil should have a long spoon; A sin confessed is a sin forgiven; Virtue is its own reward; Never speak ill of the dead.
For the beginning of the school year, as we lay it before God in this Mass, there’s a thought from our rich store of proverbs I’d like to put before you. In its old form it says, “The mill cannot grind with the water that is past”. It might be more familiar as “Opportunity never knocks twice”; or perhaps you could make it really sharp in only three words: Seize the moment!
By the time you get to year eleven you must have had moments when you have kicked yourself for wasting some opportunity which suddenly you realized would never come back. Believe me, as you get older, it can only get worse! Most of the novels and movies that really get us in are based on this theme. The man who misses the love of a beautiful woman because he wakes up only too late from his selfishness; the civilization that got destroyed because it wasn’t awake to the enemy within; or the brilliant entrepreneur who didn’t invest when he had the opportunity, and finally got swallowed by a competitor.
Contrary to what you might think, the year ahead is not about working like mad; it’s about growing in wisdom. Any reasonably motivated person with a bit of application can work up enough knowledge to satisfy an examiner. But is that all? What, do you ask, is happening within your soul? What do you want to happen? The test of that is what is going to happen in the way you relate, yes, with your parents and family, with your teachers and school community, and perhaps with a few other special people in your life. But is that all? What else must you have, which will cause your soul to fill out with peace and real happiness, or else stay shrivelled and full of self, and stale like an unventilated room. The big chance being offered this year, the real opportunity, is all about your relationship with God. God, our Father in heaven. God, who is love.
In the Gospel we meet His Son, Christ our Lord moved to weep tears over people who didn’t recognise the opportunity that God was offering. “If only you knew the gift of God!”, he would say, “If only!” All that water that had been flowing to the mill, and it just went past wasted. Too late, but at least for us there’s more still being offered. It’s called the grace of God, and the wise not only know how to use it, they dread the very thought that any meant for them would go to waste.
They know that while it looks free, somebody paid a huge price so that they could have it. The price that was paid was nothing less than the willingly offered flesh and blood of Jesus Christ once offered and offered for all on the Cross two thousand years ago. From that day to this countless millions of men and women, down to your parents, the priests, the nuns and the brothers, all the Catholic people who make your school possible, they have believed this, loved this, and lived by this. And they’ve made huge sacrifices and gone to a lot of trouble to ensure that you have the chance to as well. I know many of you appreciate it and are grateful.
Don’t be afraid in the year ahead to be up-front about God in your life, and what you owe to Jesus Christ and his holy Catholic Church. Don’t even give a thought to what your friends think, because you have to give a reason to God for what you think. Don’t miss the moment, don’t miss the most fundamental reason why you are at a Catholic school. It’s not simply about getting ready for what you are going to do when you leave school. It’s about what you are going to do when time’s up altogether. It’s about the day you die. We are going to live, each one of us, for all eternity the way we chose when we had the time. “As a tree falls, so shall it lie.” I can still remember, very clearly, riding back home on my bike after one of my matriculation exams, what Year Twelve used to be, and thinking: What’s the worst thing that could happen to me? What am I afraid of most? And the answer is still the same today: missing out on the glory, the joy, the happiness and the love of my share in the life of the Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And what decides this ultimate success or failure is only the love of Jesus Christ, and how I respond to it while I have the chance. If you want to see a movie that will have you crying your eyes out until you can take no more, go on Ash Wednesday to see Mel Gibson’s film of The Passion. You won’t ever say that Christ’s Death doesn’t mean anything to you, or that the Mass is a bore not worth attending.
Many young people relate how it is to be seen as dorky and uncool to say that they like being a Catholic, or that they go to Mass, or that they enjoy doing things at church as an altar server or whatever, or even that they pray and say the rosary. Well, it’s the others who are weak, like all bullies and cowards are – that’s apparent in the gospel events, and there’s proverbs about it too. By practising the Faith in your school you are witnessing powerfully to the love of Jesus Christ, and toughening up for the battle that lies ahead in a secular world that’s devastating on weak targets. There are young people in this school surely who are going to be the ones who will take up the fight that the saints and martyrs have fought, and a few I know who are called to the ranks of the priesthood and religious life. Like St Francis, you will rebuild the Church. You must continue on in your school now, building up that critical mass that can be strong and confident enough to stand against that other culture which would try to stake its claim on Catholic ground.
So seize the moment! Don’t miss the opportunities to grow in the greatest love the world has known, God’s love for you. Pray, stay loyal to the Mass and faithful to the Sacraments, remembering another proverb, that confession is good for the soul. Look to Mary, honoured among us as the Seat of Wisdom and trust in the help of her prayers. Lose no opportunity in your remaining time at Trinity to enhance your school’s reputation with your own contribution of faith and striving for the highest. The staff are not perfect, the school is not perfect, even your Bishop like each one of you is not perfect. But don’t let that imperfection, or the need to be cool, popular or whatever, get in the way of experiencing the greatest love of your life that God never ceases to offer.
Be assured of my prayers and constant concern for your academic studies and religious and spiritual growth throughout this year.
Grace and peace be with you, and my blessing in Christ.
+ Geoffrey Jarrett
Bishop of Lismore.