A. Archbishop Christoph, Apostolic Nuncio; Bishop Loverde; brother priests; President Mount; Worthy Supreme Knight and Mrs. Anderson; members of the board, faculty, and staff, graduates and students; benefactors and friends of CDU; and all dear friends in Christ:
B. It is a special pleasure to join with all of you this evening in expressing our wholehearted support for the Catholic Distance University as we celebrate this Holy Mass and bestow diplomas on your graduates. It is also a moment to focus on the mission of Catholic Distance University in light of the readings just proclaimed.
II. A Nation Divided
A. Let us begin, however, not with those readings but rather with the nation, state, and local elections that will take place on Tuesday. Ours country is deeply divided but there is one thing with which everyone agrees: we’ll all be glad when this election is over!
B. At one level, we are tired of the rancor and bickering. Aren’t we tired of negative ads and the debates without substance which obscure the serious issues facing our country? But at a deeper level, we may have grown discouraged. The things which divide the United States are not merely partisan issues; rather, they are deeply human issues that have a lot to do with what kind of society we are and will become – issues such as the humanity of the unborn, the meaning of marriage and family, the protection of basic freedoms, healthcare, care for the poor and elderly, generosity in welcoming refugees and immigrants, care for our common home.
C. Reasonable people can differ to a degree about how to address these issues but throughout this election one has the impression that we lack even a common framework and a vocabulary to discuss them fruitfully. One is also left with the impression that we lack the will to discuss them with civility. Most of all one is left with the sense that we lack the confidence do so, a lack of confidence which may well betray the loss of a sense of hope as more and more, in spite of our global connectedness, we insulate ourselves in a cocoon of secularity. This lack of hope finds expression in an unwillingness of people to make commitments and in cynicism about institutions such as government, church, business, and family. We lack not only confidence and optimism about the future but genuine hope that the hand of Providence is guiding us through these changing times.
III. Reasons for Hope
A. For a Christian, hopelessness can never be the last word. Even in the darkest and most difficult of times, the flame of faith, hope, and love continued to burn among Christians. Indeed, in the midst of bloody persecution, St. Peter wrote: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Peter 3:15). I would like to think of that verse as a concise statement of the mission of CDU: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”
B. Using modern technology and taking into account contemporary lifestyles, CDU provides its students not merely with information about the faith but with genuine spiritual nourishment for living the faith rooted in prayer and in a living encounter with Christ, the Incarnate Son of God. In various ways, CDU prepares its graduates to give reasons for hope to all those whom they are privileged to serve in an array of ministries, including and especially parish and school evangelization and catechetical programs.
C. But what does it mean to give reasons for hope? Is it merely a matter of providing information about the faith that so many people today seem to be lacking? Is it a matter of adducing rational arguments to demolish what ill-willed secularists sometimes say about the faith we profess? Or is it something deeper, nobler, and more beautiful? Today’s Scripture readings would suggest that it is. In fact, those readings offer us three ideas to guide our prayerful reflection: courage, hope of resurrection, & encouragement…allow me a brief word about each.
A. In the 3rd century, Tertullian wrote that ‘the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.’ He going in the same direction as today’s first reading from II Maccabees where we meet seven sons of holy woman, all willing to lay down their lives rather than to betray their faith by word or deed. All of them were tortured to death. By the time the king and his attendant got to the third son, they were impressed with their courage – not impressed enough to call off the torments, but impressed nonetheless.
B. In our own day, fellow Christians are laying down their lives for the faith and Pope Francis has called us to be both charitable and courageous in facing what he calls “the polite persecution” of the West. Sometimes it’s a matter of maintaining one’s composure and charity when we are in a social setting where the Church is singled out for opprobrium. Often it is a matter of seeking, intrepidly and cheerfully, an opening to talk about the faith with a disaffected Catholic or an angry parent, remembering that such courage may be more persuasive than it seems. Courage is a virtue and a fruit of the Holy Spirit that makes people think twice and motivates them to consider accepting the gift of genuine Christian hope.
V. Hope of Resurrection
A. A second way we give an accounting of our hope is by appealing to that hope of resurrection that is buried deep inside each person. That’s what the Lord Jesus did in tonight’s Gospel when confronted with the odd scenario proposed by the Sadducees to discredit the very idea of the resurrection of the dead. Seven brothers successively married the same woman – so, whose wife would she be at the resurrection from the dead, they asked.
B. Jesus chose not to argue over the absurdity of their question. Instead, he let us glimpse at the joy and glory of our resurrection in which we neither marry nor or given in marriage but rather are united in expressible love and trust around God’s throne. In speaking thus Jesus appealed to that spiritual microchip embedded in our souls, by which the human heart, perhaps in spite of itself, still desires the resurrection. No, Jesus didn’t argue theoretically but appealed the reasons of the heart, even if those reasons are covered over by sin and confusion. What a model Jesus offers us as we seek to encounter, engage, and evangelize our contemporaries.
A. The final word for this reflection on giving reasons for hope is “encouragement”, drawn from today’s reading from St. Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Thessalonians: “Brothers and sisters,” he writes, “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself & God our Father, who loved us & has given us everlasting encouragement & good hope thru his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.” At CDU students are encouraged not only to open their minds to ideas but to open their heart to the Lord, to encounter him every more deeply, so as to walk with those have not yet found the reasons for hope, to listen to them, to allow them to ask questions, and to lead them gently to Christ. Thus you are being equipped to be agents of encouragement and agents of the new evangelization in the world today.
B. Rejoicing this night in the mission and good work of CDU, let us ask for the grace to be a leaven hope in our society as we live in this passing world with our hearts set on the world that is to come. May God bless us and keep us always in his love!