AS YOU MOVE ON…
HOMILY FOR BACCALAUREATE MASS AT ACADEMY OF OUR LADY OF PEACE, SAN DIEGO, CA ON THURSDAY, MAY 23, 2019
BY FR EMMANUEL OCHIGBO
(R1: Jeremiah 29:11-14; R2: Romans 12:9-18; Gospel: John 15:11-17)
I grew up to know my parents as very devout Catholics, 4th Degree Knights of St. Mulumba, special devotees of the Blessed Virgin Mary, attending daily Masses and having great love and respect for Priests and Religious. On the day I graduated from the Minor Seminary (High School Seminary), I could not wait to get home to inform my parents of my decision to proceed to the Major Seminary (College Seminary) to become a priest. I was very sure that they would organize a “thank you” party for me as I was going to upgrade their status to that of “Parents of a Priest.”
After breaking the news to them when I got home, I thought I was going to be asked to choose a venue for the party. On the contrary, they told me things that have remained fresh in my memory. First, they wanted to know if going to the priesthood was my decision, or if I was doing that to please someone else. After assuring them that it was my decision, they gave me their blessing and assured me that if at any time in my formation (training) I decided otherwise, they were ready to welcome me back home. Second, they asked me to tell them my name. Surprising as the question was, I told them, “Emmanuel.” They then continued, “Son, your name is Emmanuel; your name is not “Everybody” So you are going to the Major/College Seminary as ‘Emmanuel’ and not as ‘Everybody’, as such, don’t go messing around and come back with the excuse that you did something wrong because everybody was doing it. You are to do what is expected of ‘Emmanuel’ and not what ‘Everybody’ does.”
It took me several days to weeks to gradually recover from the shock I got from how my parents handled the “breaking news” I shared with them. When I began my journey/formation in the Major (College) Seminary, the words from my parents began to make sense, and to this day, even as a priest, I continue to replay that conversation in my head as it becomes more meaningful. At times when I face some of the challenges and difficulties of the priesthood, I look around for someone to blame (you know how it feels good to pass the blame on others). But when I remember how my parents made sure it was my decision to be a priest, I wake up from my slumber, brace up and keep up the good fight. Other times, I feel like joining the bandwagon, I feel like shying away from some good things, from some great traditions because they are “old fashioned,” “unpopular” or because “Everybody” is no longer into them. And when I remember that I am not “Everybody” but “Emmanuel,” I pick up from where I stopped the good work, and I continue.
My Dearly Beloved Sisters for Life, today is the tomorrow we talked about yesterday! How time flies! You remember the first time you stepped your feet on this hallowed ground as students? Four years seemed like an eternity, but it is now a reality. A lot happened these past years: the good, the bad, and the ugly; and all added to make you who you have become today.
Jesus spoke the words in the Gospel passage you chose for this Mass on the night of his Last Supper with his apostles. He knew that his time with them in this world was drawing to a close, and so he gave them his last will to prepare them for the time ahead. He reminded them of their identity; he said, “I no longer call you slaves…I call you friends.” He reminded them of their mission; he said, “I appointed you to go bear fruit that will last.” This order is very significant. First on the list is Identity, and then followed by mission; for what we do flows from who we are. Tonight, OLP has her last supper with you, and she is dictating her last will and last testament to you. She reminds you of your identity. You are not “Everybody,” you are OLP Pilots. No one must take that away from you. You are Sisters for life! OLP now sends you out to bear fruits that last.
You are stepping out of a more protected environment to a more secular and less protected one. You are stepping into a world that is full of confused values; a world that is speedily losing the sense of the sacredness of human life; a world that blindfolds you against the beauty in our differences; a world that promotes hate, a world full of bullies; a world that is ready to invest everything possible to deceive you that there is no God; and that you can decide for yourselves what is right and what is wrong. It is a world that uses fear as a weapon to manipulate you. In the midst of all these, OLP is reminding you that you are Pilots, so go and do what Pilots are known for, fly high above all the mess, go make a positive difference, do not do what “Everybody” is doing, do not join the bandwagon. In the midst of all these, there are still very good people in the world, all you need to do is to search very well, and if you do not find one, try to be one yourself.
This week may be the last time that you set eyes on some of your classmates. For some, it may take many years to see again, and then, your case may be like a quote I recently read on Facebook, it says, “I hate it when I see some old people only to realize that we went to high school together.” If you ever meet again, never forget your common origin. If you are more fortunate in the future, show it by helping your sister, who is not as fortunate as you. As you strive to acquire more education, remember that “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much your care.”
As you move on, do not be afraid, even when the future is not so clear, let your faith conquer your fear. As Martin Luther King, Jr., would say, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” Jeremiah, in the first reading, reminds you that God’s plan for you are plans for your welfare and not for woe, to give you a future of hope. These words were originally addressed to the Jews who were on exile in Babylon. However, for this to come true, the people must seek God with their whole heart. At OLP, you were trained not only to have good heads but to have good hearts. The world needs more of that combination to make it a better place.
As you move on, remember the great example set by the patroness of your alma mater, the Blessed Virgin Mary who is Our Lady Queen of Peace. When she faced the task of making the greatest decision of human history at the Annunciation, she did not do what “Everybody” was doing, she did what was right; she submitted herself to the will of God, “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word,” and that gained for us a Mighty Savior.
As you move on, every new step you take in life will require a reexamination of how much you are in touch with your identity, a reexamination of your authenticity. Whenever you face decision making, you will have three options: do what you please; do what “Everybody” does, or do what is right. The choice is yours! May you choose wisely that your paths may be peaceful and prosperous, through Christ our Lord. Amen.