The first time I left my parents and siblings and was away from home for up to three months was when I gained admission to the Minor (High School) Seminary at about twelve. As a twelve-year-old, leaving home for the first time was very difficult. A part of me was excited in anticipation of the experience ahead, but another part of me was missing home. I was in tears when it was time to begin the journey of about two to three hours by car. Seeing how I was weeping, my mom came up to me, hugged me, and said, “My son, I know it is hard for you; it is also hard for us to see you go. But you need to go to add value to yourself. If you don’t go, you won’t grow. You need to go for your good, the good of the family, and the good of the world. See you in three months!” Those words gave me the determination to embark on the journey; they kept me while I was away from home.

So many years have passed since I heard those words from my mom, but they continue to serve as my source of strength whenever I start feeling homesick. At the end of one of my recent vacations in Nigeria, it was another emotional moment for me. Right before I left, we gathered for a family prayer. While we were praying, it dawned on me that I was about to embark on another long journey; I was going to be away again from my immediate family for a long time, I almost broke down in tears, but priests don’t cry. After exchanging farewell hugs, I got into the car and could no longer fight the tears. Yes, priests also cry, so I wept. In the course of the drive to the airport, I kept replaying the words my mom said to me the first day I left home for the Minor (High School) Seminary, “…you need to go to add value…; if you don’t go, you won’t grow.”

My dear class of 2024, today is the tomorrow we talked about yesterday. Congratulations! How time flies! See how quickly 4 years turned into 4 months, 4 months turned into 4 weeks, 4 weeks turned into 4 days, and now, 4 days turning into less than 4 hours. You have learned a lot in these four years. And I hope you have learned enough to recognize how little you know. You must not rest on your oars. Embrace the challenges that lie ahead, for it is through such challenges that you will truly grow and develop.

The second reading you chose for this Mass is from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. It is one of the undisputable letters attributed to St. Paul in the New Testament. Philippi was a commercial center founded by Philip, the Father of Alexander the Great. It was on his second missionary journey that Paul first came to Philippi. He wrote this letter while he was in prison in Rome. In this letter, he writes, “forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.” By this, he means he will never glory in any of his achievements or use them as an excuse for relaxation. As much as possible, a Christian must forget all she has done and focus more on what needs to be done. It is like driving a car. The rearview mirror is very tiny compared to the size of the windshield. Any look at the past must spur you on to your next achievement.

My Dear Pilots, now ends an important chapter of your life. Oh, the places you will go if you detach from your past achievements! Oh, the places you will go if you let go of your comfort zone! As you open the next chapter of your life, remember the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”

My Dear Sisters, you must go now, for if you don’t go, you won’t grow. And as you go, remember that you are not a mistake; no matter the circumstances that surround your birth, you are not an afterthought. Everyone created by God has a unique purpose to fulfill and a unique role to play. You are an answer to a unique question and a solution to a unique problem. No one else can and will do what God created only you to do. You are irreplaceable. Unfortunately, many of us spend a lifetime looking into other people’s pots while ours is getting burnt on the fire. Embrace your individuality with purpose, for it is what sets you apart and makes you special. According to Blessed Carlo Acutis, “All are born as originals, but many die as photocopies.” My dearly beloved in Christ, I charge you to maintain your originality as you open the next chapter of your life. You must never befriend the word “impossible.” Oh, the places you will go if the word “impossible,” is not part of your vocabulary. Remember, as they say, “Everything is impossible until someone does it.” What if that someone is you?

Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Ochigbo

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