By Fr. Glenn Jones:
Well, it’s graduation season again and so edifying to watch the newly-minted graduates—all grins—looking forward to new lives and adventures ahead. While few of us who are older and have a number of years—or decades—under our belts since our own time to “walk the stage” would care to repeat those early times in our lives, we certainly can remember the excitement when all vistas were opening before us.
What shall they choose? … doctor, lawyer, scientist? Or maybe one of the many necessary trades that keep our world up and running—nurse, welder, plumber, electrician, cashier … police, firefighter, EMT, soldier? The list—and thus the opportunities—are virtually endless. No career should be dismissed as “unimportant”. Yes, some are considered more glamorous or high-profile, but nobody calls the local physicist in a panic when the power goes out! For you young ‘uns not bound for college and the more high-dollar and high-visibility careers, just remember the following from scripture about those who practice essential trades:
All these rely upon their hands,
and each is skillful in his own work.
Without them a city cannot be established,
and men can neither sojourn nor live there.
…they are not sought out for the council of the people,
nor do they attain eminence in the public assembly…
But they keep stable the fabric of the world,
and their prayer is in the practice of their trade.
One thing to remember, too, is that education does not equal wisdom. Some of the most educated have the least common sense. But don’t disdain education, either, for scripture also tells us:
To a senseless man education is fetters on his feet,
and like manacles on his right hand…
To a sensible man education is like a golden ornament,
and like a bracelet on the right arm.
(Sirach 21:19, 21)
Yet remember, dear graduates, that it’s not money, fame or beauty that makes you what you truly are, but rather—as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., stated so eloquently in his “I Have a Dream” speech—the content of your character.
So the question within the self becomes: “What do I CHOOSE to be?”… reminding us of: “[God] created man in the beginning, and he left him in the power of his own inclination. If you will, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.” (Sirach 15:14-16) Oh, yes … you may have opportunities to make boatloads of cash or have your name “in lights”, but at what cost? Let it not be at the cost of one of our most treasured possessions: conscience. Plenty are the names of those splashed across the front page, the financial page, and history books and about whom many a voice said “Good riddance!” at their deaths. Much like in Jesus’ parable of the rich man, we will all hear at some unknown hour: “This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20)
The other evening we lost a young priest in an automobile accident, reminding of the oft-repeated admonition of Jesus to “Watch; you know neither the day nor the hour.” Fr. Graham Golden, a Norbertine religious order priest, was only 35 years old and pastor of the pueblo parish in Isleta, New Mexico. He was very bright and had prospects of a correspondingly bright future of many decades ahead of him. But his hour arrived unexpectedly, in a flash. Very painful for all of us to lose such a young priest and friend at such an early age, but had he been asked in his last moment, I think Fr. Graham would have most heartily agreed with St. Paul: “…it is my eager expectation and…that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” (Philippians 1:21-23)
What did Father Graham take with him as he departed this world? No money, no jewels … no great fame or notoriety. Rather, he expressed with his life and takes with him that which truly matters: love of God and love of neighbor, expressed in a life of sacrifice and service to both. It is in those things that he sought to reflect as best He could the love of Jesus, who Himself “came not to be served, but to serve.” Yet Fr. Graham takes also with him the mute and poignant testimony of the love of the many whom he served, witnessing to the goodness and true success of his life far more than money or fame could ever be able to do.
And so, dear graduates, make not money or fame your object or goal. Those things are of value, yes, but only if we use them for that which is truly good and beneficial for the world. Like Fr. Graham, aim for that which is of true and lasting—indeed, infinite—value: to love God and neighbor with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. And then, when our own hour comes and the detritus of fame and fortune falls away, you may go to God with confidence, and hear those words for which we long with expectant and aching heart: “Well done, good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:23)
“…the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law… If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:18-23, 25)
Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.