Father Rick’s Marywood Commencement Address

“Encouraging the youth who will be leading our world”

May, 2011

Today, as University graduates, you begin a new journey as leaders. It will happen gradually, and your influence in your families, your communities and the world will depend a great deal on your personal character, your moral vision, and the generosity of your heart. It will depend on how much you will be willing to accept heavy weights of responsibility, the challenge of alleviating injustice and suffering in our world, and how much you yourself will be willing to sacrifice and to suffer in order to leave the world a better place than how you found it.

Yes, how well and with how much strength you lead will depend on you. But ironically, to be a great leader will depend on how much you will be willing to be lead. Lead by principles, lead by moral vision, lead by mystery, and shepherded by an unseen God, all merciful and all loving. To be a great leader you need to become an expert at the invisible, learning to know and obey, to free up and to honor the forces of life, the movements of the heart, the traces that mark God’s presence.

As a priest and a physician, I am well versed in the reality of suffering and I tend to know people at the time of the most extreme challenges of their lives. I have had to learn to discern very fast what is underneath the physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering. In order to act quickly and the right way, I have had to try to understand fast whether the life forces are only changing, or if they are endangered, or if they are closing down. This is easier to do with physical, bodily suffering than with the suffering of the heart or soul. Soul suffering is perhaps the worse kind of suffering. And yet I learned a little trick of discernment that I would like to share with you, related to recognizing the inner embrace of life or death.

You know you have started to die when you have more memories than you do dreams, when you so cling to what has happened already that nothing new ever can happen in your life. In the end, to be a great leader is to be embraced and lead by dreams.

It is easy to dream when we are young. It is easy to dream on the first day of school, and on the last- like at today’s graduation. It is easy to dream at the beginning of marriage when love is abundant and exuberant. But there are times when it is very hard to dream:  the sudden shock of the diagnosis of a deadly brain tumor, the failed marriage that divides families and hearts, the financial collapse that leads to anguish and shame. Yes, at such moments it is very difficult to dream. In fact these moments lead to nightmares.

Dreams are more than just a sign of life and heath. In the Acts of the Apostles, we learn that they are a sign of the Risen Christ present.  Enthusiam,  Entheos.  Filled with God. St Luke says we will know the Risen Christ this way: the young will dream dreams and the old will see visions. Dreams at the beginning and at the end. Dreams are the Alpha and the Omega. And dreams every where in between. Dreams are the language of God.

But lets back up again. How do you dream if you can’t?  How do you dream in the still night, or nighmares?

Permit me to divert your attention for a minute, to a county not very far away, a country of wonderful and vibrant people. I take you to the Haiti of the past 18 months. 18 months of tragedy. Imagine a people who were already among the poorest on the planet, with all the humiliation that poverty brings. Imagine that in your poverty, the whole city falls on you in a matter of 36 seconds. Your national palace, your cathedral, your markets turn to dust. Heavy dust. Heavydust that traps you and breaks your bones. Imagine you, unlike 300,000 others, are able to crawl out of the rubble alive. Maybe without an arm or a leg, maybe without your mother or your son, but you are out, and with nowhere to go. You head towards help, carrying your loved ones, or dragging them on pieces of board if they are too heavy for you or you are too wounded to carry them, you head for help.  You can’t head for home.  It is all gone. Imagine that when you finally can sew enough rags together to make a tent for you and your family, hurricanes and floods put a fast end to that, and just as you are starting to get yourself out of the mud, comes a terrible diarrhea, called cholera, that can enter into you in the morning and hand you your death by noon.How did these neighbors of ours, in Haiti, dream when they were so battered, exhausted, hungry and homeless? What do you have left when you have nothing?

Here is the heroic example, witnessed by the whole world, of the Haitian people. When everything has been taken from you, and you still have faith, hope and love, you have everything. When you have faith, hope and love, you have the only three things that matter. St Paul’s words have proclaimed this truth for twenty centuries, and in our own young century we see how real it is. They are the only things that matter. Faith, hope and love are the stuff dreams are made of.

As College graduates, you are about to bring everything life has made of you, out into the world. You will become doctors and judges, teachers and bankers. You will wield every kind of skill and power in the market place, and the social centers of the world.

You will make your mark as you navigate the great spheres of our globe: the land sphere, the water sphere, the atmosphere. But what kind of heart will you bring to the heartsphere? What kind of mind will you bring to the sphere of consciousness?  Will you be “Dead men walking?” Successful men and women, yes, but hollow?  Will you be heavy with a fast and full flood of memories that crowd out new dreams?

Or will your hearts dream of peace and justice, prosperity for all on the planet, for the earth itself? Will your mind dream of what is beautiful and noble, true and everlasting? The kind of person you are, will matter infinitely more than any success you will have.

Let your dreams take wing on faith hope and love.

Gandhi once said this about God:

“There is an indefinable mysterious power that pervades everything, I feel it though I do not see it.It is this unseen power which makes itself felt…a living power that is changeless, that holds all together, that creates, dissolves and recreates. That informing power of spirit is God, who reveals  that in the midst of death life persists, in the midst of untruth truth persists, in the midst of darkness light persists. God is life, truth, light. He is love. He is the supreme Good.But He is no God who merely satisfies the intellect, if He ever does. God to be God must rule the heart and transform it.”

Congratulations on your achievements on this day of your graduation!

Many more achievements await you!

The time will be full and go fast

And when the years have flown by and the chronicles are written

May this be known as the class of dreamers

Those whose dreams were ever fresh and new!

The class of faith and hope and love unfailing

The class of Marywood,  2011

Congratulations and God bless you!

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