Bishop Murphy Homily Molloy Commencement
Mahatma Gandhi, the liberator of India and a Brahmin caste Hindu, kept by his bedside the Beatitudes found in the Gospel, the eight "Blesseds" that Jesus taught his disciples on the mountainside. Gandhi called them the highest expression of human ethics and virtue and tried to practice them in his own remarkable life. He was right! Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the humble, those who thirst for justice, the pure of heart, the peacemakers" are all high ideals and attract all men and women of good will. But Jesus in the Gospel goes on. He directs his attention to those who are truly his disciples, Peter, James, John, YOU and ME. He tells us that if we live the Beatitudes, we must do so not just as high ideals but as a means for us to influence the world with them. He calls us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world!
There is a radical difference between admirers of Jesus and ourselves who are true disciples, followers of Jesus. For we know that Jesus is not just a holy man, not just a prophet or a wise man for the ages. He is Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. He alone could and did die on a cross to redeem us. He and he alone could and did rise form the dead, passing through death to a new and glorified life so that we could share that life. We, baptized into his death and sharers in the sacrament of His body and blood, are members of His Body, the community of communion which is the Church. Therefore he calls us, as followers of him, not only to live the beatitudes, but to be the salt that releases their meaning and power, light that shows the world how to live them out in our own lives and in the society and communities for which we are responsible.
Molloy College is dedicated to the beatitudes. As an institution of higher learning. As a Catholic College committed to seeking the truth and translating truth into a world that seems bereft of it, this community has become an intimate part of your own identity. I cannot enumerate what each of you has gained here but I know it is significant. I cannot predict how you will use what you have gained because that depends on the depth of your understanding, your appreciation and your decision on how you will live out what you have learned, what you have discovered and what you have adopted as the standards of your life and your conduct.
I can tell you this and do so with confidence. As disciples of Christ, as members of His Body, the Church, you have been given a gift beyond measure. It is the gift of Christ's life that has made you CHRISTIAN, one of his, one of ours. Pope St. Leo the Great famously proclaimed: "Christian, recognize your dignity." Recognize who you are by who you have become. And let his message and the teaching of His Church inspire you to be salt of the earth, light of the world.
You cannot do that alone. And the rest of us who seek to live by the light of Christ cannot do it without you. It is a task we all share because we share in a dignity that has taken our human dignity as the apogee of God's creative love and had it transformed by Christ who makes as participants in God's divine love. Pope Benedict calls Christ's resurrection and the Holy Spirit he gives us through baptism an "evolutionary leap" of humanity. How would I explain that?
Catholic social doctrine makes it clear that of all God's creatures, we are the only ones "created for ourselves," carrying an innate dignity and value that makes us the most beloved issue of God's creative love. Human dignity is a gift from God who calls us to friendship with Him, a friendship squandered by us all from the first man and woman to today. The professed atheist, G B Shaw said the only Christian doctrine he could believe in was original sin. Our human dignity is a given not from ourselves but from God. And therefore we all must respect and honor the inherent human dignity of every person, for no other reason than that he or she is human. No matter what the condition, no matter what the stage, no matter what the future prospects, every human being deserves and must be given the dignity with all the concomitant rights simply because he or she is human.
But human dignity is also an achievement. We receive it as a gift but, like every gift, we can do with it what we want. We can use it for good or for ill. We can squander it. We can honor it. We can develop it or we can destroy it. Think of the prodigal son in the Gospel. Think of so many you and I know about in our contemporary society who have turned dignity into tragedy.
But you also can seek to achieve a life in which your dignity flourishes by what you choose, what you say, how you live and what you hold dear. That is not always easy. But when Christ rose from the dead, our human dignity was transformed. He raised us to a new level of existence, a leap from one level of human life to the extraordinary one of being true participants in God's own life. Thanks be to Him, he makes our humanity capable of going beyond its own natural limits to be salt to the earth and light to the world. We now not only know, we now can achieve full human dignity. Think of Blessed Mother Teresa. Think of the firefighters who died on September 11 or the teachers who achieve a dignity by helping the developmentally challenged; mothers who carry the challenge of raising children in lives of faith and truth. Think of a Lech Walesa in a communist Poland or a Nelson Mandela in a South African prison. Or the billionaire who is giving away all his money to charity or the faithful husband and wife who do volunteer work in their parish or community. Human dignity is a gift. But it is also an achievement.
And here is where Jesus is the key. If human dignity is a gift from God that we can use or misuse, we need the strength born of truth and the commitment born of the love of God to be faithful to what is true and good and right and beautiful. Many, perhaps most, in our society deny or at least seek to compromise these ultimate goods. But Jesus has both given a teaching and an example. Even more he has given us a share in his life. Cling to that life as your model and your strength! You will find your human dignity fulfilled and your lives salt and light for the good of the world.
Paul, the great apostle and preacher of the truth, has given you the marks of this kind of discipleship. I ask you to keep his words to you today with you for the rest of your lives. You are God's chosen ones, holy and beloved. You are part of God's plan for the salvation of the world. As Gandhi kept the Beatitudes by his bedside, you keep them in your hearts and in your minds and live by them! Live with compassion, kindness, humility, goodness and patience. Be forgiving of others. Live in peace with one another, Christ's peace! And be thankful for all you have received and generous in sharing all that you are. Put on love and you will be truly the salt of the earth and the light to the world. Amen.