(The following is the text of my homily to the 2013 graduating class of La Salle Academy where I serve as chaplain):
In the early 16th century, St. Ignatius of Loyola established an order of priests called the Society of Jesus. Today we know them as the Jesuits. In fact, some of you will be attending Jesuit universities next year.
One of the early followers of Ignatius was a man named Francis Xavier. When they met, both men were students at the University of Paris: Ignatius was focused on serving God; Francis was focused on achieving worldly success. But one day Ignatius challenged Francis to examine his life. Ignatius spoke words that cut to Francis’s heart. Quoting Jesus, Ignatius asked, “Francis, what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but to lose his soul in the process?” Francis eventually experienced deep spiritual change and went on to join the Jesuits and he became one of the greatest missionaries in Church history.
When the day came for Ignatius to send Francis to preach the gospel in India he said to him: “Francis, leave this place and set the world on fire.” He was speaking about the fire of God’s love.
“Leave this place and set the world on fire.” Class of 2013, I believe these are the words that Jesus wants to speak to you tonight. Like Francis Xavier, each of you has been touched by God’s grace and has experienced change during your years at LSA. But your journey is just beginning.
I propose to you that what happened to Francis is meant to happen to each of you: you are to become less and less enamored by worldliness and more and more transformed by God’s love so that you can share that love with others.
Now that’s not easy, especially in our culture; and it might even seem contrary to what high school graduation means. You might be asking: Aren’t I now suppose to focus even more on success…career…achievement…building a name for myself? You’re certainly in a world that tells you material success is everything.
But what you have learned during your time at LSA is that true success is achieved by living a holy and virtuous life; a life of self-giving, not one of self-indulgence. A life modeled on the life of Jesus himself, who came to serve, not to be served.
As you begin a new chapter in life, I want to challenge you to resist the temptation to live a self-indulgent life. When we live self-indulgent lives we do not spread the fire of God’s love, instead we burnout and experience emptiness. When we live self-giving lives modeled on the life of Jesus, we set the world on fire with God’s love. Our lives are marked by contribution, and we experience the deep peace that comes from God alone.
Resist the self-indulgent life! Make a gift of yourself! Deepen your friendship with Jesus through daily prayer and the sacraments. Let yourself be transformed more and more by God’s love for you. Be selfless. As we heard in the second reading today, be an example to others in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity. If you choose a life of self-giving rather than a life of self-indulgence, you will be truly happy, and you will make a tremendous difference in the world. You will set the world on fire with God’s love.
I want to end this homily with a personal story about a person who chose a life of self-giving. Yesterday, I received word that my friend, Fr. Brian Smith, died at the young age of 45. Fr. Brian was a wonderful priest in the Archdiocese of Boston. Two weeks ago I visited him in the hospital. He was extremely weak, but as I entered the room he stood to hug me. We spoke. We prayed together. He gave me his blessing. He knew he was dying. He told me about all of the blessings he had received during these weeks of illness, and how close he felt to Jesus. Outside his hospital room, his mother shared with me about all of the notes and comments she had received from people about how much Fr. Brian had touched their lives…how Fr. Brian helped them. Fr. Brian chose a life of self-giving, and people were touched through his life, and now he is with the Lord…but his legacy will live on.
And you, class of 2013: now it’s your turn. Choose a life of self-giving. Make a gift of yourself. Remain in the holy presence of God, and with Jesus in your heart, leave this place and set the world on fire.