A very warm welcome to everyone who is joining us virtually for this Baccalaureate Mass offered up for our Saint Joseph High School graduating class of 2020. I do not think that we could have chosen a better gospel for today’s Baccalaureate Mass. As Christ prepared his disciples to be sent out into a dangerous world so too we prepare to send all of you out into a dangerous world wrought with unknown challenges and undoubtedly great struggles. If this year alone has proven anything at all to be true, it is that there is much work to do in order to make world into the Kingdom of Heaven that Christ so often spoke of to his followers. So the question remains, how? In the midst of so much suffering, so much injustice, so much anger and hatred, what are we to do…what are you 18 year old’s to do?
I recently saw a film called, “A Hidden Life” which was directed by Terrence Malick and it was about the real life story of Blessed Franz Jaggerstatter who was an Austrian farmer who lived a rather dubious lifestyle in his younger years but when he was older and married he encountered the beauty of the faith in a profound way that changed him drastically; when drafted to fight in Hitler’s army, refused to swear the oath to Hitler and was subsequently arrested. The film illustrates the letters that Blessed Franz wrote back and forth with his wife when he was in prison. This decision to not swear the oath to Hitler was not taken lightly but rather came from months of quiet prayer and deliberation with his wife and friends. This deliberation alone brought he and his family so much hardship, being ostracized by the townspeople whose brothers, fathers, uncles, and husbands all went off to fight in the very war that Blessed Franz had the nerve to question. Out of all the questions that Blessed Franz was asked, the most common was this, “Do you think your decision will change anything? Do you think your decision to not swear your oath will change this war?”. Blessed Franz often did not respond to this question, mirroring eerily the image of Christ silent before Pontius Pilate asking Jesus, “What is truth?”, but when asked by the judge who held Blessed Franz’s life in his hands, Franz responds with, “ I don’t know everything. A man may do wrong, and he cant get out of it to make his life clear, Maybe he’d like to go back, but he can’t. But I have this feeling inside of me, that I can’t do what I believe is wrong.” The judge responds with, “Do you have a right to do this?” and Franz responds by saying, “Do I have a right not to?”.
Blessed Franz knew that his decision to follow his conscience and refuse to swear that oath would not only lead to his ultimate martyrdom but also, that it would not change the course of the war. His heroic virtue in the face of unimaginable evil did not stop Hitler and his followers from committing some of the most horrific travesties this world has ever seen, Franz’s choice did not save the lives of all those unjustly imprisoned, and it certainly did not end the war…and yet in our heart of hearts, we are so drawn to this beautiful story that is echoed time and again by heroic women and men who are willing to give up their lives, sometimes literally, for the sake of that which is true. And this is why I bring this up today, at this Mass, in this place, to you all who we are about to send out into the world filled with wolves in sheep’s clothing. A single life of heroic virtue may not change the course of the evils which are unfolding in our time, but they no less change the course of our world.
The movie ends with a quote from the English author George Eliot, or Mary Anne Evans, that reads, “the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” Before setting off into the world, few truths are as important to understand as this: we do not do or pursue that which is true, good, and beautiful in order to effect change and to be noticed; rather, doing and pursuing that which is true, good, and beautiful effects change and gets noticed because it is precisely that which is true, good, and beautiful. If the world does not know recognize the good you do, and the suffering that you endure for the truth that you sacrifice for…that is ok. It is no less heroic because there are no eyes or ears to witness. As sons and daughters of a heavenly Father, nothing you do goes unnoticed and nothing that you sacrifice for goes to waste. This world cries out generations of people who are committed not to changing the world, but who are simply in love with the truth.
When Pope Saint John Paul II came to the United States back in 1993 for world youth day in Denver, the world thought that no one would show. Addressing over a half a million young people in a crowded Denver field, the Holy Father said this about the pilgrimage that so many young people sacrificed to make to come to world youth day that year.
“I too came as a pilgrim, a pilgrim of hope. I have always known that for the Church and for civil society young people constitute the hope of our future. But over the years of my ministry, especially through the celebration of events such as this one, that hope has been confirmed and strengthened again and again. It has been the young people themselves who have taught me to have ever new and ever greater confidence. It is not just that the young people of today are the adults of the future who will step into our shoes and carry on the human adventure. No, the longing present in every heart for a full and free life that is worthy of the human person is particularly strong in them. Certainly, false answers to this longing abound, and humanity is far from being a happy and harmonious family. But so many young people in all societies refuse to descend into selfishness and superficiality. They refuse to relinquish responsibility. That refusal is a beacon of hope.”
Our ultimate hope is in the person of Jesus Christ but I can say with great confidence that in a very real way, we the faculty, staff, and administration of Saint Joe’s, place a great deal of our confident hope in you all. That you all will leave this place and wherever it is that you end up, you will pursue the truth at every cost not because it is popular and not because it will get you recognized but because it is the deepest longing of your heart and that for which you were made. You young people are not the hope of future generations, you are a current hope and one that a great deal of pressure is put on given our current climate. I promise that if you make prayer and a daily pursuit of that which is true, good, and beautiful a priority in your lives, you will change the world.