Rev. Brian O’Brien
Homily for Bishop Kelley Baccalaureate Mass
Friday May 20, 2016
St. Pius X Catholic Church
I’ve always been fascinated by the Apostle Peter. Here was a guy, chosen by Christ to the lead the Church, a huge responsibility, and yet he was, by all accounts, a highly imperfect man. He was a sinner. He famously denied Jesus three times and yet today, we call him St. Peter, we name churches after him, we name our kids after him. How did Peter, sinner though he was, become St. Peter? The answer is mercy. Pope Francis recently said of St. Peter, “Three times he denied Jesus, precisely when he should have been closest to him; and when he hits bottom he meets the gaze of Jesus and he weeps. How beautiful is the gaze of Jesus- how much tenderness is there! Brothers and Sisters, let us never lose trust in the patience and mercy of God.” Patience and mercy.
Patience is not something for which high school students are particularly well known. We live in a culture that demands instant access, instant gratification. For many of you seniors, you’ve been impatient to get out of high school. To get to college, to leave home, to spread your wings. You’ve been impatient for his day and especially for tomorrow, the day of your graduation. So while you graduates may not be good at patience, you should be at mercy!
We’re in the Year of Mercy, proclaimed by Pope Francis as a time in the Church when we focus in on the Mercy of God. It is the Holy Father’s intention that this year be filled with not only asking God for His mercy for our many faults, but to do concrete acts of mercy for another. We began the Year of Mercy with all school Mass back on December 8th. And this holy year will continue through the end of November. But, like senior year, like high school. Like the last 18 years, this Year of Mercy will be gone soon. My hope, dear graduates, is that this year will not be lost on you. It is my hope, and I think here I can speak for Bishop Slattery, for our incoming bishop, and for Pope Francis, when I say that we want you to become missionaries of mercy.
A missionary is one who is sent out to deliver some message. You are that missionary and your message is that God is merciful. You are being sent out and your message is that the very name of God is Mercy.
Be the one on your college campus who brings people together. Be the one who is quick to forgive and slow to judge. Be the one who is at church every Sunday and who is inviting others to come. Be the one, that like St. Peter and his shadow, that when people are near you, in your class, in your dorm, in your fraternity or sorority, be the one that when people are near you, they experience peace, their experience love, they get the mercy of God.
But in order to be missionaries of mercy, we must have experienced mercy ourselves. And we have. Who among you seniors can look back and say “I was perfect in high school.” You can’t. There have been times over these last four years that you’ve made a bad decision or maybe 10 of them. You’ve been lazy, you’ve procrastinated, you’ve been mean to someone, you’ve excluded someone, you’ve used someone. But despite those failings, failings we all have, how does God look on us? How does God treat us? With mercy. God looks on us with love and showers down His mercy upon us. Why would we not do that for others?
When the people in the early church knew that St. Peter would be coming by, “they carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them.” When Jesus came to the disciples, they were afraid. Afraid for their lives, but Jesus stood in their midst and said to them “Peace Be With You.” He breathed on them. He gave them peace. But he did more than that. He said to his apostles, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you retain are retained.” He gave them the power to forgive sins, to be missionaries of mercy.
As you go for forth from this place tonight and from Bishop Kelley High School into a world so often marked by a lack of mercy, we need mercy now more than ever. For ourselves, for the poor, for the unborn, for dying, for the unemployed, for the migrant, for those on the outside looking in. Be the face of mercy in our world. You have learned much. You are leaving Bishop Kelley High School a better place than you found it, but will that be said of you at the end of your life? Were you a missionary of mercy with the life God gave you? Only time will tell but with the mercy of God, with the Holy Spirit, and with the support of your families, anything is possible. GO and be missionaries of God’s merciful love.