June 14, 2017

Lessons for the Final Graduation

Where does the time go? I think all of us reflect on this now and then, especially as we see our kids grow and as we, and they, move through the landmark moments of life. Less than two weeks ago, I hit the big 50. My wife, Eva, will soon join me. Where does the time go?

Recently, some other big life events have caused this question to hit home. Our eldest child, Anna, just graduated from high school. Our first-born son, Stephen, just turned 18 and will be a senior next year. Our second son, John, just became our fourth child to graduate from junior high and will begin high school next year. And we just registered the youngest of our eight, Joshua, for kindergarten. He will begin this new adventure in late August, right about the time when we will be dropping Anna off for college in Ohio.

At this time on the turning calendar, when so many of our own children are graduating from college or high school or junior high or kindergarten, our thoughts drift toward analogies between life and faith and school.

Several of our kids are musically oriented. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is fond of comparing the Catholic Church to a symphony. As instruments and voices hitting the right notes make beautiful melodies and harmonies when we, the members of Christ’s Body, play our parts well, the Great Conductor brings forth a beautiful hymn.

In this symphony, the Bride of Christ, our Holy Mother the Church, gave birth to us through the font of Baptism. This font is the womb by which we are born again as new creatures of God, his adopted sons and daughters. The Church is our ultimate “alma mater,” our “nurturing mother.” But we must practice daily the instruments of the faith: learning her teachings, living a sacramental life, seeking to live the moral life, and oiling those trumpets with daily prayer. Then we can make beautiful music for the Lord in both the crescendos and decrescendos life provides.

Art gives students the creative outlet to make something beautiful. We paint daily on the canvas of our lives. If a brush-stroke goes awry, God, in his mercy, gives us a clean canvas, especially through the Sacrament of Penance, on which to paint.

In science, we learn the wonders of the natural world that our Maker has created and which have been so often discovered through the Church, such as the scientific method, and even the “Big Bang” theory, first posited by a priest-scientist.

In the first universities begun by the Church in the Middle Ages, in places such as Paris, Cologne, and Oxford, the three great schools of learning were law, medicine, and the “Queen of the Sciences,” theology. Through this last one, we learn the science of the saints.

Philosophy is the “handmaiden of theology.” The word “philosophy” means “love of wisdom.” Sound philosophy based on objective truth helps one to fly with the two wings of faith and reason. The two can never contradict one another, as they come from the same source.

History should help us learn those “best practices” that have been good for mankind, as well as sins and errors that we should avoid repeating. History is not merely cyclical like some unending version of the movie “Groundhog Day.” In the end, human history is not so much cyclical, as linear. It begins with the creation of Adam and Eve and reaches its zenith when the Word becomes flesh in Jesus Christ. It will have its end point on this earth when all the nations and peoples will be brought before the Lord of History at the Final Judgment. Far from simply “strutting our hour upon the stage,” or being “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” we are key players in this drama of salvation history. It begins for each Christian when he is grafted onto the vine, Who is Christ, in Baptism. Thus begins our shoot on this family tree.

In mathematics, we learn of integers, equations, and formulas. Important as these are, no human being is simply a number in a sea of humanity. Each of us is distinct and important. God loves every person into being, makes us each in his image, to love and be loved. By God’s grace and by remaining in it, we are numbered among the elect, with royal dignity, to reign with Christ.

Learning to read and write is one of the great gifts that education provides. Through the topsy-turvy mystery novel of our lives, we have constant opportunities to write new verses to this sonnet, to compose beautiful poetry, and to draw forth new chapters.

Maybe I’ve been watching too much of the Stanley Cup finals (Penguin fan alert!), but those of us who are sports aficionados can appreciate the grit and battle of the contest, the check against the boards, the wrestling match against the world, the flesh, and the devil, and the arduous race won by the one who trains in the gymnasium of Christ and perseveres to the end. If we as parents and teachers have trained our children and students to do likewise, and if they cooperate with the grace of God, we and they will win not merely a laurel wreath of leaves that fades and withers, or a diploma that yellows over time.

If we write well, at the conclusion of the final chapter of our life’s novel, we can look forward to our Lord, Master, Teacher, and Father rising to greet and embrace us saying, “Well done good and faithful servant…my child.” Then, whether we were valedictorians in this life or barely made it through, in that Final Graduation, we will enter into eternity with high honors. And we shall laugh and sing and eat and drink at the glorious wedding banquet, and the Bridegroom shall dance with his Bride for all eternity.

(Jim Gontis is the Director of Religious Education and Director of Sports Ministry for the Diocese of Harrisburg.)

By Jim Gontis, Special to The Witness

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