RCA Commencement

Commencement Address May 14 2023

Graduating seniors, parents, and teachers, congratulations on completing your high school education and formation at Regina Coeli Academy. By now you will have deduced that I am not Fr. Brian Baker, who was supposed to be the commencement speaker today. Father Baker is ill, so please keep him in your prayers.

My name is Brad Young. I am an ordained deacon, serving at St. Catherine of Siena in Kennesaw, Georgia. So while I am not as smart and talented as Fr. Baker — but really, who is? — I am a father of three children and therefore quite familiar with the challenges of high school both from the perspective of a student and the perspective of a parent. I went to a secular boarding school in New England for my high school years, and my three children went to St. Pius X, the diocesan high school in Chamblee. My day job as an investment manager means I have one foot in the worldly camp by virtue of my finance job, and I have one foot in the “churchy” camp by virtue of my diaconal ministry.

Today, I intend to speak primarily to the graduating seniors, but I hope that what I have to say resonates with their parents and their teachers.

Graduates, you are today making the first step out of the protective confines of an educational arrangement that is steeped in Catholic principles. The secular world is profoundly uncomfortable with Catholic principles, and it seeks either to cancel those principles or co-opt those principles. Your challenge as young adults is to see through the lies of secularism and keep sight of the truths of Catholicism.

Catholics freely admit that their faith is a religion with a Creed that includes statements of faith that brook no argument and must be either accepted or rejected as they are. Just think for a minute about the Nicene Creed that we recite at Sunday Mass. It is a litany of declarative statements about what we believe. Secularists, on the other hand, deny that what they practice is a religion. Well, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, there’s a good chance that it’s a duck. And secularism, properly examined, reveals it too has statements that brook no argument but must be either accepted or rejected as they are. One of the creeds of secularism is the idea of progress. And, that does not seem in any way threatening, does it? I mean, who is against progress?

Certainly, Christians are not against progress. But progress for its own sake is part of the secular creed. That’s why we call it progressivism. Where Christians see progress as a journey of action that culminates in some kind of completeness, secular progress is an end unto itself. This means for you graduating seniors, that, as you step into the secular world either as a college student or a person in the workplace, you have to keep your eyes and ears open to recognize the contrast between secular progress and Christian perfection.

While the world adores change for the sake of change in a belief that the future is always better than the past, authentic Christians seek the change that comes from eliminating imperfections and sin so as to grow closer to God and thereby end our lives in a relationship with him for eternity. To put it another way, Christians believe in perfection rather than progress. Christians understand that perfection is the culmination of actions that bring something to completeness. Christians understand that the fallen leaves through the process of perfection become oil and coal and finally the diamond that they were meant to be. The secular world has no concept of perfection, only progress. There is no end for the world in their view; we Christians know the world will end, and that at the end of the world we will spend eternity somewhere. And the point of our lives is to decide where we will spend eternity. Now if you walk around your workplace or your college talking that way, you will most likely be written off as a crazy person, or you may experience the cancel culture as they try to suppress your freedom to speak.

So graduates, you’ve got a huge job in front of you in a setting that is not conducive to getting the job done. Welcome to the Christian walk. It seems daunting, but it is glorious. You have the opportunity to grow in maturity. You will definitely grow old, just look at me. But being old doesn’t mean necessarily being mature: just look at Hollywood. Maturity is the lifelong process of becoming more childlike and less childish. If you grow more mature, you will grow to be more childlike and less childish.

Well, you might ask, what is the difference? Childlike maturity is docility to the Holy Spirit. Where the first Eve childishly listened to and bought into the lies of Satan, the new Eve — our Regina Coeli — saw through those lies and was obedient to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. One grows in docility to the Holy Spirit through prayer. Prayer leads to greater discernment, and discernment is the ability to distinguish between the truth of God and the lies of the devil.

Another difference between becoming more childlike and less childish is trust in God’s providence. He really does have the whole world in his hands, as the song says. And the world agrees to a very limited extent. They say that nobody is an atheist in a foxhole. But what is the nature of the conversation with God when you are in a dangerous place? It’s usually more of a pleading and begging and promising type of dialogue than one of trust in our heavenly father. So many times, after he rescues us from real dangers, we forget all about him and his care for us. But trust in God’s providence means that we do trust him when things are going really badly and also when things are going really well. We understand that his grace is what helps us grow, and we merely cooperate with his grace and never take full control ourselves.

Well, if you’re going to be docile to the Holy Spirit in a world that hates the Holy Spirit, and if you’re going to trust in God’s providence in a world that tries never to see God, then you’re going to be uncomfortable. It’s as simple as that. And oddly enough, that’s the third gift that we receive through the lifelong process of becoming more childlike and less childish. We begin to grow more comfortable with the discomfort of being a stranger in a strange land. We become more comfortable being, like the Psalmist, a wanderer. It feels strange to be tuned in to the AM channel when the world is broadcasting FM, but as we grow in maturity we see through that surface feeling of discomfort and make our peace with being a wanderer in the world. We become more childlike and less childish.

Now we will not be alone. Our heavenly father, who sent his son to die on the cross for us, sent also the Holy Spirit to comfort us through our earthly journey. But the devil is also active in our lives. And he does not want us to grow in maturity. And here are the three primary tools that the devil will use against you in your effort to grow more childlike and less childish.

He will throw pride at you. Pride is simply the sense that I and my agenda are very important. The devil will use your abilities and your strengths to try to distract you from focusing on God. He wants you to focus on yourself, and pride is his most powerful weapon.

But he has others. Another powerful weapon the devil uses is pleasure. Pleasure is simply the sense that my feeling good is very important. Sometimes it is physical or sensual pleasure, and sometimes it is avoiding physical and sensual pain. But at the heart of this pursuit of pleasure or avoidance of pain is the focus on me and what I feel. And the devil will tell us that our feelings really are the most important thing in the world today.

The third weapon that the devil will use to try to thwart your growth and maturity is vanity. Vanity is simply the sense that what other people are doing or saying is very important. All of social media is a celebration of vanity, so you are probably already very familiar with the power of other people’s opinions on your own sense of who you really are. The devil uses the reactions of other people, or your anticipation of the reactions of other people, to pull you away from the truth of God. The only opinion that really matters is the opinion of our heavenly father, and the devil hates that, so he introduces other opinions to try to stop us from growing in maturity and growing closer to God.

And lastly, I want you to understand what your parents did for you in choosing this school for your high school. In choosing Regina Coeli Academy, your parents showed you love. Love is willing the good of the other, and the highest form of love is sacrificial. Your parents chose the best for you rather than what was easy or popular. This is a special school and a special kind of education for high school students, and it is expensive and difficult to reach and outside the normal path of most high school students in the United States today. But it is a much better choice than the secular alternatives of public or private school education because it includes our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the educational process. I don’t know if mom and dad tell you a lot that they love you, but in choosing this school they demonstrated it.

In choosing this school, your parents showed wisdom. Wisdom is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so your parents were prompted by the Holy Spirit to understand that education is a means rather than an end. Nobody learns stuff just to know it, or they shouldn’t. You have been taught how to learn and how to think rather than how to repeat the proper phrase. Your parents chose this school because they wanted to educate you to be a human person, rather than to train you to repeat words on a test like a parrot. If you go on to higher education, you will discover that most colleges prefer parrots to persons. The professor wants you to prove on the test that you heard what he said in class by repeating it. You may have to do some of that to get through college, but thanks to your parents, you have had a chance to learn more about thinking than merely repeating.

And in choosing this school, your parents showed goodness. The church sees your parents as the first teachers of your faith. In that role, they put you in a place that connected the word of God to the words of high school education. All your friends who did not go to a religious school, especially a faithful Catholic school like this one, were denied the fullness of education because you can’t really talk about Jesus at a regular high school. Jesus is the Word, and he himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Your parents understood that we cannot find the way, and we cannot pursue truth, and we cannot enjoy real life without Jesus. And so they sent you to a school where the Word is at the heart of every word you learn.

So my dear graduates, I thank you for the work you put in here and earned your high school degree. I thank your parents that they made the commitment to enroll you at Regina Coeli Academy. And I thank your teachers that they honored your parents’ decision and taught you well. I am giving you a sense of what the world beyond this school looks like, and I hope I’ve given you some tools that you can use in your missionary activity as witnesses to Christ in the world. As a deacon, I get to say the last words of the mass, which are translated in English as go forth.

Graduates, go forth. You are sent by your heavenly father to witness to his love. May God bless + you, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

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