6/4/2015 9:00:00 AM BISHOP'S COLUMN Graduation or commencement?
THE 29 CLUB
BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER AND Revs. Thomas Morrette and Robert Hohenstein took themselves out to lunch last week to celebrate May 29 -- the birthday they all share. Father Morrette is pastor of All Saints on the Hudson parish in Mechanicville/Stillwater; Father Hohenstein is pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Schenectady.
'We never "graduate" from our ever-growing faith and our friendship with our all-loving God.'
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER
Spring is a time of growth and transition. In the natural order, we are seeing (finally) greenery and flowering things emerge from the brown earth and around the edges of the gray pavement along our streets. It has been a long winter and we welcome these beautiful gifts of God's ever-renewing creation.
It is also a time in which we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our hearts as we commemorate Pentecost and the beginning of our own Christian life at baptism. May the Holy Spirit continue to renew the face of the earth through each and every one of us, one by one!
It is a great joy and privilege for me personally to travel around our Diocese in order to celebrate the conferral of the sacrament of confirmation on many of our young people who are themselves experiencing changes and challenges in their lives.
This is also a time when our youth are completing one phase of their academic lives and moving on to the next step, whether that be high school, college or a university. There are competing names for this transition -- graduation and commencement -- each of which focuses on a different aspect of that growth.
"Graduation" tends to focus on departure of the student from a school community in which many friendships were formed and many learning experiences, hopefully affirming and life-enriching, occurred.
A certain wistfulness, even sadness, can be present as graduates "move on." We are fortunate to live in an era of almost instant electronic communication, so many of the personal connections forged over these years will be able to continue on some level. Yet nothing can replace the day-to-day, face-to-face interaction among friends, classmates and school faculty that will now change drastically for the graduate.
It is in this sense of "graduation," no doubt, that our Holy Father has called (in ironic jest) the sacrament of confirmation the "sacrament of farewell" in some of his addresses and homilies. He refers to, in a somewhat humorous yet concerned and serious fashion, how, for all too many recipients, confirmation will be seen as a kind of graduation or departure from active involvement in their Church family.
Some of this may be due to the practice of seeing confirmation as kind of an award or degree for certain works well done, like catechetical instruction absorbed or service projects performed. Learning and community activity, which is an extension of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, are constitutive components of Christian formation.
Nothing, however, can replace the essential and defining role of prayer and worship, both personal and communal.
Even personal prayer and worship are never just "individual" or private for Christians who understand themselves to be children of a personal God who, by nature, is a Trinity: three Persons revolving around each other in a mysterious but profound bond of unity, yet always focused on the other, the other Persons.
We are connected radically to and through this personal God. Who, what and how we are is defined by our relationship to this personal God who is intimately involved in our actions and relationships, no matter how seemingly small and insignificant. We never "graduate" from our ever-growing faith and our friendship with our all-loving God.
Church and school, at times, might seem a lot alike. In both of them, we deal with hierarchical structures, authority, rules and regulations, forms and rituals and expected behaviors. Yet God is more than king, ruler and creator -- though certainly all of these.
God is also Father -- and not only Father as origin or generator of life, but as Abba or "little father," the tender, caring, embracing "daddy" of each of us. This is the term Jesus Himself used to address His Father and ours.
The Holy Spirit, who has been described as the kiss between the Father and the Son, reveals Jesus to us not just as Savior of the World, which He is, but as our personal Savior and friend. Jesus wants to be our intimate friend for life, indeed for all eternity. He is not just the Lord, but my Lord and my God, as doubting Thomas exclaimed when he recognized that the wounds in the hands, feet and side of the risen Christ were wounds He bore for him personally.
In this sense, then, I like to encourage those receiving confirmation to accept this gift more as a "commencement" or a new beginning. When I address our high school and college graduates, I also encourage them to make Jesus the center of their lives.
Rather than seeing confirmation or going to a new school as leaving anything behind -- except for childish ways, and manners of thinking and acting that no longer fit a more mature person -- I encourage everyone who is taking these big steps to look forward to a deeper and more committed relationship with God.
Our best days are always ahead of us. Though milestones in our lives are good times to look back and to see how far we have come, they are not a time to detach ourselves from the roots that have nourished and formed our faith and our friendships.
These will endure if we remain grafted as branches onto the true Vine: our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, our only sure and secure future.