Saturday, May 23, 2015

graduation address - Castlecomer CS 2015

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

It is a privilege and a pleasure to speak you on this occasion and I thank your principal and your chaplain for their kind invitation. It is made all the more special by the fact that we may well be making history this evening – as far as I am aware, this is the first time the priest who is preaching at this Graduation Mass has been one of the parents of the graduating class. It shows just how far ecumenicism has come in Ireland – it is a sign of a mature society when the differences between different groups of people are no longer a cause for automatic discomfort; and that we are able to respect differences without trying to pretend that they do not exist.

The fact that things are changing in this country brings us rather neatly, I think, to the theme you all chose for this Mass: 'Learn from the past, Live in the present, Believe in the future.' Now I'm a great fan of programmes like Dr Who, and the whole past, present, and future motif rather puts me in mind of Time Travel. So perhaps you'll forgive me if there are a few references relating to time travel in this talk – especially if you don't find any of them funny! So let us begin with an experiment. If you're a fan of the Big Bang theory, you may recognise this. Time travel, as you know is not possible – yet! But you look like a smart group of young people; perhaps one of you will be the person who invents it. So let us make a deal. I would like you all to agree that if you do, you will promise to return here, to this very night, five seconds from now – do you agree? Very well, so let us count it down: five, four, three, two, one … Ah … I guess not. Still, not to worry; just because none of you invent time travel, I'm sure that doesn't mean that you're all not still very clever people.

Or perhaps one of you was not only clever enough to invent time travel, but also wise enough not to come back. Those of you who watch Dr Who will know that the past is not something to interfere with lightly. The past is important – think about all your memories, all your experiences; they are a very important part of who you are – would you really want them taken away from you? I realise that with the leaving cert looming, some of you may very well be wishing you could travel back in time and spend more time studying for your exams; and that all those episodes of Breaking Bad or those evenings hanging out with your friends that seemed so vital then, may not seem quite so important now. But don't worry about it: not only can you do nothing about it, it probably wouldn't be a good idea to try even if you could. We learn from our mistakes; and if we don't make them, we can't learn. And in any event, in a few weeks the exams will be over, in a few weeks more you'll have the results, and no matter how well you did or didn't do, life goes on.

Time for another joke about time travel. As it happens, I heard a very good one about time travel tomorrow … and I'll tell it to you yesterday. But that brings me to the next phrase in your theme: live in the present. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow may never come, so don't spend so much time going over and over things that are over and done with that you can't change, or worrying so much about things that may never happen that you miss out on the here and now. In a very real sense this present moment is all we have. If there's someone you know you should help, do it now; tomorrow may be too late. Have you done wrong to someone else and it is eating you up, going round and round in your head? Stop wasting your time thinking about it; go say sorry to that person now. Is there a change you need to make in your life, something important? Do it now, because tomorrow may never come. Because though you are not able to change the past, and you don't know what the future holds, you can act in the present. Today was a very good example of that, as it was the first opportunity many of you will have had to vote. No doubt some of you could have registered and did not; others were registered and did not go.

And if you are not happy with the result that emerges tomorrow you may well have some regret. But there will be nothing you can do, for today was the day to act. Those of you who did vote, I congratulate you – I may not agree with the way some of you may have cast your votes – personally, I think that 21 is too young to be the president, but that is only my opinion – but you took action and for that you deserve much credit.

Time for another joke, this one about travelling to the future. A scientist, a business man, and a comedian was each allowed to travel into the future for a few minutes. The scientist came back grinning and said 'I went 10 years into the future and I looked up lots of future Nobel prize winning ideas and I'm going to publish all those works myself. I'm going to be the greatest scientist that ever lived!' The business man came back with a huge smile on his face and said 'I went 15 years into the future. I looked up which companies are doing really well on the stock exchange; I'm going to invest in them and become the richest man that ever lived!' The comedian came back, looking rather sad. He said 'I went 20 years into the future. Does anyone know how to make nuclear war sound funny?'

That bring me to the last part of your theme: believe in the future. That's rather a no-brainer, isn't it? It is something we all have pretty much no choice but to do – after all, if we didn't, there wouldn't be much point in getting up out of bed in the morning. You all already know what it means to believe in the future – for the last five or six years you have essentially worked hard every day – in the present moment – toiling toward the future goal of your Leaving Cert exams, believing that the sacrifices you were making would ultimately prove to be worth it. Many of you are doubtless hoping to go on to third level, where you will again make sacrifices in the now for the sake of making a better future for yourselves. You will all be looking to the future in some way: jobs, careers, relationships, starting a family, travel … all of which depend on action in the present with an eye on the future result, a belief that the hopes and dreams of the present are possible and can be realised in the future if only you make the effort to make them happen. And I certainly hope that all of you are able to make real in your future lives the ambitions that you have in the present moment.

And now comes to the point to bring a little bit of religion into this – you may have been thinking that I was perhaps going to let this occasion go by without it, but seriously – get real! This is a sermon, and this is your graduation Mass – it really is obligatory for me to bring religion in it! Let's say for the sake of argument you all achieve your wildest dreams … you all become fabulously wealthy, you have perfect lives with big houses, fast cars, husbands or wives that look like movie-stars, foreign holidays every second week, and children who don't give you even a fraction of the hassle that you gave your parents … what then? Well for that, it would perhaps be appropriate to consider a little warning about the future that Jesus Christ gave us in what is called the parable of the rich fool; it goes like this: The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’ And what Christ is saying there is that this life will pass; and if all your thoughts for the future have only been concerned with this life, to the exclusion of the next, then your future is rather bleak. Don't get so caught up in dreams about the future you hope for in this life that you forget about the reality of life in the next, and so, for the sake of something that is passing, lose out on something that is eternal.

One last joke: After years of mockery from his colleagues at the university, who told him he was wasting his time, a scientist finally perfected his time travel machine. Sadly, on the same day, his dog died. His assistant, a very sympathetic young lady, said 'Professor, I'm so sorry about Rover. Shall we bury him before we take the machine for a test run?'
'Naw,' said the Professor. 'Let's do both at the same time.'
'What do you mean?'
'I mean I want to take Rover back about 100,000 years, dig a hole on the side of the Iron Mountain, and bury him there. Wearing a crown and holding a machine gun!'
'Why on earth would you want to do that?'
'Because Bob in archaeology has been the worst of all those giving me a hard time over the years and he has a dig starting tomorrow in the exact spot I'm going to bury Rover. Let's see him try to explain that!'

If any of you do invent time-travel, I hope you make better use of it than that. But whatever your future holds, I would like to end this evening by thanking God for all that he has given you in the past, ask that he bless you in the here and now, and guide every step of your future lives, particularly over the important weeks to come, through all of this life and into the next. Amen

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