A Local Call

This weekend, Michael Tueth, SJ, a professor of communications at Fordham University in New York, gave what I think was a wonderful homily at the baccalaureate Mass for graduating seniors. And you don’t have to be a student to appreciate it. In just a few paragraphs, leavened with humor, he answers the questions, "What are God’s plans for me?" "How does God speak to me?" and "How am I to live?" Here it is, only slightly edited. My dear graduates, many people will be speaking to you during this important weekend in your lives. You will also be receiving numerous messages--by way of greeting cards, e-mail, cell-phone, Blackberrys, I-phones, text-messsages. Why, some of you may be reading a message or two right now. I come here to deliver three messages from someone who loves you very much, one who has known you and cared for you all the way back to those wonderful months you spent in your mother’s womb. I have them right here; they’re from--let me see--oh yes, Almighty God. For we believe in a God who, from the beginning of human life on this planet, has constantly been sending us messages. As the First Letter to the Hebrews puts it, "In times past, God spoke in fragmentary and varied ways to our parents through the prophets; in this, the final age, God has spoken to us through His Son" (Heb. 1.1-2). Our task is to remain alert for any communication from God, to clear away the noise and static so that God’s saving words come through loud and clear. And we send messages back to God. Which reminds me of the story of the Jesuit priest who was traveling through Europe--seeing the sights and, of course, saving souls. During his days in Rome, he visited a beautiful basilica and noticed a marble column in the church with a golden telephone on it. As a priest passed by him, the Jesuit asked about the telephone. The priest told him that it was a direct line to Heaven, and if he’d like to call, it would cost a thousand Euros. Well, of course, as a poor Jesuit, he couldn’t afford to make the call, but he was really impressed. As he continued throughout Europe, he kept seeing the same golden telephone. At each church he asked about it and the answer was always the same: a direct line to Heaven . . .a thousand Euros. Father finished his European tour in Ireland. When he visited the little church in the village where he was staying, he once again spotted the golden telephone. Underneath this one, however, was a sign: DIRECT LINE TO HEAVEN: 25 CENTS. Spotting a local parishioner, he said to her, "I have seen telephones exactly like this one all over Europe, but the price is always a thousand Euros. Why is this one only 25 cents?" The parishioner smiled and said, "Oh Father, you’re in Ireland now. It’s a local call." In the sacred scripture that has been proclaimed this evening, God has sent you graduates at least three messages. First, through the prophet Jeremiah, God says to you. "I know the plans I have for you...plans for your welfare and not for your harm. To give you a future with hope." Yes, God has plans; God has dreams. And this evening’s reading from the Letter to the Romans urges us to "discern what is the will of God" for each of us. But what does that mean? I’m afraid that this term may conjure up the image of a detailed outline, a map of our lives that is hidden behind some curtain or is embedded in some secret code that we need to decipher. Wouldn’t life be simpler if we could just download a copy of that plan and use it to guide our every decision? It would be like Mapquest, and it would tell us what to do at every turn. We could call it "Lifequest." God’s plans for us, God’s dream for our lives, may be a bit more general. Like every good parent, God does not plan your life for you in every detail, but basically desires that, whatever decisions you make will shape you into the productive, joyous, and loving human being God created you to be. I hope that your time at Fordham has helped you explore how you can make that happen, freely, responsibly, lovingly. I think of the letter that Sister Ita Ford, a Maryknoll nun working with the poor in El Salvador, sent to her niece Jennifer in Brooklyn a few months before she herself was murdered by members of the Salvadoran army in 1980. Sister Ita wrote: "I hope you come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you. Something worth living for--maybe even worth dying for--something that energizes you, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead. I can’t tell you what it might be. That’s for you to find, to choose, to love." The second message, in this evening’s Gospel reading, comes from God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Speaking to his apostles at his last meal with them, Jesus looked around the table and said, "It was not you who chose Me, but I who chose You." Those words, of course, are also addressed to us. We are part of Christ’s dreams and plans. St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, describes this amazing fact in his masterpiece, the Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius invites us to picture Christ as the leader of a great campaign to conquer all the enemies of God--ignorance, injustice, hatred, hopelessness, and disbelief--and to hear Christ recruiting us to follow Him. I hope that at some point, in a classroom, at a student Mass, on a Global Outreach trip, on a campus ministry retreat, in a community service experience here in our Bronx neighborhood, you too have heard that invitation and have figured out how you too can join in Christ’s noble enterprise. Finally, the third message is perhaps the most personal one. Jesus also says to His apostles and to us: "Love one another as I love you." Think of all the messages of love that God has sent to you through so many channels. Through your parents and family members who are so relieved-- I mean, proud-- that you made it to this day. Through the friends He has sent into your lives and who came through for you in so many ways during the four--or maybe five--years you spent here. And even through my colleagues among the faculty, staff, and administration of Fordham University. In his visit to America last month, Pope Benedict XVI described the work of Catholic education as an "intellectual charity," and proclaimed that "a profound responsibility to lead the young to truth is nothing less than an act of love." So there. I have delivered the messages from God. How do we respond to such messages of God’s plans, God’s love, and God’s choosing of us? One way is to join in this sacred liturgy of thanksgiving and holy sacrifice. So let us send our answer back to God. Don’t worry. This is Fordham. It’s a local call. James Martin, SJ
Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
10 years 8 months ago
What a wonderul and affirming message. So glad it is in print, because if these graduates are anything like normal human beings, they couldn't really absorb what they were hearing amid the den of excitement and relief and anxiety, etc. But they can always use these printed words as a reminder ...
10 years 8 months ago
As a sometime teacher of homiletics, I found Fr Tueth’s homily a fine example of what liturgical preaching is meant to do: name grace. With attention to the Scriptures proclaimed and enacted in Word and Sacrament; with humour, style and substance, he articulated the experience of those to be graduated, their parents, and friends and then went on to announce that there was a word from the Lord filled with hope and promise. Even more, he gave them reason to give thanks to God—the essence of the Eucharist in which they were engaged. Well done!
10 years 8 months ago
I'm glad to hear Fr. Tueth was selected for the Baccalaureate Mass--he is a wonderful professor and a great Jesuit at Fordham.


The latest from america

An extraordinary minister of the holy Eucharist distributes Communion during Mass at Transfiguration Church in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
According to a report released by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University on Jan. 22, just 33 percent of bishops in the United States think the church “should” ordain women as deacons.
Michael J. O’LoughlinJanuary 22, 2019

When the poet Mary Oliver died last week at the age of 83, my social media feeds blossomed into a field of tributes.

Lisa AmplemanJanuary 22, 2019
Most of the undocumented immigrants who are in the United States have overstayed a visa and did not cross the border illegally, according to a new analysis from the Center of Migration Studies.
J.D. Long-GarcíaJanuary 22, 2019
The church is my home because my home was a domestic church.
Katie Prejean McGradyJanuary 22, 2019