By Bishop James Conley
One of the gifts I enjoy the most each spring as the Bishop of Lincoln is the privilege and honor of traveling around the diocese and participating in the graduation ceremonies of our six Catholic high schools.
These graduation ceremonies, of course, give me the opportunity to address the new graduates who are preparing to begin this next stage in their lives. In addition, it gives me the opportunity to thank the parents and family members of the graduates, who have supported, sustained and strengthened these graduates during their time in Catholic schools.
It is also an occasion to recognize the dedication and sacrificial service that teachers, administrators and pastors make each day, in order to provide such a solid and excellent Catholic education.
The longer I am in the Diocese of Lincoln, the more I am convinced that we have the best Catholic schools in the country. Our schools are grounded in a true Christian anthropology: an understanding of the dignity and sanctity of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God. And we educate the whole person—body, mind, soul and spirit—so that our graduates are well prepared: humanly, intellectually, spiritually and emotionally to face the challenges of the world in which we live today. We also understand our Catholic identity and what that means in our own lives—our call to be witnesses to our faith and disciples of Jesus.
A “commencement” is not an end, but rather a new beginning. In addressing the Class of 2019, I reminded them that their families and the Church have provided them the tools they need to begin this next journey. These tools are great blessings, and they should be grateful for and stay connected to their roots.
Although we are never confined by our roots, they helped to form our basic identity as sons and daughters of almighty God; brothers and sisters of Jesus. They ground us in humility and wisdom, and they guide us on our life-long journey toward Heaven.
One of Saint John Paul II’s favorite expressions is taken from one of the resurrection appearances of Christ to his apostles. It was the story of the apostles who had been fishing all night long and had caught nothing. Jesus suddenly appeared to them and told them to ‘cast your nets out into the deep waters and do not be afraid.’ They did as the Lord had commanded and they caught an abundance of fish. Duc in altum – put out into the deep!
Our new graduates and all of us should not be afraid to ‘cast our nets into the deep waters.’ Do not be afraid to be bold! Trust in the Lord, who loves you very much and who wants your lives to be full of purpose and meaning. God does not call us to boring lives. He calls us to be dynamic witnesses to his truth, and goodness and beauty in the world. He calls us to be fully alive, fully engaged. We are not to sit on the sidelines, but to be “all in.”
Let’s be bold and courageous witnesses! The culture in which we live is often toxic to our values and our Catholic faith. But we should not be intimidated into silence. Rather, like the early Church, we should live our faith with joy and confidence, knowing that God can use us to reveal His great love to a hurting world. What an honor we have! What fertile territory we occupy!
The Church needs good, holy, loving and zealous young people today more than ever. There are so many ways they can serve our Lord and his Church in the years ahead. Our young people are a great source of hope in the Church. Let us pray for them that they may continue to grow in their love for Jesus and in their desire for holiness!