As the 13 graduates from Anchorage’s Lumen Christi High School enter a new phase in their faith, they are urged to keep focus on the final words of Jesus to his disciples before he ascended into heaven.
This was the message of Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne during his baccalaureate Mass homily May 10 at St. Benedict Church.
“I would recommend that the last thing you forget and the first thing you focus on everyday are these words of Jesus: ‘know that I am with you always,’” Archbishop Etienne said.
With the students, parents, school staff and teachers on hand, the homily was a reminder of Christ’s faithfulness.
“When we do stupid things, sinful things, things that make us ashamed of ourselves and make us doubt God’s love — know then, it is precisely there, that God is with us, waiting to put us up on our feet again and to send us back out in the world again,” he said.
Archbishop Etienne was installed in November 2016 to head the Anchorage Archdiocese. His homily was given before the school’s 16th graduating class and one of its largest.
“The Archbishop tries to make as many confirmations and baccalaureates as he can, and we were fortunate to have him for ours,” said Lumen Christi Principal Brian Ross.
STAY CLOSE TO JESUS
“The best advice I can give you tonight is to stay close to Jesus. Live your faith. And please, please, please — always remember to be active in the church,” Archbishop Etienne continued.
He noted that some Catholic-raised teens leave the church never to return again when they graduate high school. But if they will stay close to the church, they will find good companions there, good friends and, when they need it, silence to be alone and pray amid a noisy world
The archbishop recalled his own youth growing up in Tell City, Indiana.
“When so many of my friends were wandering away from the church, some of them never to return again, I always found great comfort being at church,” he said. “It is here, in this community of believers, in the community of faith, that we encourage one another. It’s here in silence or in spoken words, we build one another up.”
But staying close to Jesus is an active choice, Archbishop Etienne stressed.
“Please always remain active in your choice,” he urged the teens, “because you will always need good company in your life. You will always need good friends.”
PRAY AND DISCERN GOD’S PLAN
Archbishop Etienne emphasized the need for prayer as the graduating class heads into the wider world.
“That’s how we stay close to Jesus and in touch with our faith,” he said. “Prayer leads to decision and to discerning what path God wants us to follow.”
He noted that the teens might find that there are temptations “clamoring for your attention.”
“Many of those voices will lead you down the wrong place … many away from Jesus and away from the church,” Archbishop Etienne warned. “But prayer and discernment will help you as you take more responsibility for your own life, as you take on values that are yours, not just those you inherited from your family.”
Praying will be important for discerning, deciding and purposefully choosing how to live, Archbishop Etienne advised.
“Don’t just default into the life that comes along,” he said. “The sun will rise every day and you will have to do something. I guarantee, if you allow your life to unfold like that, you are not going to find much satisfaction. Be deliberate.”
Archbishop Etienne told of his experience being assigned, at age 25, to help with the visit of Saint Pope John Paul II’s visit to the U.S. From that experience and from meeting the pope, it was instilled in him the example of living a “sober” life.
“Saint John Paul encouraged us to live soberly,” he said, adding that he didn’t mean staying-away-from-the-bottle sober.
“I mean soberly with eyes wide open,” Archbishop Etienne clarified. “A life rooted in faith, a life following Jesus. Be deliberate.”
This means praying to God and “wanting to know God’s will and devoting your life to it with every fiber of your being.”
In closing, the archbishop advised the young graduates to think of “luck” as the point where planning and opportunity meet. The saying, “maybe you are just lucky,” ignores the planning that’s important in a life.
“Graduates, follow the Lord and make a generous gift of yourselves,” he concluded. “Your life will unfold in a wonderful way.”
At the end of the baccalaureate Mass, Principal Ross encouraged graduates to remember they will carry the attributes of their Catholic education on a daily basis out into the world with them.
“We encourage a world view centered on Jesus Christ, the church and the community,” Ross said. “Strive to provide service … Be confident and prepared for life’s challenges. Communicate effectively and prayerfully to solve problems. Respect the value and dignity of others.”
The principal concluded by saying, “This is no easy task. But you are up to the challenge.”