My dear Class of 2017,
Tonight we started the process of saying extended goodbyes to you as FEU students. This process – a hectic program of activities – is marked by two formal rites of passage: the Baccalaureate Mass that we just celebrated, and the Commencement Exercises that will be held in the PICC next week. In the Baccalaureate Mass, we thanked the Good Lord for the gift of your presence in the University and for the fruits your time here has borne – your academic degrees, certainly, but also your friendships and memories, both of which hopefully will last a lifetime. We also called on the Almighty God to bless you that your lives may be filled with goodness and grace.
In the Commencement Exercises next week, we will practice time-honored customs and quaint conventions, such as the donning of academic regalia, shifting of tassels, hooding (in the case of advanced degrees), and handing out of diplomas, to invoke the “eternal order of things” when we confer upon you your academic degrees. In addition, we will give distinctions by awarding medals to those who excelled in their academic programs, and we will listen keenly to words of wisdom from our commencement speakers. Then to close the long goodbye, we will induct you into the ranks of the FEU alumni.
By tradition, a privilege of the FEU President is that he or she is called on at the conclusion of the Baccalaureate Mass to officially bid the University’s fare-thee-wells to the graduating students. This is a privilege I do not take lightly. Indeed, I consider it an honor and a heavy burden, given that your seat in this event was earned with years of discipline, persistence, and hard work.
But all that said, this year is even more special, for two reasons. First, Class of 2017, I feel that I share a unique bond with you. I came to FEU four and a half years ago, in October 2012. Were I an irregular student, I would have completed my course of study in October 2016, so that I should be graduating with you. Second, I became a senior citizen a few weeks ago, which means that the years ahead me are far fewer than those behind.
These two reasons triggered the following question: From the perspective of hindsight, what life lessons can can old fogey share with those who are just beginning their life journeys, and particularly in what millennials call the process of adulting?
After some hard thinking, I wish to humbly share five insights.
First, the biggest question you will need to answer (which no one else can answer for you) is: What is life all about?
Second, let me offer a starting point for your answer, which is tenable whether or not you are a person of faith: Life is about being given the gift of time.
Thus, the big question refined is: How am I to make use of this gift of time?
Here, I hope that you will reject an answer like Macbeth’s in Act 5, Scene 5, of Shakespeare’s play, when, upon being informed of his wife’s death, he says:
Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Instead, I hope that you will see that the way to make good use of the time given you is to live a life of meaning, a life of purpose.
Third, if the point of it all is to live a purposeful life, then the big question further refined is: For what purpose can I dedicate my life?
Answering this question will involve, on the one hand, scanning the opportunities available to you and, on the other, understanding yourself and your passions. Helpful guide questions include: What developments in the world are accessible to me and how can I take advantage of them? What do I hold most dear in my heart? What life goals will make me happy as I pursue them? (Note the distinction: pursuing the goal in and of itself will be a source of happiness for you.) Are the potential life goals I am considering consistent with my strengths and resources? Are there ways of overcoming my weaknesses and constraints if they are hindrances to pursuing my life goals?
Also, you will need patience. Life has its rhythms. It can take a while before your life’s purpose reveals itself to you. If so, you will need to wait – in patience but also with a keenness to sense when the “fullness of time” has come. In the meantime, you should prepare yourself by honing your strengths and working on your weaknesses, so that you will be ready when your purpose finally beckons.
Fourth, whether or not you have found your life goals, it is important to take stock of where you are from time to time.
In the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola, the activity of the fourth day of the second week is a Meditation on the Two Standards. Having been a soldier, St Ignatius viewed life as a battle between good and evil; in his view, we fight under either the banner of good or the banner of evil. The point of the meditation is that, in the daily grind of life, it is easy either to lose sight of our purpose or to be impelled by a different set of motives. In our busy-ness, we may already have lost our way and forgotten our life goals; or, though apparently still working towards our purpose, we may already be doing so with selfish or self-serving motives. If so, we should reorient ourselves and find our way back to the banner of good.
Fifth, if you are a Christian, then I invite you to consider taking up Silent Prayer as a daily discipline. Silent Prayer is about spending time, say, 30 minutes to an hour, in quiet with God, sometimes conversing with Him, at other times simply beholding Him. If you persevere, you will have an intimation of the boundless depths of God’s Love and partake in His divine life.
I invite you on this spiritual path because, ultimately, we are made for God. In his book, Jesus of Nazareth, Part Two: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI notes, in His Ascension, Jesus being fully human and fully God, “opened up within God a space for humanity …. [And now He] calls the whole world to this open space in God, so that in the end God may be in all and the Son may hand over to the Father the whole world …. [And then] God will wipe away every tear, … nothing meaningless will remain, … every injustice will be remedied and justice restored. The triumph of love will be the last word of world history” (p. 287).
And that, my dear Class of 2017, is my message. To repeat:
The big question is What is Life all about?
Answer: It is about being given the gift of time.
Thus the big question refined is How am I to make use of this gift of time?
Answer: By finding my life’s purpose.
But along the way I should check my bearings. Am I still working towards my life goals? Am I doing so with pure motives?
Finally, consider silent prayer, which will give you a sense of the life of God.
To close: Remember that I will always have you in my prayers. May you have happy, fruitful, and fulfilling lives. Welcome to your future!
Joseph Ratzinger [Pope Benedict XVI]. 2011. Jesus of Nazareth, Part Two: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection. San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press.