Several of our young St. Vincent Ferrer parishioners, were among this year’s Catholic high school graduates, and most of them have received special recognition and were awarded numerous scholarships for their academic achievements. These include: Shane Barta, Pablo Falcon-Gutierrez, Michael Kennedy, Kaleigh Krolikowski, Alessandro Liguori, Luis Marull, Brea McNamara, Francesco Olortegui, Brooke Salvato, Timothy Silk, Tyhessha Thomas, Francesca and Sarah Vilcnik. We are so very proud of them, and proud of their parents, too, for having sacrificed so much to see to it that their children continue their Catholic education. God bless them, and all our graduates, especially those who received scholarships and high honors.
Reflecting on the accomplishments of all our graduates, I recall one of my favorite movies, a most inspiring sports film, that came on the scene 37 years ago: “Chariots of Fire.” It tells the story of Eric Liddell, who was known as the “Flying Scotsman.” He was the projected winner of the men’s 100 meters race at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. But, when he discovered that the trial runs were scheduled for Sunday morning, he bowed out of the race. Even the Prince of Wales couldn’t persuade him to honor his country by running on the Sabbath. Eric explained his decision, saying, “God, my King, is greater than the kings of England, Wales and Scotland. To honor my God is more important than to honor the king of England.”
Born in China to Scottish missionary parents, Liddell later returned to the land of his birth to spend his life as a missionary because he felt driven to share the joy of honoring God. He lived and worked there for twenty years, devoting his life to spreading the love of God everywhere he went. He described his own life as a “complete surrender” to God, –a key for helping us to understand what love means and what love asks of us. The story of Eric Liddell, offers some helpful points of reflection for those who are making the transition from high school. Take, for example, the courage with which he decided to stick to his Christian principles. Not only did he know right from wrong; he also knew that choosing what was right was not always going to be popular, and that it was not always going to be easy. But he was convinced that sticking to those principles – not compromising on them in the least – was the very best course that he could take, and that God would bless him for that fidelity. This was made clear to him in a very powerful way at those same Olympics. Since he chose not to run in the 100 meters race, he decided to enter the 400 meters race. The odds were definitely not in his favor, but he did it anyway. The story goes that when it was time to run the race, he was assigned to the worst lane. But he was encouraged by a note that the team trainer had given to him that morning which he kept in his pocket: “He will honor those who honor Him” (1 Sam. 2:30). Eric went on to win the gold medal in the men’s 400 meters. While we can’t all be fast runners like Liddell, we can learn the love of God, as he did, as a great gift from God.
Our children’s time in a Catholic school has afforded them a wonderful gift in their Catholic faith. They have learned about what is right and what is wrong. But that is the easy part. Living it is where it gets hard. Like Eric Liddell, they are encouraged to see that by honoring God, doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong, God will in turn bless them for their fidelity to His will for them. This may be difficult for some to accept, and one that is often quickly dismissed as mere pious talk, especially among young people. We hear these words of direction, but we often question how true they are. After all, we see many people who choose not to follow those principles of the Catholic faith, and they seem to be doing just fine, and in many cases, they seem to be prospering and enjoying life to the fullest. We also see those who have made the decision to stick to their faith; yet, things do not always seem to go their way. So, the question arises whether it’s worth the risk of missing out on so much in life by letting ourselves seemingly be constrained by rules and regulations that our Catholic Faith imposes on us. To respond to this, I’d like to draw attention to the mystery of the Holy Trinity, which we celebrate this weekend. Tackling the Trinity mystery can be intimidating, because it is such a complex mystery, one that is impossible truly to understand. But there’s a story about St. Augustine, one of the greatest theologians the Church has ever known. He was walking along the seashore when he noticed a little boy bringing seashells filled with water from the ocean to a little hole that he had dug. St. Augustine asked the boy what he was doing, to which the boy responded that he was going to pour the entire sea into the hole. St. Augustine told the boy that such a task was impossible. The boy then looked at him and said: “It is no more impossible than what you are trying to do – comprehend the immensity of the mystery of the Holy Trinity with your small intelligence.”
While we will never come close to understanding the Trinity, that’s not what’s important. There is only one thing that we really need to know about the Trinity, and we get that from St. John the Apostle. He explains very clearly, that “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8). God, as a Trinity, is a perfect relationship of love. Father and Son are perfectly united with one another in the bond of love that is expressed in the Holy Spirit. You might wonder how speaking of this intimate relationship between the three persons of the Trinity has anything to do with answering the question as to why we should take the living of our Catholic faith seriously. To put it more bluntly, how does this idea of the Trinity answer the question, “what’s in it for me?” The answer is: while God has everything that He needs in Himself through that bond of love, He has a desire to share with us what He Himself has, that infinite gift of love. Before He heads off to suffer His Passion and death on the Cross, Jesus offered a message about real love to His disciples. Then, He reminds them that the “Spirit of truth” (John 16:13) would come back to them after His departure. That gift of the Holy Spirit, which we just celebrated last Sunday on the Solemnity of Pentecost, is the gift that draws us into a participation in that love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is a gift that we don’t have to wait for Heaven to enjoy; we can already experience the peace, joy, and fulfillment of that love in our lives while here on earth.
As with our first parents, God won’t force this love upon us. It’s something that we have the freedom to choose or reject. To choose to accept this love is to choose to keep His commands, for as Jesus Himself says: “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me” (Jn. 14:21), and “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (Jn. 14:23). We have to be convinced, just as Eric Liddell was, that to keep the commandments, to live according to our Catholic faith, will keep us in His love and that there is absolutely nothing more important or more treasured than that. This is what the saints in Heaven banked on while they were here on earth; and now they enjoy a happiness and peace in Heaven that is so far beyond our imagining. This is what each of us is being invited to stake our life on as we take any important step in our life. Never forget that the most important gift that we have is our faith. God has made us in order to use that gift every day of our life. If make the commitment to live that gift, no matter what we do, we will be filled with an immense sense of hope that the Lord will indeed bless our faithfulness. As St. Paul reminds us, this “hope does not leave us disappointed, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).