Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bishop Sheridan's Open Letter to Graduates

This is a little late, but on June 5 Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan penned an open letter to High School and College graduates in the Colorado Catholic Herald. The content is more clearly directed to High School graduates.

I had occasion to call Veronica Ambuul at the Herald last week and commented how wonderful I thought the bishops letter. She concurred saying she wished someone would have said what the bishop said to her when she went to college.

Me too, excerpts:
Each of you is about to enter into a very new lifestyle. These kinds of changes can easily be occasions for forgetting or leaving behind much of what was given you in the past. In particular, this is the time that, unfortunately, some Catholics grow lax in the practice of their faith, or lose their faith altogether. Here a few things that I would like you to keep in mind as you begin this new chapter in your lives.

Never forget that you have been created by God, who loves you infinitely more than you can imagine. But there is much more. Not only did God give you your earthly life, so much does he love you that he gave his own son to die for your salvation. Through baptism and confirmation, and sustained by the holy Eucharist, you belong forever to Christ and to his body, the church. There is no greater gift that any of us could ever receive, because this is the gift of eternal life and happiness.

In the course of your lives there will be many joys and many disappointments; many achievements and many failures. No matter how many of these you might experience, remember that everything you could possibly acquire in this world is as nothing compared to the glory that awaits you in heaven. Remember, too, that if you lose literally everything in this world, it will be as nothing compared to the loss of your immortal soul. Recall the Lord’s words to his disciples (and to us): "What profit does a man show who gains the whole world and destroys himself in the process? What can a man offer in exchange for his life?" (Mk 8:36-37). This is the perspective of the authentic Christian.

The joys and pleasures of this world can easily distract you from what is really and finally important. You are a child of God. Everything of this world is passing away. Set your sights on the things of heaven. Doing this will in no way diminish your happiness and freedom in this world. Just the opposite. You will, in fact, become free to be the person that God created you to be — a saint. And that is not a bad deal.

If you are to keep the right balance in your lives, grounded in Christ and his Gospel, there are some things that must be a regular part of your lives. Daily prayer is essential. Each time we pray, our perspective is readjusted. We are reminded that God is God and we are not. Prayer keeps our relationship with God alive, just as communicating with our friends maintains those friendships.

Of all the prayers that we could offer to God, there is none more beautiful, more exalted or more essential than that prayer we call the holy sacrifice of the Mass. Without the Eucharist we will die. Again, let’s recall the words of Jesus: "Let me solemnly assure you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal and I will raise him up on the last day" (Jn 6:53-54).

In recent years it has become the practice of not a few Catholics to celebrate Sunday Mass only occasionally. These Catholics seem oblivious to the church’s clear and consistent teaching that we commit a mortal sin each and every time we fail to attend Mass on a Sunday or holy day of obligation without a serious reason. The church obliges us to Mass every Sunday — not to impose an arbitrary burden, but to remind us that this worship of God is absolutely indispensible if we are to grow in holiness. I promise you — if you remain faithful to Sunday Mass, you will remain close to Christ your whole life.

Each of you is quite aware that you are a sinner. We are all sinners. It was to save us from sin that God became man and died for us. No matter how terrible our sins or how often we sin, whenever we turn from sin and seek God’s forgiveness, he is ready to forgive us. We find the Lord and his mercy and forgiveness in the sacrament of penance (or reconciliation). Just as it is impossible for us to live healthy and happy lives if we suffer from disease or other medical problems, so it is impossible to grow in holiness and happiness if we are weighed down by sin. Of course, my first counsel to you is to avoid all sin. But if you sin, go to confession and be freed from the spiritual disease that could kill you. St. John offers us sobering advice: "If we say, ‘We are free of the guilt of sin,’ we deceive ourselves; the truth is not to be found in us. But if we acknowledge our sins, he who is just can be trusted to forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrong" (1 Jn 1:8-9).

Dear graduates: Enjoy the years that God gives you in this life. Use the things of the world wisely. Live for God and for the good of your neighbor. Never use another person for your own gratification, but remember that every person has a dignity and a sanctity that must never be violated. Pray to know your vocation, for a vocation is a call from God — a call that must not be ignored. Pray for me just as I will pray for you every day.

The whole thing is good, but I highlight the bit about confession because it is so important for those about to go away to college to know the power and availability of the sacrament.

The drop-off in active participation in the faith as people go off to college can have many causes, including the simple freedom not to participate in something you never much believed in.

But that's not the whole story. A very large number do go off to college with an existing faith. Often, there is not a sudden loss of faith, but (speaking from experience), a sudden loss of morals. Without recourse to confession, one eventually rationalizes their behavior into a rejection of faith.

I've seen through the availability of confession on or near a college campus many young people sustain or return to their faith.

Continue reading Bishop Sheridan.