A creative writer posted a daily reflection on the Creighton web site in which he featured Jesus as the commencement speaker at Creighton. I liked his creativity and decided to write my own Jesus commencement speech. Conservative Catholics have tried to block Secretary Sibelius from speaking at Georgetown’s commencement and also Desmond Tutu at Gonzaga’s commencement. Not truly understanding Jesus’ message they would probably picket his commencement address at U. S. International University. The university president and the board of trustees ignored the massive campaign from the Catholic League to prevent me from being with you today. To find out why read on.
President Smith, members of the board of trustees, distinguished faculty, parents, students and graduates. I am so glad you invited me to address you today. Many of you are scratching your heads and wondering— Why would they ask a bearded guy in long robes who was crucified as a common criminal 2000 years ago to speak to you today?
Wonder no more. I accepted this invitation because over the last two thousand years my message has gotten so garbled that I do not even recognize it. I came out of the desert and John’s baptism in the Jordan fired up for the Kin-dom of God. The very early Christian communities were also fired up by the power of the Holy Spirit to fully live my message. Eventually, a bunch of crusty, power-hungry patriarchs and potentates hijacked my message about the Kin-dom and created a church which they then said I founded. They seem to have overlooked the fact that I spent most of my public ministry challenging patriarchal institutions like the Roman Empire and their Jewish priestly establishment. Taxing and tithing my poor downtrodden followers these institutions were sucking the very lifeblood out of the common people. The Kin-dom as such practically disappeared in the fourth century when Constantine hijacked the Kin-dom for political purposes. I was reminded of this when we were driving in from the airport today. The mini-van in front of our cab had two stickers on the back—“Keep Christ in Christmas” and “Support our Troops.” I guess they want me in Christmas but not in Afghanistan!
Picking up on the traditions of Moses and the Hebrew prophets, I preached a message of liberation for the poor and the downtrodden–the victims of the systems which destroy life and hope. I proclaimed that every person in my Kin-dom deserves food, drink, clothing, shelter, education and medical care. I spoke in parables and figures of speech. The main message is clear–love one another. No exceptions, even for enemies. I spoke of justice and made it very clear that peoples’ lives will be judged on how they treated the least among them.
This is the liberating message I want you to live in your lives as you go forth into a world that is absurd, chaotic, and, at times, makes no sense at all. Living by my words and message will help you make some sense out of a meaningless world where greed and power trump love and peace. Faith requires that you boldly confront an absurd world and give it meaning for yourselves and others. My Kin-dom is a metaphor for a life lived in community and dedicated to service, especially the service work of alleviating human misery.
I want to tell you about the witness of Ocsar Romero who was the archbishop of El Salvador. He was before your time but you need to know about his witness to my message. Romero, once a typical bourgeois churchman, had a dramatic conversion of heart when a priest friend was assassinated by coyotes who were exploiting the poor rural farmers. The landowners felt that Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit priest, was a threat to their security. He and two lay persons were killed by machine gun fire while on their way to celebrate the Eucharist. Romero, like Jeremiah and myself, began to speak out against the oppression he saw. His former cocktail party friends were no longer his friends. In fact, he was no longer welcome at the gatherings of the rich and famous in El Salvador. They too plotted to take him out. A gunman assassinated Romero while he was celebrating Eucharist at a hospital chapel. When Romero was gunned down, Pope John Paul II was preparing to send him a letter removing him as archbishop because he had disturbed the comfortable fat cats in El Salvador.
True prophets, true proclaimers of the truth and the justice inherent in my Kin-dom, know the consequences for their actions but they keep on keeping on. Jeremiah prayed for God’s protection and deliverance. I once prayed that the cup would be lifted from me but also proclaimed that the Living One would raise me up on the third day. Romero, knowing he would be assassinated, said that he would arise in the Salvadoran people. And this is really what resurrection is all about. I arose in the living memory of the early faith communities and live on in faith communities and Romero has arisen in the memory of the Salvadoran people.
Romero understood the Gospel; John Paul II, intent on returning the church to Pre-Vatican II practice and belief, did not get the message. Romero knew that he had to speak truth to power and confront the unjust system which kept the majority of the Salvadoran people in bondage and oppression. I did not come to teach individual people how to save their souls. I came to show people that non-violent love will trump greed, violence and oppression in the long run.
Let me briefly tell you about another modern day saint. Thomas Merton lead a dissolute life where alcohol and sex ruled for 27 years; yet Thomas knew there must be something more to life and kept searching. His church led to baptism as a Catholic and then entrance into a life of solitude at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemane in Kentucky. Merton sought the structure of solitude to deepen his relationship with God. As Merton grew he discovered on a street corner in Louisville that he was one with all the men and women walking around shining like the sun because the glory of God was shining through them. As forester for the monastery Merton, like Francis of Assisi, also developed a deep appreciation and respect for God’s gift of creation. In the end the monk who had sought the shelter of solitude became a prophetic critic of racism in America, the war in Vietnam, and the possession anad use of nuclear weapons. He wrote:
“That I should have been born in 1915, that I should be the contemporary of Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Vietnam, and the Watts riots, are things about which I was not first consulted. Yet they are also events in which, whether I like it or not, I am deeply and personally involved.” CWA p.161
I could tell you about many more modern day faith s/heroes but time will not allow me. I encourage you to study the lives of Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan, Rabbi Heschel, Martin Luther King, among others you many discover. Let their witness teach you how to confront injustice so you can alleviate human misery.
Be “deeply and personally involved” in the chaotic world of today—the world of financial failures and government collapses, the world where billions are forced to live on less than two dollars a day, a world where America has the highest per capita population of prisoners, a world where billionaire entrepreneurs renounce their citizenship to avoid taxes on the wealth gained from an IPO, a world where our Mother is raped for scarce natural resources, a world where wars for other people’s resources still rage, and a world where greed is glamorized and adored. Pick out just one of these or other issues and find a way to make the world less absurd and less chaotic.
As you go forth, many of you have jobs waiting while others are still looking for a job. Most of you are saddled with a large amount of debt from your student loans, especially now that the interest rate has doubled. It is an absurd world where consumerism and greed stifle the human spirit. After you go on and enjoy the long awaited post-graduation trip, I hope you will have time before your start your careers to do some serious soul searching. Go to a place of solitude and think about the direction of your lives and what you want to accomplish. Where are you going? Is your main aim to work your way into the good life as soon as possible? Or, are you going to use your education, talents and skills to make the world less absurd? Will you live lives of servitude to consumerism or live life dedicated to service and building up the Kin-dom? Will you be priests or Good Samaritans along the way of life?
The values of the Kin-dom will challenge you to be more than you are and more than you think you can be. Peace, justice, love, mercy, forgiveness and gratitude will guide you on your journey.
In conclusion, I wish you shalom—peace and well-being. You can choose life or death. I encourage you to choose life in the Kin-dom.