Mostly, I cried when I heard.
I wasn’t quite sure how to assimilate the news, and tears just seemed to fill the space that had been created by my apparent lack of processing skills.
Why, I had to ask myself, was I so saddened by the news that Barack Obama was speaking at my son’s commencement May 1 at the University of Michigan?
After a few days, the tears subsided, and it occurred to me that if I had any hope of dealing with the information, there must include some sort of examination of it and my own relationship to it.
It wasn’t as if we were the University of Notre Dame and had invited an ardent pro-abortion president to speak at our Catholic university’s commencement. If labels could be applied, it would be fair to say that we were the prestigious, but culturally liberal, University of Michigan. And to have a sitting president, regardless of his pro-abortion stance, speak was an honor, to say the least.
But labels don’t always apply in a consistent manner. Nor should they.
The halls of Ann Arbor are also the hallowed halls walked by President Gerald Ford: the man who pulled our nation out of the quagmire of Watergate by granting pardon to Richard Nixon on Sept. 8, 1974.
Indeed, by all accounts, Gerald Ford cared about Americans first and his own political career second. Many a historian already looks back on the pardon as the death knell of Ford’s political career, but also the turning point in healing America.
Gerald Ford was a mere man filling an office — albeit the highest elected office in the land.
As I reflected on his connection to this prestigious university and his contributions to the country, I realized that, like Gerald Ford, Barack Obama is also a mere man filling an office. However, it occurred to me as I continued to discern my own reaction to Obama’s invitation to speak at my son’s commencement that Obama’s mortal status is often forgotten by those who believe in his agenda as well as by those who oppose it.
Pope Benedict XVI calls us to be engaged in the culture, and we have enthusiastically responded. We have a whole new world of evangelization available to us through social-networking sites, instant messaging communications, and millions of bloggers and podcasters. All the while, the Internet is providing new and exciting ways to receive the news and information.
But this entire new media puts on our shoulders the onerous responsibility of filtering information through a Catholic lens. When we act responsibly with the information, we find that no man becomes bigger than life and no agenda bigger than the reality of salvation through Jesus. When we act irresponsibly, we are like Peter, who took his eyes off Christ and floundered.
Responsible information consumption helps us keep our focus on Christ and all that leads us to him, as our Lord and Savior. We ought to bear in mind that before we can effectively use today’s technology — whether actively or passively — we must always consider that we are a people of hope and joy. In that way, we become a vibrant and engaging populace who is able to witness to our Catholic faith in new and electrifying ways, while never succumbing to messages that have the potential to derail us.
This understanding translated into the need for me to prepare for Obama’s presence as a Catholic first and foremost: not getting carried away with media hype, but grounding myself in my faith.
Once that revelation made itself known to me, I took the first step: I requested prayers from family and friends, and I’m sure even a few strangers were implored upon to keep us in prayer that day. In particular, I asked that everyone pray for peace and truth for all who attended the event. Prayer allows hearts to be touched and minds to change.
Although my heart was heavy knowing that Barack Obama was to be my son’s commencement speaker, I had to admit that it was giving me a unique perspective on my call as a Catholic Christian. It provided a unique vantage point to reflect on how God is able to work all things to his good and for the good of those who love him.
As my heart moved from sadness to preparation, it became apparent to me that preparedness is what we are always called to as Catholic Christians. When we prepare, it reminds us that we are a people of hope, and that victory has been won for us, through Christ.
Lent prepares us for the Resurrection through fasting, penance and prayer. We anticipate an eternal reward in heaven — not one earned, but one given through grace and mercy.
Likewise, Advent is a time of preparation in which we become more focused on how we are living on a day-to-day basis. We look forward to the arrival — or second coming — of Christ.
And all the days in between Lent and Advent are also meant to prepare us for a life with Christ. I could see how this graduation day was providing me with ample ways to grow in my faith!
While calling upon everyone who crossed my path to become a prayer warrior for my family and me, I also set about on a fun task of creating a special album for my son to commemorate the day. I wanted to be able to hand him language that would have far greater meaning than mere rhetoric (perpetuated by any of the list of speakers who would be presenting that day). I wanted the truth.
I asked family and friends to write a few faith-based “words of wisdom” that were also “relevant” and “applicable.” I tapped into men who had achieved great success in their lives — both in the home and at work. I wanted my son to be covered in knowledge and insights that would be a light for him on his earthly journey.
Of course, as the letters arrived — and before they made their way into the scrapbook that would become my son’s gift — I read each and every one with great anticipation. It became quite apparent that the Catholic faith is rich in relevancy and more applicable than most of us would imagine.
I was reminded that Catholics are a people of great joy. Hope springs eternal as we wait and prepare for the second coming of Christ. We recognize that on any given day God gives us circumstances in which virtues can be developed and behaviors can be honed.
Graduation day easily became the pinnacle of what it means to be Catholic. Just as promised in Revelation 21:4, God had wiped the tears from my eyes, and they were opened to the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith.
Cheryl Dickow is a Catholic publisher, author, speaker and columnist who lives in Michigan.