`Now You Are Being Sent Forth'

What a difference a year makes — not to mention a change of locale.

In May 2003, Cardinal Francis Arinze gave an unambiguously pro-Gospel, pro-family commencement address at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. It so rankled some faculty members that they walked off and mounted a protest.

This May he did the same, only at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif. — and his words inspired a standing ovation.

Speaking to 71 graduates and more than 1,400 guests on May 15, the Nigerian-born bishop, who serves as prefect for the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship, commended the school for the authentically Catholic formation it provides its students. “Parents send their children [here], and they are not afraid that the children will be damaged,” he said.

Here are additional excerpts from his lengthy address:

For four years you, dear graduating seniors, have been very much a part of the life and work of Thomas Aquinas College. … You have spent four years perfecting yourselves in the arts and the sciences, learning what past generations have written, said, done or made, and yourselves learning to contribute to the patrimony of humanity by also writing, saying, doing and making. And you have done all this and striven to develop your reasoning powers under the light of the Catholic faith. You believe in Jesus Christ — his Gospel, his Church that he founded to continue his work until the end of time.

Now you are being sent forth. Thomas Aquinas College is sending you into the wider world to bring the good news of what you have seen and heard to your brothers and sisters. It was our beloved savior Jesus Christ who said to Simon Peter in the boat on the Sea of Galilee: “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4). In an analogous way, your alma mater is saying to you: “Go out into the world, outside this college, and share with humanity what you have been enriched with in this institution these four years.”

[Y]ou can do this [in] the family, your profession and in the direct sharing of your faith with others. You will be able to do all this as witnesses of Christ if personal prayer and sacramental practice are the climate in which you live. …

You will … witness to Christ by sharing your faith, not only by being good family members, not only by being efficient in your profession. … [T]here comes a time or place where you are called upon to share your faith directly, to speak to another expressly about what you believe in Jesus Christ, to invite another to share that faith, in short, to proclaim or announce Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ gives meaning and a sense of unity and direction to your life, if your faith in Christ is a pearl of great price for which you are ready to sell all you have and buy it, then is it not to be expected that you would like to share this good news with others?

You want to go to heaven alone? Why do you want to keep this good news all to yourself? Joy shared is joy multiplied.

Someone might be tempted to say: “But I am not a priest; I'm not a religious brother or sister. I am not even a catechist. Where have I the guarantee that I know enough of the Catholic faith for myself, before I presume to lecture others? Moreover, I fear that some people might laugh at me and call me names.”

Although you might not be a priest, a religious or a catechist, you are a baptized Catholic. And baptism is our radical call to evangelize. Every one of us is called to proclaim Christ according to our vocation and mission. Everybody cannot be Thomas Aquinas, everybody cannot be St. Bonaventure, but everyone can … evangelize. “Woe to me,” St. Paul says, “if I preach not the Gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16).

You are not required to obtain a doctorate in divinity … before you tell another person about Jesus Christ, who means so much to you. And you are not left without equipment. You have the Bible, the sacred tradition of the Church, the teaching authority of the Church. You have the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and those who do not have it, I suggest you sell your overcoat — you don't need any for the next six months — and buy one.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has only 700 pages. If you read a page a day, you finish it in two years. And there is a mine of information, giving you the very best that can be put into our hands in our times. …

As for the fear of what people will say about you if you talk about Christ (and many Catholics tend to be shy), when will you courageously put that fear aside, seeing that Christ clearly declared: “Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38)? None of us wants Christ to disclaim us on the last day. Therefore, do not hesitate to gently persuade your lapsed Catholic friend to return to the sacraments.

To propose the faith to one who is free and willing, we do not impose; we only propose. [Do not hesitate] to join Catholic movements, associations, to be involved in diocesan or parish programs, or even to consider becoming a priest or a consecrated brother, religious, monk or nun. I understand that the 34th graduate of this great college was ordained a priest last year — Father Gary Selin, class of 1989 — for the Archdiocese of Denver, and I'm informed that one is being ordained today in New York and two more next week — those who have studied in this institution — and that a total of more than 30 have already been ordained, and those who are professed sisters are more than 20. This is good news. This is something to write Rome about! …

In life, you will meet people who in practice take little or no notice of God in their lives. They live as if God did not exist. They may not even take the trouble to positively deny the existence of God. They are too busy even to do that much. They just live secularistic lives. It is for you — not by argument, but by example and, when feasible, by words — to show them that life would lose its meaning and sense of direction without God.

Graduates of Thomas Aquinas College, launch out into the deep to evangelize the world for Christ.

If a Catholic graduate is to do all this — witness to Christ in the family, in professional life and in direct proclamation of Christ — then deep growth in prayer and in sacramental life are absolute requirements. We cannot do it all by our own power. Prayer is necessary because without life of union with God and without God's grace, we can do nothing useful for salvation. Christ has told us that he is the vine and we are the branches. We cannot have life unless we abide in him: “Without me you can do nothing” (John15:5). By prayer, as it were, we have link with God.

Prayer, personal prayer, is that which is particular to each person. Your prayer will be like you, my prayer will be like me. It can be without words. A child does not always speak to the mother. There are exchanges between mother and child — just looks, just presence — which are already eloquent.

Prayer can be based on a passage of Holy Scripture; it can be long or it can be short. It is best in front of the Blessed Sacrament, when possible. But you can also pray everywhere. …

In the name of Christ, put out into deep water. Go forth and bear fruit, fruit that will remain. God bless you.

To request a free CD of Cardinal Arinze's entire commencement address, go to www.thomasaquinas.edu.